I've been traveling a lot since returning to Geneva for my spring semester study abroad. Two weekends ago I was in Scotland with one of my best friends, and last weekend I was in Lithuania. In both locations, I stayed in hostels. Hostels are a really good option if you're traveling alone or want to save money as a group. Along the way, I've picked up some tips for how to make the most of your hostel experience.
1. Location is everything.
You're probably wondering why the title picture of this blog post is the Edinburgh Castle and not a hostel. It's because there's a hostel across the street from the Edinburgh Castle that I sadly did not stay in. The point here is that getting a hostel in a good location makes your life easier. The ideal hostel location is accessible by public transport in a well-lit area close to the attractions you want. It might sound impossible, but it pays to look carefully. You never know what you'll find! Also, I try to make sure that any hostel I book is in a decent area and is reasonably well-lit. You can never be too careful.
2. Be careful what is included at your hostel... and what is not!
Read the print carefully when you're booking hostels. I personally always go for hostels that provide linens, though I don't really care if the bed is made for me or not when I get there. I don't mind coughing up a pound/euro/franc/yuan for a towel though, because I find carrying around a towel adds a lot of unnecessary bulk to my weekend backpack. Additionally, I think 24 hour front desk is a great feature in larger hostels.
3. If you're in a dorm room, mark your bed (territory).
Part of hostel culture is marking whichever bed you pick with some variety of non-valuable personal item... and it's an important thing to do, otherwise the hostel might strip your bed or someone else could try to take it. I like to spread out a pair of pants, a t-shirt and a towel when I first get my bed so I don't have to worry about it later. Leaving valuables or sentimental items to mark your bed is a terrible idea, though. I have been known to sleep with my purse and camera in my hostel bed. I also hide my money (I'm not going to say how I do it on the internet, in case someone reads it and knows exactly where to find it). I have never had anything stolen at a hostel, but I don't need to break that trend.
4. Pay the extra dollar on HostelWorld and make your booking refundable.Before I continue, I'd like to say that I'm not paid a cent by HostelWorld. Anyways, HostelWorld is my personal favourite website of choice because I've never had any issues with the hostels I've booked through them and their phone app is fantastic. That being said, I've also had to last-minute cancel hostels from their site due to spontaneous trip changes. To me, it's worth paying a tiny bit of money to make your trip refundable rather than outright losing loads of cash.
5. Talk to people in your hostel.
This one sort of depends on where you're staying, but in general, you will never meet more interesting people than the ones you'll meet in a hostel. This past weekend I met a woman who happened to live in Singapore at the same time I did! We had a great time getting to know each other and went to dinner together. The next day, two Belgian guys I met at my hostel and I went and climbed a frozen hill to the Three Crosses.
I have met people from all over the world in different hostels and had the most interesting conversations. Even though it's not likely that you'll meet those people again, it's still fun to meet people from other cultures and share a beer together. I have learned Swedish swear words, a Hungarian traveler's opinion on climate change, and basic break dance moves from different people at hostels. While not all of those things are terribly useful, they were all interesting events at the time.