September 20, 2012

Hosteling Ventures: The Pros & Cons of Shacking up with Strangers. ~ Veronica Ryl

Travel can be cheap—there are modern day gypsies abound, covering ground from country to country on the price of bread crumbs.

Of course, there are many different travel styles for varying budgets. Exploring this world can be made as cheap as the lifestyle of a hobo or as costly as one of a carpet flying prince living in a palace—it’s all in your personal preference and comfort level.

Accommodations while traveling are one of the biggest expenses. Those who are young of age, brave at heart and broke of wallet will probably slumber at a hostel at least once in their lifetime. For those of you who haven’t yet, don’t let the movie ‘Hostel’ put you off… I promise they’re not all full of torture devices and psychotic murderers.

Here is a brief overview of some of the niceties and negativities of lodging it hostel style.

Thumbs Up:

1. Meeting new people. Life is all about your interaction with the world. The relationships you make with the people in it are a large part of this. Hostels are a great way to gain new insight and perspectives with people from various countries, backgrounds and cultures.

Human beings are a product of their environment—the more flavour you add to this, the more fulfilling your own perspective will be.

2. Food. Plenty of places offer free breakfast in the mornings and/or dinners at exceptionally reasonable prices. If traveling on a budget, choosing a hostel with this option can cut down daily costs substantially.

3. Area information. Hostels have a wealth of knowledge about surrounding sites, tours and great places to go. Ask employees for their recommendations on historical sites, places to eat, shopping, etc. There will also be oodles of pamphlets and maps that can be used to plan out daily activities.

4. Location. Hostels can be found in almost every nook in the world. When doing research on choosing where you want to go and what activities you want to partake in, choose a hostel that factors in location relative to your desires.

Many places will be in stellar areas in the downtown of major cities—I recently stayed in a hostel in Lisbon that was smack-dab in the middle of a train station. On the flip side, there are places in remote regions that may also better suit your needs.

5. Atmosphere. Unique environments, cool furnishings and artsy decor are quite typical. Scads of hostels have the at-home-feeling ambiance that caters to a traveler’s homesickness.

Thumbs Down:

1.Bed Bugs. No longer a childhood myth, these creatures are now a very true reality of traveling. Bed bugs ruin lives. And yes, the horror stories you’ve heard are real and justified.

Numerous travellers have brought home these universal hitchhikers, to find out all too late that their own homes have now been infested. Exterminators, throwing out furniture, disinfectants….even the largest acts aren’t enough to get rid of these tough little guys. With an incubation period of ten days, nocturnal habits and being able to survive up to a year without food, these little vampires can go for a while unnoticed.

Bed bugs can hang out in hostels, hotels, airplanes, movie theater seats—they know no social class and are seriously becoming a worldwide epidemic. Before setting out on your adventure, do your research on how to spot the signs of bed bugs and how to deal with your bags and stuff when arriving home from your trip.

2. Noise and Light. To stay in a hostel in a dormitory with other strangers who all have their own daily schedules and routines, you have to be prepared for commotion when trying to sleep. With my first hostel experience in Costa Rica, I hit the hay early in the hopes of awaking early to a 14km hike to a waterfall.

The whole night consisted of girls screaming and drinking while climbing in and out of the room’s window and two not-so-silent lovers on the bunk atop of my own bed. Be prepared for anything. Thankfully, that was the crummiest hostel experience I’ve had to date in that regard. Now I make sure to always pack earplugs and an eye mask.

3. Material Security. Most hostels have lockers to place your most valuable items into (passport, camera, money) while you’re out and about. However, you may still have to provide your own lock and these lockers may prove to be a target for any troublemakers looking to specifically pick up items (a tiny lock won’t get into the way of someone with the motivation to steal). Also, bigger items and bags will have to be left out in the open in the room.

A good rule to follow while hostelling: don’t bring anything along that would sadden you if it got ‘lost’.

4. Showers and Bathrooms. Along with sharing sleeping quarters, you also have to share bathrooms and hygienic spaces with other travelers. Depending on the hostel, this may not be an issue if there are ample amounts of separate bathrooms. However, many places have big open concepts of bathroom/shower spaces that have to be shared with other people. Leave your shyness at home.

5. Business Hours. Depending on the popularity and how busy a hostel is, the hours may not be favorable for your traveling needs. Check out the hostel ahead of time to make sure it won’t be closed when you arrive from your late night flight or if you plan on painting the town red and arriving back in the middle of the night. More popular places will usually have 24-hour reception.

There you have it. Armed with the proper knowledge and research, hosteling can be a profoundly rewarding experience, as long as you have an open mind and are prepared for a wide plethora of situations.

Veronica Ryl is an extremist who thinks in color. She is a winding road, a half-finished book, a candle waiting to be lit. Her passions entail poetic art, experimenting with yoga, exploring the universe and dabbling in emergency medicine. She can be found making her attempt at a working class life in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.


Editor: Jamie Morgan

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