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Last updated August 21, 2014. 

Raileurope.com: See Europe by train

Hostel Life in Europe
If you've never stayed at a hostel before and you're planning to essentially live in hostels for weeks or months on end, you might like to know what you can expect during your "Hostel Life" experience. 

Choices | Rooms | Sleeping | Eating
Laundry | Nightlife | Security 


Choices
First you have to choose a hostel. 

Q: Do you want the cheapest one?
Q: Do you want the one with the most flexible opening hours? 
Q: Do you want the one with two person or one person rooms?
Q: Do you want a room with a locker or luggage room? 

A:  Search on-line or consult your guide book to find out which hostel best meets your needs. Sometimes, however,  the choice is not up to you, you have to take what you can get.  To avoid that situation, you can make hostel reservations at many hostels on-line or by phone. If you find yourself with limited internet access or you decide to go to a destination on the spur of the moment, then rely on your guide book (my favorite guides are Lonely Planet) and/or recommendations of other travelers to help you choose a good hostel. 

Q: Have you arrived on a busy day and desperately need to find a room/bed?
Q: What if the city I visit doesn't have any hostels at all?

A: If you really find yourself in a jam, don't hesitate to go to the nearest Tourist Information Center. For a small fee, they will find an available room, book it for you, and give you directions how to get there. They are life savers!

Q: Do you follow the hostel representative waiting for travelers at the train station?

During peak season and year round in popular tourist destinations, hostel or pension representatives are often waiting at the train station in hopes of persuading you to go to their hostel or pension. This can be great if you have no prior reservation, but can quickly turn into an annoyance if the hostel rep is particularly aggressive. 

If you decide to check out the hostel/pension they are representing, do not accept the first price they suggest without at least attempting to negotiate it down to a lower price (especially in Southern Europe).  They may lower it, they may not. If they seem to be offering a good deal, agree to take a look at the room and you can decide when you get there if it is acceptable. If it's not you can always leave and find another place to stay.

Note: If at all possible to not arrive in a city on a Friday or Saturday without advance reservations. Finding a room during a weekend, depending on the season and destination, can sometimes be very difficult. Read my travel story Lessons I Learned While Traveling for examples.

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Rooms
Okay, you've chosen your hostel and now you're at the front desk. 

While you're at the front desk request the type of room you want or mention that you reserved a certain kind of room. 

For example, at some hostels you can request a single sex room (all male or all female) or a co-ed room (both genders share a room). Some hostels offer both types, some offer only one type. Generally I preferred the single sex rooms because girls typically don't snore as much.

You can also request a 2, 3, 4, 6, 8 person room or a large dorm room (10+ person room). I generally paid a little extra for a 4 or 6 person room. 

Another thing to request is a lower or upper bunk (since most hostels primarily use bunk beds), if you have a preference and if they assign individual beds. Some hostels just assign you a room and you take any available bed, some hostels assign you a particular bed. I always requested a lower bunk because I often need to make a trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Getting down from a bunk in the dark is not something I particularly enjoy.  

While you're at the front desk they might also ask you if you wish to rent sheets (not necessary if you bring a sleep-sheet with you) and in some cases a blanket (only had this happen in Amsterdam's Flying Pig Downtown hostel).  Also if the hostel has pay showers, you might be asked if you would like to buy tokens for the shower. Luckily, I only encountered pay showers at only a couple of hostels during my travels.  They aren't too bad if you are good at taking a 5 to 6 minute shower, which is not as impossible as it may sound. 

Okay, so you've determined the availability of the room you want, now you can either pay before you see the actual room or you can request to see the room first. Generally, I paid before seeing the room. This only worked against me once, but I survived. If the hostel seem particularly seedy or unsavory, definitely ask to see the room first before parting with your money.

What you need:

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Sleeping
Sleeping at hostels can prove difficult if you are a light sleeper. People tend to snore, come in and out of the room at all hours, turn the lights on and off in the middle of the night, and in general be disruptive to a good night's sleep. I am a notorious light sleeper, the click of a doorknob has been known to awaken me, however, I must say I rarely had any problem sleeping in hostels. Reason? I was tired at the end of each day I slept like a rock most nights. 

Do not expect to sleep in at hostels. Most people are out of the room by 9:00 a.m. or 9:30 a.m. regardless of what a hostel's opening hours are. Some roommates get up very early to catch a plane or train. Most people seem to get up about  between 7:00 a.m. - 8:00 a.m. If a hostel doesn't have restrictions about when you can be in your room, feel free to try to sleep in, but there is usually so much to do and see that you'll want to be out and about. 

What you need:

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Eating
While traveling I ate a lot of sandwiches. Buy a loaf of bread, meat & cheese, and the condiment of your choice (I searched high and low before I finally found French's Yellow Mustard at a grocery store) and make a bag of sandwiches. This is very economical and depending on how much you eat, serves you quite a few meals. 

