This fall I plan on spending a fair amount of time traveling around Europe. In order to do this I am going to rely on a few key amenities.
The key amenity permitting me to budget my four-country tour this fall is the hostel. Hostels could be roughly described as a hotel without walls, private bathrooms or buffets in the morning. They are the bread and butter of the student abroad experience, and I have found myself frequently staying in rooms of 10 to 18 people, from all over the world, my bags checked into a locker.
Don’t let the description fool you. Hostels are an amazing experience. Despite the public nature of communal bedrooms and bathrooms, I have never once felt unsafe. The only people let into hostels are other traveling youngsters like myself.
Hostel owners range form motherly characters to young business men, and they have always been more than willing to help out even the poorest of travelers, language barriers aside. I have even stayed at a woman’s own home, which she happily opened up to 25 or so students every night.
The hostel culture is one based on mutual trust, in which the owners don’t charge much for the bed, trusting that the students won’t break anything, and in exchange the students don’t demand much of the owners, trusting that their things and their person will remain safe throughout the night (or early morning, depending on the bar scene), even if they aren’t provided a TV and continental breakfast upon waking.
Unfortunately, we don’t have this kind of a travel-friendly culture in the U.S. True, we have Motel 8 and Holiday Inn and other cheap hotel chains, but they don’t run anywhere near as budget and student friendly as hostels do.
While hostels don’t always give you private rooms, you often can book one for just a small price increase, and even common rooms in hostels are clean to the point of being immaculate. Hostels can be found even in the center of town and in my experience have been filled with friendly staff and maps in 60 different languages.
In contrast, my depressingly vast experience with budget hotels has shown that they tend to fall somewhere between the spectrum of unclean and unsanitary. A budget hotel in the U.S. can advertise itself as “in the heart of downtown” by merely sharing an interstate with said town.
Of course, in order for the hostel culture to work in America, students would have to move past spring break style binging, but I have confidence in our ability to do so in exchange for a cockroach-free bed, well-lit bathroom and a good map.