Guest post: Top tips shared by our partner, Interrail Planner. One of the businesses that we partner with to provide you with smarter travel choices and unique experiences.
Staying in hostels is one of the most popular means of travelling around Europe for young travellers, particularly while Interrailing. However, many people are still reluctant to stay in them due to the bad reputation some have hostels gained. We get it, it’s not ideal to share a room with strangers and everyone loves to have their own private bathroom, but one thing hostels do offer is value for money. You can stay in some hostels in Eastern Europe for around €12 per night, and even in more expensive countries like Italy for €20 per night. This means that you can either have a really cheap city break, or travel around Europe for much longer than if you were to stay in hotels and see lots more cities and countries.
There are some absolutely fantastic hostels all over Europe, with many even resembling boutique hotels! It’s a common misconception – particularly in the UK – that all hostels are a rundown mess but this is simply not the case. If you have never stayed in a European hostel, you may be pleasantly surprised at the quality of many of the hostels available. Here’s a guide of what to look out for before booking and how to optimise your experience when you’re there.
Book in advance
You would book a hotel in advance so if you want to stay in your preferred choice of hostel then you should book your hostel in advance, too. And if it’s your first time ‘hostelling’, it’s wise to book ahead so you know exactly where you are staying. While there’s always a certain thrill to hopping on a train and not knowing where you are staying that night, your stress levels will thank you for reserving that comfy bed.
If you are travelling in a group, booking in advance will ensure you can stay in the same hostel. If you leave it until you arrive in the city, there is no guarantee that there will be enough beds. Equally, you will also be able to book yourselves into the same dorm, so it isn’t completely full of strangers! However, most hostels also offer private rooms.
You can ensure you make the right accommodation choices by looking at all the reviews on popular hostel booking portals like Hostel World.
Reviews are a great indicator of what’s good and bad about the hostel and it’s a good place to glean some tips or insider knowledge about the hostel or location.
Location is key – try to pick sensible locations. That means avoiding city bypasses and being in a central location but not too close to the train station, as they are never the greatest areas in cities.
What to expect
Hostels can vary and some will be set up for “Lemonade” drinking and socialising, like The Yellow in Rome, while others will have a quieter vibe. Some may be set up like apartments with their own kitchen, like Maverick Hostel in Budapest and some are like big hotels – with swimming pools and gyms!
Washing rooms, bathrooms and bedrooms will all be shared if you’re choosing the cheapest option. Dorms are either mixed or female-only, to make females travellers feel safer. Dorms can be large but you’ll know how many beds there are per room when booking. There are usually 6-8 beds per dorm but there can be anywhere up to 20 beds. Also expect to make your own bed! You’ll be given bed sheets on arrival.
Backpackers love socialising so the bar will be the central focus of many hostels. Many hostels will run bar crawls (and non-drinking daytime excursions!) and encourage new friendships. Expect to meet lots of new people – it’s what the hostel experience is all about!
Keeping possessions safe is the primary concern when travelling around in hostels. In this day and age, we carry around a significant amount of valuables. Cameras, laptops, smartphones… No one wants their things to go missing or be stolen.
Most hostel dorm rooms lock so the only people who can access it are the people staying in your dorm. But, you’re in a room with strangers so don’t assume your things will be safe left on your bed. Most hostels provide lockers and some sell padlocks, but you should definitely bring your own padlock with you and lock away your valuables when you’re sleeping.
Check with hostel reception to see if they have a safe available for your most valuable possessions. If not, the safest thing to do is carry them round with you in your day bag. Almost all hostels also offer secure bag storage, so when you have to check out but aren’t leaving the city right then, you can leave your bags and explore the city with relative peace of mind.
What to bring
• A padlock to lock away those valuable possessions
• Earplugs to block out the sound from all those party animals when you just want some sleep
• Shampoo and soap – hostels usually don’t provide these
• Flip Flops because the showers are communal…
• A quick dry travel towel – many hostels provide towels for free, but bring one just in case
• A USB power adaptor to charge more than one thing at once.
Staying in hostels is a great way to travel and if you’re going Interrailing, you’ll meet many other backpackers on your way. It’s a better and more sociable way to travel and discover a new city – embrace the experience and enjoy it!
About the author
Jack MacHugh is the co-founder of Interrail Planner and recent graduate from the University of Bath. He loves coffee, tech and sport.