To compliment my many sandwiches I also bought fresh fruit (apples last quite a while), chips, cookies, and sometimes yogurt. You might notice an extreme lack of vegetables in my diet. I tried to make up for this when I cooked or ate out at a restaurant. As I am not a huge vegetable fan, I can't say my efforts at maintaining a somewhat healthy diet were all that successful.

If you are lucky enough to stay at a hostel with a kitchen, you can expand your meal repertoire to include spaghetti & other pasta based meals, soup, stir-fry, omelets, or whatever you know how to cook. 

I must also mention that some hostel serve cheap meals. I took advantage of this on many occasions. This is especially true at hostels that have a pub or bar. Examples of menu items: Fish & Chips, Pot Pies, Chicken Fingers & Fries, Pizza, Hamburgers, Spaghetti & Meatballs, Tuna Salad, Green Salads, Soup, Goulash, etc.

Typical Day's Meals
Breakfast: Coffee or tea and the choice of cookies, piece of fruit, toast & jelly, or cereal.

Lunch: Sandwich, chips, piece of fruit.

Dinner: Soup & sandwich (sometimes, especially if I had a late lunch, I skipped dinner or just had a snack)

What you need:

  • water bottle (just buy a bottle of water and keep refilling it with tap water)
  • cork screw (if you plan to drink wine)
  • tea bags or instant coffee
  • small container of your favorite condiment (like mustard)
  • plastic utensils (if you plan to picnic)

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Laundry
Talk dirty to me
Okay, I don’t advocate never washing your clothes for a month or more, but unless you are taking part in extreme (sweat inducing) activities and/or are a complete slob (i.e. people can tell what you had for lunch by looking at your shirt), many articles of clothing (especially shirts & trousers/jeans) can be worn more than one time. 

Things you can do to cut down on how often you wash your clothes are taking a shower/bath everyday, wearing underarm anti-perspirant/deodorant, airing out your clothes at night, and keeping dryer sheets in your backpack.

What you need:

  • Good hygiene
  • Underarm antiperspirant/deodorant
  • Scented sachet or dryer sheets
  • A waterproof vinyl case OR heavy duty zip-lock bag to store your dirty underwear OR a 2-Sided Half Cube (one side for clean clothes, one side for dirty)

Sink or spin
Some things are not meant to be washed in sinks. Jeans come to mind immediately as something I would never attempt to wash in the sink (let alone air dry). In fact, the only things I wash in sinks are socks and underwear.  Trying to wash anything larger just isn’t very practical. Most sinks in hostels don’t have drain stoppers, so be sure to bring your own (though stuffing one of your socks in the hole while you’re washing everything else works pretty well).

  What you need:

“This is the way we wash our clothes…”
Most hostels have a washer and dryer or drying room. Some machines are coin operated, some you pay for at the front desk, and occasionally they are even free. Many times washing detergent is included in the price or can be purchased for a nominal fee. If no detergent is available, then use the liquid detergent you use when you wash your clothes in the sink.

What you need:

Night Life
Most days, I returned to my hostel between 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. If the hostel had a kitchen and I had made my way to a local grocery store, I would cook dinner when I returned. If no kitchen was available I would make a sandwich or go out and find a cheap meal. 

If I happened to have made friends at a hostel where I was staying, we might go out to a restaurant for dinner, go out for a drink at a local bar or pub, or go to a movie or play. I'm not much of a party animal, so I couldn't tell you what the club scene is like in Europe.

Other nights at hostels were spent writing in my journal, watching television or movies in the hostel's community living area, playing cards, reading, playing pool, or just talking with my fellow travelers. I usually went to bed by 11:00 p.m.-11:30 p.m. Like I said, I was generally tired out after a long day exploring a city.

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Security
Many hostels give keys or keycards to all the people staying in a particular room.  Usually you have to pay a refundable deposit for the key--this is to ensure you won't lose it I guess. Having a room with a lock cuts down on who has access to your room, so if something should turn up missing it will narrow your list of suspects. I never had any problems with theft and in general it seems to rarely happen in hostels.

During the day I left my backpack on or under my bed while I was out. Many hostels now offer in-room lockers for luggage. Almost all hostels have locked luggage rooms by the front desk, but I only use those if I need a place to store my luggage if I check in early or have to check out earlier than my plane/train departure time. 

There really was nothing in my backpack worth stealing, just clothes and toiletries. All valuables (money, camera, passport, etc.) should be with you at all times. If you don't leave items behind that will tempt thieves, theft shouldn't be an issue.

As a precaution, I did have the zippered compartments of my backpack locked with small combination locks. 

What you need:

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