The Holy Diamond was inspired by a lot of themes, including music, Eurovision, Nuremburg, and the Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire. But one of themes I wanted to include was the hostel life. For those who have been to a number of hostels, you have probably noted that they are all quite different. I’ve been to Hiltons, Marriots, Radissons, and other luxury hotels…and the rooms are almost all the same, as well as the hotels overall. But hostels vary as much as clothes or food.
I have stayed in at least 100 hostels, I think, through my years of backpacking. It is thanks to these experiences that I was inspired to and able to write The Holy Diamond: A Backpacking Adventure. Based on my experiences, I can tell you a bit about what to consider about selecting a hostel. What you like and won’t like will, like food or clothes, be a matter of circumstance and personal preference.
In Part I of the hostel blog, I will talk about a few factors to consider:
Location. Location is important for any kind of shelter – home, hotel, tent, friend’s place, parking, etc. Most, but not all, hostels are centrally located. In some cities I’ve been to like Utrecht, Netherlands, and Bologne, Italy, the hostels were several kilometers from the city. It made getting back and forth time-consuming and usually meant I had a self-imposed “curfew” in order to not deal with the hassle of a taxi or walking after midnight. In Dubrovnik, I stayed at a hostel that was only 500 meters or so away; but it was 500 meters straight uphill. So once I was at the hostel after a long ascent in 35-degree Celsius heat I tended to stay.
Nonetheless, all else being equal, I always prefer to stay in the centre. In Tallinn, Estonia; Nuremburg, Germany; Riga, Latvia; and Split, Croatia for example, the hostels were within the old city centres so that I was able to go back and forth to the hostels between museum visits, meals, and whatever else to take a nap, clean up, or just check out the hostel social scenes. Especially in Europe, my backpacking home base, most cultural and social activities (pubs, bars, clubs, restaurants, etc.) are located in the old city centres.
What else is great about being in the old city centre? You often, but not always, get a scenic view, the hostels tend to be more active socially with more backpackers, and you will also be closer to public transportation hubs (bus stations, metro stops, train stations). There is nothing more annoying than arriving in a city and then having to walk four kilometers or figure out the bus or metro to the hostel.
What is bad about being in the centre? Anything? Well of course. Almost everything in life except suntan lotion (according to a fake Kurt Vonnegut commencement speech) has disadvantages. City centre hostels are in general more expensive, smaller, dirtier, and MUCH MUCH noisier than their non-centre hostel counterparts. The great noise is because of both the sounds of the city (people yelling in the streets, garbage trucks, traffick, trams, buses, etc.); and the often party atmosphere within the hostel. One of the “worst” hostels I have stayed in was in Vienna, Austria, center. The room for four was so tight a person could not walk around another. There was no common room, kitchen, and the shower was run down. But the location was good, and the roommates were friendly.
WIFI: One other thing I will say about a consideration for a hostel is INTERNET. The internet is a wonderful thing, in part because otherwise I would not have a blog! In many expensive hotels, internet is an additional cost – up to ten dollars an hour, or fifty dollars for 24 hours! Almost EVERY HOSTEL has FREE Internet – that’s both wifi and a free desktop computer (or several)! In a way, not only do you pay less vis a vis a high-end hotel, but you get more!
More hostel characteristics to be continued… but to finish, how do you now what a hostel does or does not have? I use the website hostelworld.com. It has detailed descriptions of the hostels they offer, as well as reviews. READ THE REVIEWS! While it is true that one person will say best hostel ever, and another will say worst, you will still get, on average, accurate enough reviews. And hostelworld.com also has some simple ratings that are based on calculated averages.
Remember: hostels are not just a place to sleep, but a way of travel!
There are three photos below, each from the hostel websites.
The Tallinn Backpackers hostel is within the old city, and a seven minute walk or less to the main gate.
The Bologne hostel, in contrast, is several kilometers from the centre. Worst, it was hot and filled with mosquitos!