What an exciting day! Why you ask? Because you are about to get a bonus post!
We have had a request or two to put up hostel pictures. And we know that there are a few misconceptions about hostels out there, like that they are dirty or unsafe…or underground… This is a post to clear everything up for all of you who have never in fact been in a hostel.
We will start by giving you the hostel basics. We book all of our hostels in advance online, just as you would with a hotel. There are 2 separate websites that we consult and book through. First we look at pricing. But in addition, each website has a percent rating for each hostel based on customer reviews. We don’t even consider any hostel with a rating of less than 75% overall. We say overall because the ranInge are broken down into separate categories like cleanliness, location and atmosphere. We take the ratings of each of these into consideration as well. We don’t stay anywhere where the reviews all say it is really dirty & gross. In contrast, we love places that have good location rating.
Let’s talk a little more about location. We have noticed a correlation between how nice a place is and how close it is to the train station. If we had a car we would be all about the further away hostels, but that is not the case. So unless a place has really good public transport (like Paris or London) or we are staying in the place for a long time, we often go for places within walking distance of the rail line. We find also that unless there is a great metro system, etc these hostels are often in a good location for seeing the sites.
Now that that’s out of the way we can get to the hostels themselves. Hostels can be situated anywhere, in any sort of building. In London the Walrus Waterloo was located above a bar. In Cambridge the hostel was in it’s own random building. In Wicklow it was a converted house. In Paris it was just jammed inbetween shops and restaurants. We have yet to find one that’s an underground dungeon….but we will keep you posted.
Within the hostel there are 4 main parts that concern us:
1. Common Areas
2. Kitchen/Breakfast Area
These can range anywhere from a cramped little room with two tables & a couple of chairs (like we jammed ourselves into to Skype with our families in Belfast) to a full living room with couches and a TV (like where we enjoyed tea & Friends episodes in Wicklow). In the huge out-of-town hostel we stayed at in Stratford there was the million tabled breakfast area to sit in (which is often all there is for common space) but also a lovely sitting room that we never saw anyone other than us use. Sometimes the common area will be a bar, as was the case in a couple of the YHA (Youth Hostel Association) hostels we’ve stayed in, plus the one in London. Common areas vary in busy-ness with the place, hostel type and day of the week. The Paris and Bath common spaces always had at least 3 other people in it, but we hardly ran into anyone else in York.
Kitchen and Breakfast Area
Paris is the only hostel we have been to so far that did not have a kitchen. Everywhere else has had at least a small area with a sink, a fridge and a collection of mismatched dishes. Some places have huge kitchens. These are usually where you see people cooking entire gourmet dinners, or sometimes just simple pasta dishes. The various pots, pans & dishes are there for your use as long as you wash them when you finish. You can always store your own food in the kitchens too, it just needs to be labelled with your name and departure date so they can clean out the fridge without throwing out food still being used.
If a hostel provides breakfast it is usually served in the kitchen. Usually one counter is devoted to the breakfast food, while the rest are open for other use. These breakfasts are always the same sort of thing: toast, cereal, juice, coffee. In Wicklow there was that amazing pumpkin bread we wrote a limerick verse about. In Paris there were croissants and delicious buns. In the YHA hostels we’ve stayed at (Cambridge, Startford, etc.) they do not provide a free breakfast but a hot cooked breakfast for a small additional fee. These places have a seperate breakfast room, a large room full of tables with a buffet station to pick up this breakfast. The food is usually pretty good so we often buy into these meals.
Wicklow – Stratford
Hostel room sizes vary greatly. Depending on the place, you can have a choice that ranges from a private, single room up to a spot in a 16+ bed dorm. The most common are 6 or 8 bed rooms. These are the ones we usually go for. On occasion we have been in a 4 bed room if the price is about the same. All of the hostels we’ve been to so far have had bunk beds. They are a major space saver, which is much needed in a few places. Sometimes its amazing how many beds they can jam into such a small space. We like it when we can have one bed to ourselves. Kristin uses the top bunk, Justine the bottom, and then we stick our stuff underneath. The beds are not all that uncomfortable (we’ve only had one place where they were a little springy) but they can be old and extremely squeaky. So far linens have been provided everywhere. This is becoming more common in an effort to keep people from bringing bed bugs in on their own linens. We will see if it continues like this or if we will need our own stuff as we progress east. As for having 2 to 6 unknown roommates, it’s better than one would expect. A few times we’ve been in all females dorms, but often its a mixed room. We’ve had a full or close to full room pretty much every night and everyone so far has been very respectful. No one messes with your stuff. People try to be quiet if they get home later or up earlier than the other in the room. We’re all in the same boat so you really treat others like you want to be treated.
