hostels

If you think hostels aren't for you, think again

Hostelling International Boston was the only place to stay in Boston affordably and comfortably, as I quickly found. Also known as HI Boston, it is actually a chain of hostels available in the U.S. and Europe. Because there are so few hostels in America, often Hostelling International is one of the only brands available and now I know that the quality of their brand and service makes them one of the best choices. 

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When I first arrived in Boston, I had a different hostel booked for the first night, because while it was not as well rated as HI, it was decently rated and a few dollars cheaper. But after one night, I found that the hostel I was staying at was not worth the money—customer service was nonexistent, the bathrooms were dirty, the dorms crowded and dark. So I called HI Boston, crossing my fingers that I would get a bed over the holiday weekend. Soon I was dragging my luggage down the stairs of the T (the metro in Boston) on my way to Chinatown. 

My first impression of the hostel was that it was beautiful, clean, and big. The entrance and lobby serve as both a hangout and a waiting area, with big comfy couches and a fireplace. You can buy some basic snacks and drinks or hang out in the community room that has a projector for showing films and sports matches. There is an industrial kitchen upstairs, where free breakfast (coffee, juice, yogurt, toast, bagels, and cereal) is served every morning and sometimes a free community dinner. But guests are free to use the appliances to make their own food, or grab a cup of tea or coffee anytime throughout the day. On the second floor is a laundry room, a book exchange, a pool table, and lots of places to relax and meet new friends. Then there is the community events board. This is the magical board that is always full to the brim of cool activities, meet-ups, and free outings. That’s the best part about Hostelling International, they always have things to do and make it easy to meet other travelers. 

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The rooms themselves are spacious and the bunks are nice. If you’ve never stayed in a hostel before, I can assure you that this is the best possible set up. Each bunk has a large locker next to it, that acts as a caddy for all your bags and valuables. Tip: Hostels don’t usually provide locks, either use a luggage lock or travel with a combination lock. By the head of each bed is a hollow part in the locker that has multiple outlets and a reading light. I used this as my bedside table, charging my phone and keeping my glasses and a book. This feature is great on the top bunk, so you don’t have to climb in and out of bed or store things on the side of the mattress where they could get lost. The bathrooms were awesome, because instead of large communal bathrooms, like in a gym, there were lots of individual bathrooms, each with a shower. As always in a hostel, the state of the bathrooms relies heavily on the other hostel inhabitants. While the cleaning staff did a great job, some bathrooms get untidy when travelers don’t clean up after themselves. It should be noted that while not all hostels provide towels (some charge you to rent them) they are included in the price at HI and it’s easy to switch out your towel for a clean one.

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HI Boston is a beautiful and affordable place to stay, whether you are a lone traveler, a couple, a family, or group of friends. It’s the first hostel I stayed at where there were so many different ages and groups of people. There are many dorm rooms (which are usually smaller so people aren’t constantly coming and going) as well as private rooms. HI has a great setup with lots of amenities so that you can be comfortable and meet other travelers. While I initially balked at the cost, with breakfast and so many other extras included with amazing service you won’t find another hotel or hostel in an American city that is so worth the value. When traveling in the U.S., Hostelling International would be the first place I would look.

Prices:

Dorms come in mixed gender, female, and male and vary in size. Large rooms (8 beds) are cheap than smaller (4 bed) dorms. For one bed in a 6 bed dorm it is $44.49 Sunday through Thursday, and then $59.49 on Friday and Saturday. There is also a $3 charge per night if you are not a member; membership is $28 a year. 

Private rooms can vary in price depending on the day of the week and the season, but on average in June a double room is about $220 per night. 

Disclaimer: This post was written in partnership with HI Boston. As always, the opinions expressed here are completely my own. 

How to Plan Your Next Great Adventure

Picking a Place and Deciding to Go

Sometimes it’s very simple to decide on a travel destination, because an opportunity pops up or you’ve been dreaming of it forever. Other times it feels like there are a million places in the world that you haven’t been yet, and choosing between them isn’t easy. If you do not have someplace in mind, look at airfare prices and consider what’s the most affordable and what fits with your schedule. For me, the transport to and from a place is usually the most expensive part of the trip, so minimizing that can save money for experiences, accommodation, and food.

The other way to figure out where to go is to get advice. You can skim Pinterest (check out my boards for some major wanderlust) for a particularly intriguing and beautiful place. Ask someone who has visited the region that you are thinking about, maybe they recommend certain countries above others. However, keep in mind that other travelers may have different priorities and tastes when it comes to travel than you do. Honestly, I find that while I do prefer some destinations to others, every country has a lot to offer, so there will always be adventures.

If you already know where you’re going, check out the easiest and cheapest ways to get there. Which city will you fly into? Are you buying a roundtrip ticket? It’s true that often a roundtrip ticket is cheaper, but not always. When you plan on travel for over a month, it can be cheapest to buy a one-way ticket to a place when the time is right and then wait until the return prices drop and buy the other half. This is also helpful if you are not flying out of the same place you flew into, which is most likely when you are away for an extended period of time.

