My Hostel survival guide

HOW TO PICK A HOSTEL

Every morning, as my 6:20 alarm blasted in my ear, I had the same thought. I need a holiday. It was hard to lock down anyone else to go with me so I made the decision to simply go alone. I hopped straight onto Air BnB, found a whole apartment with a stunning view over Dubrovnik old town and booked in 3 nights in May. I couldn’t have been more excited and pictured myself, glass of wine in hand, watching the sun set over the sea. What more could I possibly want?

As the day went on however the doubts started to creep in. Is it safe to stay on my own? Is it a long walk away from the centre of town? Will this mean that I literally don’t communicate at all with another human being for 4 whole days? Is this really the smartest decision?

I have stayed in loads of Air BnBs before, so it felt familiar to me and I didn’t want to splash out on a hotel but whenever the word ‘hostel’ popped up I just pictured sharing dirty bunk beds with drunken strangers and going home with athletes’ foot from the showers (slightly dramatic I know!). It is sad to say but I knew it wouldn’t be that safe for me to stay alone in a whole apartment in a place I wasn’t familiar with, so I cancelled my Air BnB, got over my fear of foot bunions, and started browsing Hostel World instead.

Just like I would when picking any accommodation for a trip, I evaluated the following factors and then ordered them from 1 (absolute necessity) to 8 (not fussed about compromising on). This way I could filter down the endless list of hostels easier:

  1. Location
  2. Cleanliness
  3. Safety
  4. Price
  5. Common area (space to socialise)
  6. Amenities (kitchen/ washing machine/ bathrooms)
  7. Amount of people in room
  8. Single gender/Mixed

The things I was most concerned about were location, cleanliness and safety so I browsed the map to find hostels inside the city walls and then compared the ratings of cleanliness and safety for each hostel. I wasn’t actually fussed about staying in a mixed room, but it was nice to know that some places do provide the option of single sex rooms if that would make you feel more comfortable. I spent a good day and half reading reviews, looking at pictures and comparing prices until I decided on the best hostel for me. I know that everyone says the excitement of traveling is  being able to ‘live in the moment’ but if it is your first time in a hostel and you’re a bit nervous then there is no harm in taking time to find one that you’re going to feel comfortable in.

TOP TIP: if you are traveling alone then look for rooms with an odd number of beds (3,5,7) as that often means they will have one single bed amongst the double beds, this way you may not have to bunk with a total stranger.

 

HOW TO GET COMFORTABLE AND SOCIALISE

I remember walking into my 5 bed room for the first time and being genuinely surprised with how clean, airy and pretty it was! It was empty when I got there but there were 4 open suitcases on the floor. I have to admit that was the most nerve-wracking time of the whole holiday for me, I felt like I couldn’t really relax until I knew who was going to be sleeping within 5 feet of me. Naturally my mind jumped to images of serial killers and smelly, drunk lunatics but I was quickly brought back to reality when 3 English boys on a break from University and an American girl discovering Europe bounded in to say hello. It is easy to forget that 95% of people in hostels are welcoming, friendly travellers in exactly the same shoes as you and not Ted Bundy enthusiasts with a rope under their pillow!

Naturally social situations have never been a problem for me but being in a foreign country with a room full of strangers did throw me a bit! If you feel anxious about just how to socialise with your new roomies (or anyone you come across in the hostel for that matter) then here are a few ice breaking conversation starters that really helped me to settle in…

  1. Where are you from?
  2. How long have you been here for?
  3. What have been your highlights of the city/location you’re in?
  4. Are you traveling anywhere else after this?
  5. I am starving, any recommendations on where to eat?
  6. Do you know where the bathroom/kitchen is?
  7. I am glad to be away from the rain in England, what’s the weather been like here?
  8. I’m really excited to see/visit the ____, have you been there yet?

It can be incredibly daunting starting conversations and if you really struggle with social situations then look for hostels with smaller or even private rooms and try and avoid any with ‘party’ in the name. I think I must’ve walked up and down the stairs from my room to the common area at least 4 times before I got the courage to actually go in and talk to people. There was quite a big crowd gathered in the lounge, so I initially headed to the kitchen and asked a girl cooking if the teabags were free to use. I made a quick joke about how typical it was that the first thing I do in a new country is make a cup of tea and that you can take the girl out of England but not the English out the girl. Luckily, she laughed and we then started a conversation about how much she wanted to visit London. She introduced me to the group and before I knew it 4 hours of discussing everything from travel to cows had passed and I felt right at home.

