Finding the Right Hostel: Tips and Tricks

by Alex Schnee
( October 31st, 2014 )

Hostel Tips Tricks

Finding the right hostel for a price you can afford can definitely be one of the hardest parts of traveling as a member of Generation-Y. When you are on an extreme budget, landing a place that costs a reasonable amount and that you aren’t creeped out when staying there is like playing a difficult game of poker. You don’t want to have to sacrifice comfort and safety for the amount you can pay.

Some of my friends and I decided to head to Rome for a Rolling Stones concert this summer (you can read about that adventure here) and we had to find a place that we felt comfortable with without cutting off an arm and a leg. In this case, we ended up getting what we paid for—the hostel was clean, but the staff was terrible, and they ended up charging us more than what was promised. We learned a few lessons about booking hostels after that experience.

Read the reviews online.

You’ll want to use sites like Hostelworld.com or Hostels.com when looking at places. Though it’s a good idea to check out a potential hostel’s website, as well, reading the reviewers from former guests can be one of the best ways to get an idea of whether or not you should stay there. The more reviews, the better idea you will get about whether you should book that room.

Pay beforehand.

If you are positive you are going to make it on your trip and you absolutely know you will be there, paying beforehand can save you some unnecessary charges that they might not have listed on the website or hostel websites. If money is your top priority, you can save yourself some extraneous costs by budgeting before you arrive. If this isn’t possible, feel free to ask some questions about any charges that the hostel might bring up that you were unaware of. We had our hostel in Rome charge us a “hotel tax” and we paid—not knowing that hostels were exempt from this tax and the owner just wanted to pocket an extra two euro.

Word of mouth.

No doubt, the best way to find a hostel is to ask someone who has been to your future destination where they would recommend staying. Knowing someone who has had firsthand experience can direct you to the right establishments. They can also give you an idea of what is a reasonable amount of money to spend when you are visiting that particular location.

Have any tips for finding the perfect hostel? Do you have any you would recommend?

Image courtesy of magnoid.

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Afraid of the Dark? Tips for the Paris Catacombs

by Alex Schnee
( October 28th, 2014 )

Catacombs Paris Tips

With Halloween coming up, I couldn’t help but think about the time when I journeyed to the darkest, dankest part of Paris—the Catacombs. Yes, I have a history of finding pitch-black places kind of fun (including the recent adventure of climbing through volcanic lava tubes in Iceland), but strolling through an underground tomb holding millions of bodies’ worth of bones is quite a different story.

If you are thinking about braving the Catacombs, here are a few tips I have…if you dare.

Watch your step.

This is not your typical half-an-hour tourist exhibition. I was surprised to find how long it took to get through it—expect an hour if you take time to stop and read some of the information provided. You will end up walking down several stairs and ramps, so keep in mind that you should watch your step and look where you’re going, no matter how tempting it is to stare at the rows and rows of skulls and femurs stacked.

Claustrophobics, think twice.

It may seem like a good idea to head down underground, but if you have a fear of somewhat crowded places (and to be warned: you will be quite a ways underground), then you might want to think again before paying the 3 euro fee. The positive news? It is well-lit, and there are staff members located throughout the area, so if you are in need of some assistance, it’s easy to find someone who can help you.

Do a bit of research beforehand.

Though it’s exciting enough just to see layers and layers of bones stretching for seemingly miles (well, fun for some), it’s a whole lot more interesting to read about some of the history surrounding the Catacombs. They’ve been a tourist destination for centuries and hold bones from several different time periods. Knowing a little bit about the history of Paris can help you a lot once you are underneath the city.

It does end…eventually.

If you find yourself down there, well, freaking out a bit, it’s good to know that you can zip through the exhibition fairly quickly. Ask to pass others politely—they’ll be happy to step aside for you. You’ll have to climb another set of stairs before you reach the top, but seeing that first ray of sunlight after being underground for so long is completely worth it—and you can say that you made it out alive!

Have you ever been to the Catacombs? Which other places would you recommend for a scarier experience?

Image courtesy of Will White.

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Traveling with Parents as a Gen-Y Wanderer

by Alex Schnee
( October 24th, 2014 )

Traveling with parents

I must admit, most the time I choose to travel alone. I think there are certain trips that require certain kinds of companionship, and the older I get, the more I find myself craving experiences on my own. Writers by nature are usually pretty solitary—and the interesting thing about travel is that even though you are almost always surrounded by other people on your journey, it can be isolating (sometimes that isolation is welcoming, sometimes not so much).

I had been planning on heading to Iceland on my own originally. I had booked my solo plane ticket and I had started preparing some research about which hostels I would have had to bunk down at the week I was planning on being there. But when my father expressed interest in coming along, I had to reassess what kind of trip I wanted this to be. My dad and I had long ago made the pact that we were going to see the Northern Lights together—it was something that had always captured our imaginations, and a good majority of my childhood summers were spent staring up at the cold, dark Montana sky in fascination.

So, Dad and I agreed to go to Iceland together. Let me just say, the older your parents get, the harder it is to travel with them. My father is still quite young (let’s ambiguously say in his mid-fifties), so I didn’t have to worry about any serious former injuries or the chance that something health-related might happen—or it was less likely to happen, anyway. However, it turned out to be a very different trip than one I would have ventured on my own.

No hostels! No hoofing it! 4-star meals and tours—all something I will probably never be able to afford again when I travel. We were able to have experiences that I never could have treated myself to even if I wanted. It may sound selfish, but to be honest, sometimes I resented it. There were a few nagging thoughts in the back of my mind such as, ‘You’re not truly experiencing the trip how you wanted to’ or ‘You didn’t come here to relax—you came here to climb some mountains!’

But that wasn’t the point. The moment I decided to include my dad on this adventure, it became another kind of one. And I’m proud to say that my dad is awesome, and we did end up scaling some mountains and hiking through some lava tubes. By accepting the reality that things were going to be a little bit different, I was able to enjoy this trip for what it was: a 4-star experience I will probably never have again.

So thanks, Dad.

And the Northern Lights? Pretty beautiful.

Have you ever traveled with your parents?

Picture is of Dad and me in some lava tubes. I was definitely more sore after climbing than he was!

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