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Lastly, I have one travel secret to share with you: Rome2Rio. What is that, you ask? The best way to see all of the options that can get you from point A to B. Type in two places and you will see bus, train, plane routes and prices. While not all of their options are viable (a 40-hour flight with three layovers?!) it’s worth considering different modes and combinations of travel. Maybe you can break up the many layovers and stopover in a few more places, or maybe you didn’t realize there was a local ferry as well as the expensive tourist speedboat. Seriously, try it out. But be warned, I’ve spent quite a bit of time planning trips on Rome2Rio to procrastinate work!

Accommodation

Finding accommodation is often the hardest part of trip planning. It often feels like you have to choose between price and quality. Not to mention, there are now many more options beyond the standard hotel, so there are multiple search engines and companies to scroll through. I usually go straight to hostelworld.com when I’m looking for a place to stay, and airbnb.com after that. It all depends on the place. If it is in the middle of a European city, there are tons of cheap options, often pretty well-rated and reviewed. But recently I was looking for someplace to stay in Boston, and found everything was expensive as a hotel, and the selection was limited because there are so few hostels in America. In rural areas or with big groups of people, it’s worth looking into renting a house for your stay, either through vrbo.com or airbnb. For solo travelers or duos, hostels or even couchsurfing may be the best option, or a private room in someone’s house via airbnb.

There are some main points to consider when booking a place to stay: price, proximity, quality, and extras. (You can find my guide specifically for booking great hostels here.) The first thing I usually do on any of the above search engines is filter and sort the selection. I focus the map or area within a short distance of my location and well-connected to public transportation. So then I use the sliders or other tools to only show me options in my price range and I sort them so I see the highest rated at the top. I believe I have only stayed at places that have solid ratings and reviews, never at a place without reviews as I want to ensure a certain level of cleanliness and security before I go. Depending on where you are heading the prices will differ greatly, as I recently found planning to go to Stockholm from Poland (hostel prices hit a low of 9 USD a night in Warsaw and a high of 50 USD for a dorm bed in Stockholm). And lastly, when I speak of extras, I look to book hostels and hotels that include as much as possible for their prices. Some hostels will charge you to rent sheets and towels, while others will provide them for free, as well as tea, coffee, and city tours. It’s easy to figure out which one to choose, if you check what is included in the price of your stay.

Sometimes efficient accommodation means sleeping on the train! 

Sometimes efficient accommodation means sleeping on the train! 


Day-to-Day Budget

Creating a budget for a trip seems reasonable, until you try and follow that budget. There are often extra expenses that pop up in real life. It’s helpful to look at budget posts on travel blogs or look at a menu and it’s prices of a popular restaurant wherever you are going to get an understanding of what a typical day will cost. Also you should always build in a few extra dollars to your budget for that dessert that you didn’t quite plan on buying. In the end you want to roughly know how much you will spend on four categories: transportation (from flights to metro rides), accommodation, food, and fun things.

Activities!

The best part to plan: what you’re going to do when you arrive at your destination. However I caution against planning too much--you don’t want an hour-by-hour guide to your entire trip. I go through TripAdvisor.com and forums to find the tourist ‘must-dos’ and I write down anything that catches my attention. If I know anyone who lives in the place I’m visiting, or has been there, I ask them their favorite restaurants, museums, etc. I also check out some of my blogger friends, because they’ve been pretty much everywhere and can give me the ins and outs of a place.

Personally, I know what I like when it comes to traveling. I enjoy museums, art galleries, markets, green spaces, and anything featuring the history of the place. While there are a few things that must be checked off your list, don’t do something to simply say that you have. I do not enjoy standing in lines, so while I’ve seen the Eiffel Tower, I’ve never been up. I’d rather spend my time eating a crepe in a nearby garden. So choose what you’ll do and who you will do it with carefully.

 

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I’ll leave you with one last piece of advice: plan well, but not too much. Be open to serendipity and surprises from the universe. I used to plan day to day, where I would be before I left. On part of my gap year in Europe, I had the entire three months planned in advance, exactly when I would leave one place and where I would be staying at the next stop. But I learned that life happens and sometimes, my plans constrained what I could do or see. In Thailand, I was in a Chiang Mai hostel when I heard a guy speak about how awestruck he was by the White Temple, Wat Rong Khun, in Chiang Rai. He convinced me that it was like no other temple--and I had to see it for myself. So I switched around my reservations to head south, luckily without losing any money, and I bought a three-hour bus ticket and booked a great new hostel in Chiang Rai. The temple was amazing, the city was uncrowded, and I had the hostel pool to myself. It was so worth a quick divergence from my planned route, and so I made a promise to myself to not over-plan again.

