Today's Featured Contributor is Katie Doyle, a theater and broadcast student at Marquette University who is currently studying abroad in Dublin, Ireland. In her post, Katie gives ten unique tips to consider when searching for, reserving, and staying in hostels.
Traveling abroad is one of the greatest experiences you can give yourself! Here are some tips for getting the most out of your stay at youth hostels.
1. Read the Fine Print
Whether it’s Wi-Fi, a bath towel, bed sheets or a group pub-crawl, most youth hostel “amenities” come with a price tag. Before booking, read the fine print for details on things you might expect to be free, but usually aren’t. Key deposits can cost €5-15 and, although usually refundable, impact your pocket money. Check to see if lockers come with a fee. Many charges can’t be avoided, so plan ahead to know your costs from the start.
2. Shop Smart
That being said, there are ways to save. Websites advertising hostels usually indicate what’s free and what’s not. If you know you’ll need to finish that last-minute class assignment while traveling, free Internet just might win over free breakfast. Some hostels take a form of ID as collateral instead of a room key deposit. Others offer free breakfast and dinner. Taking advantage of these perks is all about doing the research well in advance of your trip.
3. Do Last-minute Booking in Person
Sometimes circumstances are beyond our control; trains are late, flights are missed. Whichever the case, you might find yourself unexpectedly looking for accommodation in an unplanned location. Surfing and booking online might work, but sometimes the best thing to do is ask about a room in person. Locate a nearby hostel and stop in. Hostels often have space, even if their websites say otherwise. It never hurts to ask!
4. Know the Cancellation Policy
The surprise situation rule works both ways; if something comes up and you have to cancel your reservation, beware that many hostels adhere to a strict cancellation policy. This means you can still be charged for your room, even if you aren’t in the country! So if you must cancel, do it as soon as possible (at least 24 hours before check-in is generally the limit) to avoid being charged for a room and a bed you won’t be using.
5. Don't be a Noisy Neighbor
Depending on the rules of your accommodation, the hours of curfew can vary greatly. Know the curfew and abide by it. One key to remember when traveling abroad is that while you are there to enjoy yourself, it cannot be at the expense of others. Don’t be that inconsiderate, intoxicated individual singing in the hall at 2 a.m. Leave your sleeping bunk-mate undisturbed so he can wake up on time for his early morning flight!
6. Be Respectful
No matter where you stay, remember your manners. Don’t unpack your stuff on someone else's bed or leave your dirty clothes on the floor. Respect your fellow travelers. You never know, you might have an unexpected friend or two right in your room!
7. Keep Personal Items Safe
Hostels offer storage ranging from open luggage rooms any person can access to lockers in the rooms to safekeeping for valuables at the front desk. Knowing where your items are and who can access them is smart, but the standards of security vary greatly, so be prepared! If you are concerned about a belonging’s safety, leave it at home.
8. Know the Age Requirements
Having an idea in advance of the age range of guests can prevent sudden discoveries of octogenarians in the bunk below you (okay, that might be a stretch, but you get the point). Some hostels limit the age of guests, but others are open to anyone and everyone – including college students, thirty-somethings and even families. Check the hostel age requirements or inquire before your stay so you’re comfortable with whoever is sharing a room with you.
9. Choose the Right Location
On a recent trip to Barcelona, my friends and I had to choose between staying on a beach or near the main drag, Las Ramblas. We chose the downtown option, which proved convenient for shopping and touristy activities. But it sure was a hike down to the beach! Neither option is better, necessarily, but your priorities are important to consider. Always consult a map before booking!
10. Understand Your Options
Paying for accommodation in a hostel isn’t the only way to go when traveling abroad. “Couchsurfing” is an increasingly popular phenomenon in which hosts and “surfers” connect, and accommodation is usually free. Hotels are reasonable with groups, but big cities can be challenging for a tight wallet. You might consider renting an apartment for a couple of nights, sharing the cost among three or four people. This option is more costly than a hostel but cheaper than a hotel. Check out websites like www.vrbo.com, where owners advertise apartments for rent. You can come and go as you please… a very relaxing feature.
In any case, traveling abroad is an enriching experience, any way you choose to do it!
Katie is a student at Marquette University studying Theatre Arts and Broadcast & Electronic Communication. She is currently studying abroad in Dublin, Ireland. Her travels have taken her around Europe and she will venture to Morocco next! Katie is happy to help fellow students by sharing what she’s learned this semester. If you're interested in learning more about Katie's travels, follow her tumblr: http://whereintheworldiskatiedoyle.tumblr.com/.
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