When I first came to Europe, my one goal in life was to travel as much as I possibly could. Originally I was only supposed to be here for 3 years and then go back to the States, so I had to cram in as many places as I could. This meant that I had to learn how to travel cheaply. One of the biggest expenses on any trip is of course the hotel. In Europe, they can get expensive, and they get more expensive when you start going to the “big” destinations such as London, Paris, or Rome. Fortunately, my older brother Eric had taken a backpacking trip around Europe a few years earlier and showed me a few tricks. The best thing he showed me was the beauty of the youth hostel.
For those who have never heard of youth hostels, let me introduce them to you. A youth hostel is a cheap, sometimes dormitory-style type of lodging that is perfect for backpackers and anyone else who is trying to travel cheap. Most of them are controlled by organizations such as Hostelling International (HI). They are certainly not luxury accommodations, but that’s the whole point; if you’re traveling on a tight budget, you don’t want to spend all your money on a place to sleep. Most hostels charge 20 – 30 bucks a night. For this, you usually get a bed, a locker, a shower, and sometimes breakfast. For me, they were perfect because all I needed was a place to keep my bag and lay my head at night, so I could use the money I was saving on other stuff, such as food, nightlife, souvenirs, or, well, nightlife.
Hostels offer several advantages to the traveler. I already mentioned the price advantage. Another is that millions of travelers use hostels every year. Many are students. So at any hostel, you’re going to meet people from all over the world. What better way to get the most out of traveling than to stay with others from many different cultures? I always traveled by myself and more often than not, I would meet others to hang out with. Australians mostly – those are some traveling people, those Aussies – but also Scottish, Swedish, hell, even Koreans. In Strasbourg, France, I met a Scottish guy named Gavin who was there visiting his French girlfriend. She left a day early, so he and I ended up hitting the pubs all night. I’ll tell you, this was a lot more interesting than drinking with an American guy all night. In Rome, I met an Australian guy who was traveling alone. I was headed out to the pub and he asked if he could tag along. I said sure, and we ended up meeting some other Australians later. I love drinking with Australians; they’ve all got great stories. These types of things are typical at youth hostels. Because of the number of travelers who stay there, they also offer the perfect opportunity to learn anything you need to know about any travel topic you can think of. The people are always friendly and always willing to share their experiences, tips, etc. with others.
Here’s another advantage; location. Because of the very nature of the youth hostel, they are always located very close to the touristy areas, since most backpackers and other budget travelers usually don’t drive. This works out perfectly, as you can usually walk wherever you need to be.
Here are some disadvantages; first is that the rooms are segregated, so if you’re traveling with a “significant other”, it might not be the best option. Another aspect that turns some people off is that the rooms are often dormitory style so you may have several other people in your rooms, and there’s usually a shared bathroom/shower. But hey, what do you want for 20 bucks?
On almost every trip I took during my two years in Germany, I stayed at youth hostels. I’ve stayed at hostels in places such as Rome, Amsterdam, Zurich, Luxembourg, Frankfurt and Montreal and never been disappointed. Eventually, I started earning more money and decided to start staying in hotels when I went places. But the hostelling experience added a tremendous amount to my early traveling education and gave me a real appreciation for things that I would have missed by staying in hotels. And, as I mentioned, it saved me a hell of a lot of money.
For more information on youth hostels or to locate a hostel anywhere in the world, check out this link: Hostels.com
Or, you can do a google search on “youth hostels” and you’ll find everything you need.