 

WHAT TO PACK

I know there are hundreds of lists online of essentials to pack when staying in a hostel but I thought I would give my top selection of game changers that I was very glad I had in my case…

  1. Padlock, everyone in my room was totally chilled but you can never be too sure so just bring a padlock so you can lock your valuables away in the lockers. I came to learn that padlocks with codes are better as a few people in my hostel had lost or muddled up their padlock keys and had to pay a fine to break the lockers open and retrieve their stuff.
  2. Money Belt, if lockers aren’t provided then get a comfy money belt that you can always keep your passport and money in, even when sleeping. Quick disclaimer: if you’re reading this before staying in a hostel and are now thinking “oh crap I don’t feel comfortable staying somewhere where I physically have to strap my valuables to my body” then please don’t fret! For my whole holiday I didn’t lock anything away and kept my passport and money in a bag under my bed with absolutely no fear of it getting taken as everyone in my room was so lovely. I am just putting this on my list because you never know, and it is better to be prepared and not use it rather than risk it and wish you had it.
  3. Flip Flops, great for avoiding the dreaded athletes’ foot and also for walking around the hostel in the evening in when you want to be a bit more relaxed.
  4. Small Towel, most hostels don’t provide towels and also don’t have loads of room to hang things up to dry so just bring a small one that you can drape over your bed when it is wet and won’t take up much room.
  5. Extension lead, plugs can be hard to come by and you are normally limited to 1 per person so bring an extension lead. Then all you need is 1 wall plug and 1 adapter but you will have up to 4 sockets to charge your own things from.
  6. Comfy clothes, I found during the day everyone was out and about exploring but in the evenings we would all meet downstairs in the common room whilst some people cooked dinner and others just sat and socialised. It was such a game changer having some comfy shorts and a jumper to throw on!
  7. Sleeping mask, curtains aren’t always an option!
  8. Ear plugs, people snore!
  9. A book, although there was normally someone around to talk to, when the 4 o’clock “I need a break” time arrived for me I really enjoyed going back to the hostel and just relaxing in my bed with a book.
  10. Chocolate, food is a great way to make friends and snacks are just essential no matter what let’s be honest!

 

If you’re debating whether to stay in a hostel or not then my suggestion would be do some good research into finding one that is going to suit you, bring some snacks to share with your new roommates, pack your bag and just do it! They’re cheap and frequent enough in the big cities that if you’re not happy then simply move on to the next one or if worse comes to worse then you can just book an Air BnB for the night. I am so glad that I chose to stay in a hostel and I think I got really lucky that all of my roommates were lovely. I even ended up going on a day trip with one of the girls from the common room and I now consider her to be a good friend! I may have gone away on my own, but I was never alone and before long a room full of strangers felt like family.

If you have any more questions or any tips for me then please leave them below!

For anyone wondering I stayed in the Old Town Hostel in Dubrovnik and absolutely loved it! If you;re heading on a trip there then I couldn’t recommend it more as a place to stay and if you would like to know more about what to do in Dubrovnik then be sure to read my travel guide here!

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

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LIKED THIS POST? read my other post on Game of Thrones tour – Dubrovnik (Kings Landing)

 

 

Guide to Costa Rica : Arenal Volcano

Part one of my trip around Costa Rica can be found here!

5 days in and we had already experienced the life in the capital city of San Jose and saw wild animals roam free in the rainforest of Tortoguero so what was next? A volcano.

Now we were back on dry land our new mode of transport was a mini bus that became more like a second home. The drive to Arenal took around 5 hours but as soon as we pulled through the gates of Arenal Springs Resort we knew it was worth it.  Situated at the base of the volcano this resort felt more like its own little village than a hotel. With multiple restaurants, a tropical pool, a spa and even a golf cart system in which you could order one to give you a lift, almost like an Uber, it was the little bit of luxury we’d been craving. The long drive left me with a killer migraine but it seemed to disappear instantly as soon as I found a spot by the in-pool-bar. Funny that!

