Updated: Jan 23, 2020
HOSTELS, AIRBNB, & COUCHSURFING
If someone told you that you could stay in a city on your bucket list for $10 a night but you’d have to share the room with five strangers, would you?
Hostels are hands down my number one recommendation for backpackers. They provide a convenient and exciting way to meet like minded travelers who share a similar curiosity of exploring the world on a budget.
While interning in Israel in 2014 (my first time leaving North America) someone mentioned that they were staying in a hostel. At the time, hostels were such a foreign concept to me. I pictured a room with decrepit beds and waking up to strangers, a.k.a. my new roommates staring at me and not knowing if my possessions would still be there. Well, I can report back and gratefully confirm that my initial hesitations were quite silly and unnecessary. The majority of hostels in which I’ve stayed in Europe and Asia were safe, unbelievably well maintained and offer common areas that provide ample opportunity to meet other travelers (often solo). Sure, sharing a bedroom with strangers doesn’t provide the privacy you’d receive in a hotel, villa or Airbnb but it does open the door for other invaluable experiences that are bound to enhance your trip and broaden your scope of the world.
Last year (2018) in Istanbul, my bed was situated next to an Israeli woman’s who was learning how to play the lyre in Turkey. She lived in a tent in Israel and when in Israel she had no real connection to the outside world. When I suggested we keep in touch through Instagram she told me that our only options for staying connected were through email or post, as she didn’t have a cell phone and she only borrowed a friend’s computer once every few weeks. This interaction was so eye-opening and left me wanting to live more simply, while surrounding myself with people who live differently.
Or Becca, the petite curly haired blonde American who I met in Mostar, Bosnia who deferred her acceptance to Georgetown Law (one of the US’s top law programs). At the time, she wasn’t ready to settle down in one city for three years and the more she saw of the world, the more she wanted to see—this is a common theme amongst backpackers. So she was taking weekend trips around Europe while completing a one-year master’s program in London. I later met up with Becca for sangria in Madrid and we still keep in touch to this day.
Or Miao-Miao (pronounced Meow-Meow), a 29-year-old Chinese woman who I instantly bonded with when she offered to make me instant noodles one evening at Sun Hostel in Belgrade, Serbia. Within minutes of chatting she shared that she was absolutely heartbroken. Although I probably shouldn’t be giving dating advice, I shared some of my experiences and we talked like we had known each other for ten years. She also shared her perspective about the China/Hong Kong conflict which after studying abroad in Hong Kong I found fascinating (especially after spending four months in Hong Kong).
Those are just three out of the hundreds of unforgettable experiences and connections I’ve had with individuals in hostels. You truly never know who you’re going to meet any given day but why not open yourself up to the countless possibilities.
Here are some insider tips:
Choose the right room for your comfort level… Most hostels offer women’s, men’s and co-ed options. I usually opt for co-ed dorms but I usually make sure that I am not the only female in the room.
Just like you would do in other areas of your life, read reviews. It’s smart to know what you’re getting yourself into. Some hostels cater to “partiers” and others are for the calmer, go-to-bed early travelers (these days I’m typically the latter). That said, I stay at both depending on what I am looking for during a specific period of my trip. Sometimes if I am in a city for a week, I’ll spend a few days in a more serene hostel before switching to one that might encourage me to experience the night life.
Hostels are known for catering to youth (18-30) but there are abundances of hostels around the world that welcome people of all ages. I’ve personally seen backpackers from 18-83 staying at hostels.
Travel with at least one lock so you have ease of mind when you are out for the day. 90% of hostels provide lockers, but they typically require you to bring your own lock (sometimes they sell them).
Some hostels might hold on to your passport (although this isn’t a common practice) for your entire stay while others will just make a copy of it. If they are being persistent about holding on to it, confirm that it will locked somewhere safe.
The more beds in the room the cheaper yours will be. That said, the greater the chance that you’ll have a snorer in your room. When available I typically pick a six person dorm style room. It provides plenty of opportunity to meet a new friend or two (or maybe five) but also a comfort level that I won’t be sleep deprived when exploring the city the next day.
If there’s an option for en-suite room, choose it. It’s simply nice to not have to leave your room to shower or use the toilet.
Bring ear plugs and a sleep mask if you’re a light sleeper.
If it’s in your budget stay in a private room. I often recommend this to solo travelers over booking a hotel because you’ll still have opportunity to meet fellow backpackers in the common areas. Also, if you have a travel companion it might be the same or similar price to book two beds in a dorm or a private room. If this is the case, book the private!
If you’ve been traveling for an extended period of time and need to take a breather away from people for a few days (we’ve all been there), I recommend Airbnb. Airbnb provides apartments for short term rental. Having space, quietness and a higher level of comfort at an affordable price point are all things backpackers eventually yearn for and Airbnb provides just that. For $30 off your first stay use this link.
COUCH SURFING- FREE
Another option which is even more adventurous and one that my family doesn’t necessarily approve of me using is CouchSurfing.com. Couch Surfing is ultimately what it sounds like. You stay on someone’s couch (or sometimes on a spare bed) for free! Does it sound too good to be true? It’s not. Couch Surfing is a community of travelers who want to experience the native culture from a local. When you get back from your trip, you can pay it forward to the community by hosting a “surfer” or showing people around your home town. I’ve only had positive experiences in the U.S. (Lake Tahoe and Los Angeles) and in Europe (Dublin, Budapest, Cologne, Brussels & Munich); I’ve even become friends with many of my hosts. You do have to be careful. Make sure the person you’re requesting to stay with has several references from previous couch surfers and check out potential hosts on other social media platforms to make sure they are legitimate. Also, have a back-up. If you arrive to the host’s house and you don’t feel comfortable for whatever reason, have a plan B arranged (know where there's a hostel or hotel near by). Like I said, I’ve personally only had amazing experiences.
Regardless of which option(s) you choose, you'll have a memorable time. Send me a message with any questions and/or comments! Would love to hear from you!