Hostel or Hovel?: How to Get Something Super Cheap but Not Super Creepy

I wanted to continue in my series about traveling how-to's and this one is a biiiiiiiiiiig one. A larger "where to stay" post shall come in time, but hostels are their own animal. When I studied abroad, every trip I went on, I stayed in a hostel. So don't call me an me a warrior. Let's get into it.
think in advance.
Hostel bookings all come down to three things: season, day of the week, and area in the city. Are you going to coastal Italy in December or July? That will factor into price. Are you staying Monday through Wednesday or Friday through Sunday? Dollar amount goes way up. Are you on main street or an hour train ride from the city center? Etc etc etc. These are all things to think about and compromise on. Also, when you're booking influences this as well. Some places I paid for three months in advance, while others I only nailed down maybe a week ahead of time. Again: price, price, price. I think my London week was probably the best example of this: We stayed Tuesday through Saturday, were placed out of the "main hustle" of London, and picked November to do our sightseeing. So...pretty cheap. You know, for London.

pick a room.
When you book your stay, usually hostels will have several different options. There are private rooms...and then there are bunk rooms. Private rooms mean you pay for the entire room and have your own personal key to that place. It's awesome when traveling with medium sized groups, say 4-6. Then you all split the cost of the room and don't have to worry about rando's. However, these precious places cost more and book up quicker. Your other option is a public bunk room. Here, you pay per bed, get assigned a bunk (oh, yeah, btw: no guarantee you'll be next to your friends) and sleep there. You get a locker to store all your stuff and hope no one snatches you in your sleep. Okay, jokes aside: public bunk rooms aren't ACTUALLY that scary. In fact, a lot of times they aren't scary at all. Most of the hostels I stayed in were public and it's really a great way to meet new people and bond with a bunch of strangers. There was the girl in Paris who was also studying abroad in Transylvania (that was an interesting conversation...lots of vampire puns). There were the Eastern Europeans staying in our room in London who put on a pajama fashion show late one Friday night. And then, you can't forget the cute guys from Poland who spoke varying degrees of English (and who were all obsessed with Game of Thrones...some things transcend language). So, give public hostels a shot, at least once. Just be careful about the bed bugs.
[wandering in Brugges...]
directionally challenged? good luck.
We used to joke that there was some sort of curse around all being that they're impossible to find. In reality, I just can't read a map. But the truth of most trips is that once you touch down in the city, your first order of business is to find the place you're sleeping that night. Here is my advice: breathe. Also, eat. You will get to the place. Ask for directions. Look at the map a few different ways. Be friendly and personable once you arrive, no matter how terrible the journey has been. 

ask the desk staff.
If you have any questions whatsoever about the city you're in, never hesitate to ask the secretary. Usually it's just someone working a 9-5 but here's the thing: they LIVE in the place you are visiting. Meaning, they know all the hotspots, as well as the lukewarm spots and the off-the-path spots. On my first independent trip to Poland, my travel buddy and I chose to ask the nice girl behind the desk where to go that night and she had a lot of great ideas of where to go and even gave us specifics pubs and bars to go based on our preferences. After that, she even helped us book train tickets for the next day! Definitely spend a few minutes chatting them up; you won't regret it.
enjoy the rustic-ness.
Face it: you had the option to choose some nice hotel. But instead, you took the plunge and went for a hostel. Love it! Document it! Complain about it while you're out with friends but then thank god they assigned you to the bottom bunk! Really though: hostels are an amazing experience in and of themselves. They give you a chance to meet new people, see the city, and put you out of your comfort zone. Highly recommended. 

Oh, and I guess I should have my favorite hostel I stayed in on here: El Hostel in Warsaw, Poland. Beautifully decorated, very clean, and great staff.

Have you ever stayed in a hostel? What did you think of it?

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