Hostels are generally fantastic places to be. The people who are there are passionate about travelling, there is lots of camaraderie and a strong sense of community between travellers. It is in the hostel, not a guidebook that you will found out the best places to go, great places to get discounts at and loads of other tips about what is worth the money and what isn’t. It is also common for groups of people to travel together for a few days after meeting at a hostel.
This relaxed, communal atmosphere does not mean, however, that you can be completely naive about leaving your stuff in plain sight. If you are going to be out for long periods of the day, it is probably best to buy a PacSafe. This is essentially a slash-proof wire net that you can lock around your pack so pesky fingers cannot explore while you’re out on the town.
Older hostels generally offer dorm style rooms separated by sex but the trend is for most modern hostels to offer single, double and four-bedded accommodation as well. Private accommodation is more expensive but having a room to yourself can be a luxurious treat, especially when the thought of having another nights sleep interrupted by selection from the Snoring Chorus is enough to bring on a nervous breakdown.
It is traditional for hostels to ask their guests to help with the some chores during their stay. Most city hostels just ask you to put your linen in the laundry but some rural hostels will expect more of a commitment. If you have completely blown your budget, it is possible to negotiate a free night’s accommodation in exchange for doing some extra housekeeping chores. Don’t count on this every night however, or you’ll end up spending your entire vacation doing dishes.
If you are planning to do a lot of hostelling, it is wise to investigate the situation from home first. The Youth Hostelling Association, for example offers a membership card that entitles you to a reduced rate whilst staying at recognised sites. Hostelling International (HI) is the largest chain of hostels in the world. All HI sites require a YHA membership card to be presented when you turn up. These cards should be purchased in your home country before you leave.
There are plenty of private hostels available as well, but tales of infantile curfews, bedbug infestations and slightly deranged owners abound so if at all possible; it is best to stick with recognised brand. If you are thinking of booking a private hostel, do Google search first so see if there is anything untoward written about it.
You may have realised that you and your friends are not the only people that are going to be backpacking through Europe in the summer. If you are travelling in July and August, it is best to try and book your hostel ahead for some places, especially popular cities like Rome, Paris, London and Venice. Although it is tempting to be completely spontaneous, you may find yourself without a place to stay, especially at the weekend.
Hostelling is where you'll make some of the best memories of your travels!
Matt Reider is the owner of CanuckAbroad.com which provides budget travel and backpacking advice for travellers and expatriates alike.