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If you sign up for my mailing list, you’ll receive a printable planning sheet to help you make your next adventure happen.

No More Excuses: Travel Today

When I tell people I took a gap year before college to travel, I get a variety of responses. Many think that the idea of traveling when you’re young is a good thing. However, after someone tells me, “That’s so cool,” it is usually followed by another statement, “but I could have never done it.”  Basically the people my age, and even older people, have four main reasons (or some combination of them) that stop them from taking a gap year or traveling while they’re young. Some are afraid of ‘falling behind,’ some say that they don’t have the money, some lament that their parents would never let them, and others admit they’d be afraid to go alone. Now I’m not saying a gap year or traveling is for everyone; and I know that it is simply not possible for some people to travel. But I wanted a chance to refute some of these claims, as I think many are simply excuses for not pursuing a dream. 

First, I will address the claim that taking off time to explore or work will cause a person to fall behind in academics or in their future career field. As someone who took a year off after high school, I can tell you that this is simply not true. You may lose a very small amount of information: I didn’t remember everything right away from calculus in high school when I took it again in college. But if you’ve actually learned the knowledge it usually comes back with a little prompting. However, the life experience and worldly knowledge that I gained from my 6 months abroad and 6 months at home working, is honestly far more than I’ve learned in (almost) two full semesters of college. The people I have met traveling have taught me so much—about their cultures, about life, about specific pockets of knowledge and expertise. The experiences that I have had traveling made me develop into a much more aware and understanding human being, as well as given me more common sense and street smarts. Lastly, I will point out that those who take off a year before or during education actually perform better in school and have a better sense of what matters to them in life. As Robert Clagett, the former dean of admissions at Middlebury College, explained to the New York Times readers, students who have taken a gap year actually maintain and graduate with a higher GPA than those who went straight to university. In my experience, my gap year has helped me in college and even got me into the Honors College at the University of Maryland—the first time I applied, while still in high school, I got into a good, but less prestigious program. So both the statistics and myself can tell you that you won’t be behind everyone else if you take time off of school, in fact you’ll probably be ahead of others. 

There's even some magic in you, I promise. 

There's even some magic in you, I promise. 

Okay, by far the most common reason that people do not travel when they are students is because of finances. Even beyond college, the most common excuse for not traveling is that it is expensive. To this I have two responses: there is such a thing as inexpensive travel, and travel can be accessible to the majority of people, they simply don’t prioritize it in their spending. Budget travel is possible in today’s world of hostels, homestays, and airline points. I afforded to travel for my gap year by working on the road in exchange for room and board. So through an amazing online site called Workaway, I gardened at a hotel, taught children English, and worked in a cafe, and in return, got to stay (and sometimes eat) for free with locals. But my travel was also financially possible because I saved for it. I worked the summer before I left, and over the winter when I came home, and I put aside the majority of what I made for travel. I knew I wanted to travel and was determined to make it happen, and so I did. There were plenty of times where I wanted to buy a coffee or a cute sundress, but I didn’t so that I would have a few more dollars to add to my travel fund. In the end, my 6-months abroad cost me less than half of what a year of in-state tuition costs—so before you tell me that traveling is expensive, let me tell you that college is expensive. While not everyone has the resources to travel, many people could if they were determined to do so. 

When I hear about a person’s parents not allowing them to travel, I have a hard time not brushing this off. I’m lucky that my parents trust me. Even though I am legally an adult, I also have their support in traveling. This is mostly because I have shown that I am independent. But also I am careful in my travels and try to be as safe as possible. Plan to check in with your parents and communicate often, even if it’s just a ‘hello, I’m safe’ text every day. Also registering with the U.S. embassy (or whatever country you normally reside in) can help to insure that you are safe and everyone back home knows where you are. So my best advice for those who are trying to convince their parents that they should travel, would be to present the benefits of traveling, but also show your parents that you are capable of taking care of yourself abroad. 

If I had let fear stop me, I would have never gazed across the Bangkok skyline as the sun set.

If I had let fear stop me, I would have never gazed across the Bangkok skyline as the sun set.

The last and most difficult to address is the fear of traveling, especially alone. I cannot deny that this is real, the world is a big place and things happen. But for every minute or two alone boarding an airplane, or walking down poorly-lit road, I have had hours and days of happiness and exploration. The fear of being alone and having to rely on yourself is natural, this is what keeps us safe and helps us make the right decisions. So don’t disregard the knot in your stomach when you think about traveling alone, just take a breath and look at what is holding you back. And then look at where you could go and what you could do if you tucked that fear into your pocket. 

As my freshman year of college comes to a close, I think about all of the people I’ve met this year and with whom I shared my travel stories. Many listen attentively and nod energetically, but when I ask them if they’ve traveled by themselves or explore often, I hear “next year,” “after I graduate,” and “one day.” This post is for them, because I want everyone to be able to rifle through and play in the world that I have fallen in love with.