The Right Hostel Makes A Difference
A few months ago, my friends and I went to Uruguay - and we had a blast! I have stayed in my fair share of hostels over the years, but the excitement of traveling always gets to me and I always forget these crucial steps when picking out and staying in a hostel or an airbnb.
Disclaimer: I vehemently prefer airbnbs
1. Location, Location, Location
It is essential to pick a central location when traveling. In Montevideo, it was about a 30 minute drive from the airport, which was great, and the hostel was by the beach. We had access to public transportation to travel throughout the city and see museums in the area.
As college students, we wanted to have cheap food nearby, because we knew that other excursions would cost us money (daily passes, cultural/historical sites, museums, etc.). If you are traveling in a group, which I highly recommended to split up lodging costs, make sure you pick a safe and fun place in the city.
Location is also imperative in planning excursions. When we stayed in Ollantaytambo, we knew that that meant we would have to take an early train to Aguas Calientes to take the bus to Machu Picchu. If you are an early riser (like myself), this was the least stressful part of the trip because it meant saving money and waking up at a normal time. However, some people might prefer sleeping in if they can budget for a closer hostel. Ahh, the art of compromise in group travels.
2. Contact the Hostel or Airbnb Beforehand
* Does the hostel/airbnb provide towels during your stay?
* Are there late fees for checking-out later?
* Is breakfast included?
* Is there wifi?
Conflicting information between the website and the on-site staff is extra headache that you don't need. It pays to check the essential matters first. When we visited Ollantaytambo a month ago, we arrived the night the whole town was celebrating its foundation (independence?) and there was an enormous crowd at the plaza. The small plaza was engulfed by happy people, sizzling delicacies, and lively music. Little did we know that our hostel owner was (somewhere!) in that crowd, so we ended up ringing the bell for over an hour and eventually had to book at another hostel in the middle of the night - in a city we did not know. It is imperative to check in early by calling to ensure that you and the hostel are on the same page. When we contacted our airbnb in Buenos Aires, our landlord was very nice and gave us the breakdown of the utilities and left us a very detailed binder for various cases. She even sent someone over when I blew the fuse cooking stir fry and blasting the AC. Bottom line: peace of mind is very important and it helps knowing exactly what you’re in for.
In hindsight, I probably should have started with this rule, since we have been learning this since 2nd grade. Say it with me now, "we treat others the way we want to be treated." (Somewhere in Haiti, there is a nun who is VERY proud of me right now). Firstly, this is not your home. A hostel is a communal, temporary home. In the sense that you can go a few days without cleaning your dishes, you cannot and should not do that in a hostel. Respect it.
You are sharing a big space with many people, so it is imperative to be respectful of the hostel's rules and regulations. There are often rules about smoking, drinking, and curfews in a hostel.
4. Learn From Others
Hostels are common homes to many people, temporary or not. It gets much easier if you take advantage of the plethora of cultures that you get introduced to through other travelers. In Patagonia, I learned to make a Dutch pancake (with apples, bacon, and cheese), in Montevideo someone blessed us with free curry powder for our stir-fry, and we traded oil for tomatoes in Buenos Aires. I have had my fair share of cold showers and sleepy mornings, but I have never met a fellow traveler or hiker who wasn't willing to share their food, life/travel experiences, or wool socks with us (it can get terribly cold).
It is my genuine hope that you find the best hostels or airbnb wherever your travel adventures may take you. It is important to stay safe and be safe, but also remember that you will not spend much time in the hostel anyway, as you will be hungry to see what new adventures await in your designated city. It is never a good idea to compromise your safety or the safety of your friends. Travel in groups and book in groups. It takes compromise, and it takes someone stepping up and taking initiative (sometimes there really are too many cooks in the kitchen). But most of all, it takes openness and honesty so that everyone pays their fair share.
Stay hungry, stay traveling.
Stephane Alexandre is the Intercultural Immersion Editor for Wandering Educators. A Tufts University student, she just returned from studying abroad in Chile.
All photos courtesy and copyright Stephane Alexandre, except word photo: creative commons