There’s no quicker way to eat up your European vacation budget than by booking an expensive hotel.
Luckily, there are plenty of inexpensive alternative lodging options in Europe, the most popular of which are the many hostels found in most major (and some smaller) European cities. “Hostel culture” varies from city to city and establishment to establishment, but most hostels offer sparse, comfortable accommodations (and sometimes even a continental breakfast thrown in) for reduced rates. After all, why should you spend the big bucks on a deluxe hotel room if you will be out and about sightseeing most of the time anyways? Here are some guidelines for finding and booking hostels, as well as making the most of your European hostel experience.
- Start your search early. As is the case with reasonably priced hotels, hostels fill up quickly, especially during the high tourist season. Although I do have a lot of friends who “hostel it on the fly” (booking accommodations a day in advance as they go), I would suggest reserving a bed in advance to give yourself some peace of mind. Helpful websites for finding hostels in Europe include: www.europeanhostels.com, www.hosteleurope.com, www.hostels.com and www.famoushostels.com.
- Read reviews, ask around. Before booking your hostel, try to find reviews of it online (the sites mentioned above have reviews for most of their listings). Even better, ask if any of your friends have stayed in hostels in your destination city and ask them for recommendations. There are some hostels that look great on line, but are unsanitary or unsafe in reality. It’s best to avoid this unpleasant experience by doing your research ahead of time.
- Find out the specifics regarding the accommodations. Each hostel is a little different, so it’s important to know exactly what you’re getting yourself into before you commit. Most hostels offer individual rooms with shared bathrooms (located in the hallway), double rooms, quad rooms or “dorms” that sleep 8 or more. Of course, the fewer people to a room, the more expensive the rates are, but sometimes it’s worth it for the guaranteed privacy. Some hostels provide linens (sheets, towels, etc.) and some don’t, so it’s a good idea to ask (especially if you’ll be traveling from afar and don’t want to or can’t bring your own linens with you. It’s important to understand exactly what you’ll be getting for the price.
- Find out about the area surrounding the hostel. As is to be expected, most hostels aren’t located in the “swanky” parts of the city. Do a little research on the area in which the hostel is located to make sure that you will feel safe when you’re walking to and from the hostel at night. This is especially important if traveling alone.
- Enjoy the hostel culture. Hostel “dwellers” are a diverse group, and most are excited to share their travel knowledge if asked. If you’ve just arrived, strike up a conversation with a friendly looking traveler and ask him or her about his or her experience in the city. You’re sure to learn a lot and perhaps even make some friends who will make your trip even more enjoyable. Some hostels have bars or cafeteria-style restaurants attached to them. Hang out in these public places to meet new people and enjoy the hostel culture.
- When you get home, review the hostel online. Throw fellow travelers a bone and review your hostel experience online. Remember to be honest and include the good, bad and the ugly.