Since getting to Italy I’ve spent a (probably ridiculous/borderline compulsive) amount of time online researching places to stay for upcoming trips with the kids. I’ve outlined our thought process in determining where to stay before, in this post. This week, however, had me doing researching a type of accommodation that has been out of consideration since we got here: hostels.
I’ll get to the why in a minute.
Before I got married (almost seven years ago!), most of my international trips involved staying in hostels. I’ve stayed in them throughout Europe and in Australia, Turkey, Israel, Egypt, Singapore and possibly another that I’m forgetting. My parents had us staying mostly in hostels during our big three-week trip to Europe when my siblings and I were 13, 11, 9 and 7 years old — a fact that seems even more impressive now that I’m a parent myself. During that time, I’ve had good experiences and bad, but by and large it is something I highly recommend to single travelers.
So, the hostels that I remember most fondly are notable less for what they are than how they are. I’ve twice stayed at the Yoho Youth Hostel in Salzburg, once at 13 and once at 18 years old. Despite that I can’t even remember what the actual rooms were like (dorms, of course, but comfortable or not I couldn’t tell you) but what I do remember is constant screenings of The Sound of Music, meeting fellow travelers in the hostel pub and fun employees. Likewise, while I remember being beyond grateful for bedding that didn’t feel like horse blankets and air conditioning that actually worked at my favorite hostel in Cairo, Hostel Brothers, my best memories are of making friends there.
For the single traveler, hostels are great because a) they are cheap and b) they offer companionship. When I spent two months in the middle East and Asia in 2008, I loved hostels because I almost always ended up making friends and having people go out to dinner, see sights or swap stories with. By contrast, once I hit the India portion of that trip I switched to hotels because it was so cheap (not much point in sharing a dorm if you can have a private room for $5) but I found that I got pretty lonely. That’s not to say it is all upside — crappy mattresses, noise when you are trying to sleep, complete lack of privacy and perpetually and infuriatingly wet bathrooms are pretty much the rule, not the exception — but while on my own and focused on saving money it was a pretty decent trade off.
Chris and I haven’t been into staying in hostels together, but this week I was revisiting hostelworld.com again on behalf of my brother-in-law, Brett. He’s decided to join us in Munich for Oktoberfest (as I’ve mentioned, we are meeting my parents, some of their friends and some of our friends there) and needed to find somewhere to stay. Hotel prices are pretty inflated and many are booked up, so at a minimum he was looking at either about 500 euro for two nights’ accommodation or staying way on the outskirts to get a better rate. Another complication in our search was that we already have reservations at a nonrefundable, fully booked-up hotel, but he was hoping to stay near us so that he wouldn’t have to be wandering around trying to find his way back to his hotel on his own. Especially after a few liters of beer.
Enter the idea of hostels.
There was actually one right next door to our hotel that was an insane €47/night for a dorm bed. It would have been perfect except for reviews saying things like “smells like a frat house” and “laptops got stolen” and “filled with drunk men and we feared for our safety” and “RUN AWAY!”
So maybe not.*
We ended up picking a hostel based on basically the same criteria Chris and I use for hotels — location, price and reviews. For the sake of convenience, we were particularly concerned with finding one close to our hotel (even if we did give up on the one RIGHT NEXT DOOR) and ended up finding one about a kilometer away. It certainly didn’t end up being as cheap at the horrible-sounding one, especially since Brett decided to shell out a little extra to get a room in the six-bed dorm instead of the 12-bed, but he’ll still be paying about half as much as he would in a hotel.**
I’m really hoping that he has a great experience since it’ll be both his first time in Europe and his first time in a youth hostel. We’ll see! At the very least, hopefully jetlag and beer help him sleep through any potentially noisy bed(room)fellows.
*Despite this, he actually did still consider it because €92 for two nights? I mean, that’s cheap. And it was SO CLOSE to our own hotel …
**Worth noting that hostels would normally be more than 50 percent cheaper than the hotel, probably. The youth hostel price was inflated because it was Oktoberfest; the bed he’ll end up paying €117 for would normally be €34 per night.