The biggest annoyance would have to be the occassional snoarer. When we were in Stratford we had a woman who snoared so loud everyone kept making noise to try to wake her up so we could fall asleep. Otherwise, we have earplugs and are usually so tired by the time we get into bed that we conk right out.
This is the least predictable of the important areas. There are usually photos & descriptions online that give you an idea of what the hostel will be like, but then never show/talk about the bathrooms. That is unless it mentions your room has a ensuite. We have had an ensuite bathroom three times so far and it is both a blessing and a curse. If you have to go in the middle of the night it is awesome. If you have 8 peope in a room and they all get up at approximately the same time, it’s not so awesome.
Wicklow – Paris
Some smart places put a mirror & sink in the bedroom, even if there isn’t an ensuite bathroom. In Stratford it even was partitioned off ok so you could change there and turn on the light without bothering sleepers.
If the rooms don’t have an ensuite bathroom there are usually ones spread throughout the floors. They are usually separated into toilets & showers. That way you’re not stuck dancing in the hallways waiting while people bathe. Some places have nice big bathrooms with large mirrors (like in Bath where they even had a blow dryer) and some have cramped little closets you can barely fit into.
The showers can be quite an adventure. We have stayed in more than one place where the showers have been really great! We have stayed in more than one place where it seems impossible to get hot water. Sometimes the water pressure is good. Sometimes you wonder if it will take an hour to get your hair rinsed. The best is when you get in and can’t even figure out how to turn it on….
There are 2 other smaller things we have started looking into immediately when we get to a hostel that you may not initially think of:
Wifi is huge for us. First, it is how we book our hostels. Without it we have no guaranteed place to sleep. Second, it is how we plan our train trips. Without it we would be showing up at rail stations at random times just hoping things would work out for us. Then there’s the fact that it is how we post this blog. It is how we see our Facebook and Twitter to keep up with what’s happening with our friends. It is how we email & Skype with our families who we really miss! It’s how we Wikipedia anything we wondered about during the day. We are part of the generation that cannot live without the Internet!
The best is when you can get Internet in your bedroom. Then you can do everything from the comfort of your bed. But if that’s not possible we will take free wifi in the lobby/bar/breakfast area. We’ve only stayed at 3 places without free wifi and we ended up paying to get some in the third place. It’s really annoying wandering the streets trying to pick up a usable signal. On that note though, Justine is like a wifi finder app. And she did once talk to her family via Skype while sitting outside a random park gate in Cambridge.
This might seem like an odd one, but there is nothing more annoying than a room with no plug ins! When you have as many electronics as we do you need to be charging things all the time. We each have an iPhone, then there’s IgPat, and our camera batteries and the iPods with our audiobooks & audio tours on them. You should see us when there aren’t plug-ins in the bedroom. We end up sitting on the steps in the hallway for hours waiting for everything to charge…we really did do this in Cambridge…people gave us very odd looks…
It’s also nice when there’s a plug-in in the hallway. There are no plug-ins in the hostel bathrooms over here, and you don’t want to wake up all of your roommates by blowdrying your hair in the middle of the bedroom.
So that is your basic hostel tutorial. We are quite pleased with our hostel experience so far. It’s fun just to see the other people that are staying there. You find people from all over the world. You also find people of all different ages, from high school groups to the occasional elderly couple. Sometimes there are even families with young children. And always interesting characters!
Feel free to ask questions! We tried to cover everything we could think of, but we’re sure there’s something we missed!
Love, Luck & Linens,