Friday, February 8, 2013
Friday, February 1, 2013
I've spent the last few days at a hostel in Dublin, situated right by the River Liffey, and just around the corner from Ireland's oldest pub, the Brazen Head.
For some, the idea of staying in a hostel brings back carefree memories of being 19, with a backpack on your back and the world at your disposal. Others may imagine noisy, dirty, crowded places and late night drinking games and sleazy international hookups. I thought it might be fun to list a few reasons I'm glad I chose a hostel instead of a hotel:
1. Price: Dublin is one of Europe's more expensive cities, and the dollar is not doing so hot against the Euro at the moment. A private hostel room can be half or less of what a nearby hotel costs, and there are often freebies included. For instance, the Four Courts Hostel where I'm staying offers free breakfast and daily walking tours of Dublin, discounts on all kinds of things (like airport shuttles, pub food, and day tours), and free dinner and live music once a week. Sure, my room is small and no frills, but I'm only sleeping and showering here.
In addition, during slow season, you might even be able to negotiate a lower rate than the one published. When I extended my stay here for two days, I got a break just by asking for it.
2. The staff here have been far more helpful than a hotel concierge would've been for my trip. I'm traveling on a budget and they get that. They direct me to bargains, local places, and are still well informed on popular tourist attractions.
3. The odds of making a new friend are much greater at a hostel because the rooms don't have tv and most of the amenities are in the common areas. It forces people to interact.
So far this week, I met a Danish lady working on an international project that required her to meet with Irish fashion designers, a French lady awaiting the closing on her new apartment in Dublin, a young Spanish man studying English on his vacation at a nearby college, some Australian girls who appreciated my local knowledge, and an American "security worker" currently living in the Middle East. (Since I talked him into visiting St. Michan's crypt with me, I guess my first morning without travel buddy Rob in Dublin, I was accompanied by a professional bodyguard.)
4. Music...seems like there is always someone with a guitar here. Right now, I am hearing some good old rock and roll standards in Spanish.
5. It's hard to eat healthy in a country where batter burgers are considered normal and even pizza comes with chips. Having the availability of a common kitchen is a real advantage for travelers who have dietary restrictions, or just want to eat healthy...or save their cash for the pubs and attractions.
6. Private rooms...yes, those drinking games and international hookups still happen, and I'm in my 40s now so those rooms full of bunks shared with strangers are not my cup of tea, but many hostels offer private rooms (with shared bath or en suite). I have no idea what goes on across the hall from me and I like it that way.
7. Language practice and cultural exchange...while I speak only English, many here are learning it and I can be helpful there. Today, I taught my Spanish and French friends to say "in the north" rather than "on the north." It had really been puzzling them. In another hostel years ago, we learned a lot about Korean culture from a guest who was from Seoul, and he learned a lot about American baseball (which he was a big fan of) from Randy.
8. Unique amenities. Every hostel does its own thing. Here we have a pool table, Wii, a movie room, and a quiet room.
So...in a, couple days I will be staying in a decent hotel and I'll enjoy that for different reasons, but for now I'm a big fan of where I am. If you haven't considered a hostel stay on your next trip to Europe, I recommend giving it a try. Here are some tips for finding a good one:
Hotels.com lists some hostel options for certain destinations.
Always check out the hostel's website before booking (if they have one). They may give you a better deal or more lenient cancellation policy.
A few hostels--very few--have age limits. Check the fine print.
Always read the reviews on tripadvisor.com before deciding on z place, but do so with a grain of salt and pay attention to the latest reviews which will reflect the current staff and standards. Remember that people are far more likely to complain about a bad experience than to review a good one. However, the "real" photos can be extremely helpful, and take note of whether the manager has taken time to respond to feedback.