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Just as soon as we had settled in however it was time to get back in the van and head out on our next adventure. Fabio, from Wave Expeditions, greeted us at the door with a signature Costa-Rican smile as he talked us through all the safety points of the day. We were driving up stream in order to turn right around and white water raft all the way back down. I have to admit I had been rafting before but this one set the bar so high even a giraffe on top of the shard couldn’t reach it. Paddles in hand we flew over rapids and expertly manoeuvred around waterfalls. It did get a bit scary when I fell out the boat but it wasn’t too much of a concern as I was only left with a mildly bruised hip and a realisation that I should’ve paid more attention to those safety points! I think the reason this white water rafting stood out above the rest however was the water was deliciously warm. We didn’t mind getting splashed by the waves and could even get in the water and float alongside the boat when there weren’t any rocks around. It is definitely a more enjoyable experience when you don’t feel like you’ve just had an ice bath. Once safely back down the river, beers in hand, we were taken to a sugar cane plantation and taught how to make moonshine from the juice of the plant. It is safe to say that we all returned to the resort that evening in a very, very jolly mood!

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If you hadn’t gathered already from these posts, my family are not very good at doing nothing so with a new day came a new set of experiences and on this day they took place amongst the trees. It kicked off with a Sky Adventures Nature Walk. We emerged at the base of some suspense bridges high above the canopy, birds escaped from the trees below us as the structure swayed in the wind. Normally I am quite good with heights but this left my knees trembling as I shuffled along trying my best not to look down.  Luckily the stunning views over the forest and man made Arenal Reservoir was enough to take my mind off the 230ft drop below me. This was only the start of the heights though; we were about to go even higher and faster on the Sky Trek Zip Wire! Made up of 7 zip lines, the longest being The Daddy at 850m long, and with views that will sweep you off your feet, literally, this was any adrenaline junkies dream. We flew through the sky, sometimes upside down, and looked across at the Arenal Volcano that had broken through the clouds. Definitely a ‘high’light of the trip for me!

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However amazing these experiences are, the thing I love most about traveling with my family is the fun we get to have together.  That evening we chose a table in the resort that looked out over the 1,670m Volcano and played endless games of Rummy and Uno. A rule was set that whoever picked the green 5 card had to run out into the rain and shout Uno. An innocent forfeit but that green card shook all our nerves to the core and resulted in us laughing more than anyone would think a card could! Now I never go traveling without a pack of Uno cards in my bag.

For our last day in Arenal we began by getting in a lot of exercise, 400 steps of exercise to be precise. We cascaded the side of a mountain to reach the beautiful Catarata Waterfall and took a dip in the icy pool at its base. The current turned out to be a lot stronger than we anticipated so, like something from an episode of Bear Grylls Born Survivor, we all linked arms and waded through the icy stream to the safety of the bank. The waterfall stood tall at 230ft and was a hidden gem nestled amongst the forest trees. After the mammoth task of climbing back up the 400 steps we were rewarded with one of my favourite things on the planet – chocolate. Unlike your classic bar of Cadburys however this required a bit more effort. We went to a cocoa bean plantation and carried out each step of the dark chocolate making process in the style of a blue peter ‘here is what I prepared earlier’ segment. For those wondering it is…

  1. Plant the cocoa seeds
  2. Wait for them to grow
  3. Pick them when they turn yellow
  4. Dry them out
  5. Sift the husks
  6. Grind the beans either by hand or with a machine
  7. Add sugar and bean butter from the pod to make a paste
  8. Add toppings and flavourings

For my younger brother the chocolate indulgence didn’t end there either. All a bit worn out from the week we decided to head back to the resort and make full use of their spa, after all it would be criminal not to! Most of us were lathered in rich oils and massaged till we were on the brink of sleep but Lewis opted for the children’s package and the oil was swapped out for melted chocolate. I will never forget the sight of my younger brother sprinting out the spa smothered in dairy milk like the swamp monster from Scooby Doo.

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Like every good thing in life this part of the holiday had to come to an end. I think our adrenalin levels peaked, pardon the pun, in the shadow of the volcano that stands proud at the centre of this town. We flew like birds through the trees and waded through the water like sloths (I didn’t realise they swam either!) but most memorably grew closer as a family. We waved goodbye to the resort but unfortunately not the rain. That wasn’t done with us quite yet!

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

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LIKED THIS POST? read my other post on Guide to Costa Rica : San Jose & Tortoguero