As I approached my adult years in life and began embarking on adventures, my mom started sharing with me some of her travel memories of backpacking across Europe in her early twenties with my father. Knowing fair and well they didn’t have internet back in the day, the question always came up: How did you know where you were staying? Her answer: We didn’t.
Here are just a couple of stories she recounted to me.
They once walked around and found a circus tent with tens of other backpackers. The tent had a lock out time of 9 pm. If you weren’t inside the tent by 9, you were sleeping outside in the open air. They nearly didn’t make it and had no back-up plan.
My parents were in Amsterdam and could not find a decent place to sleep. Wandering through the red light district, they finally walked in a hotel that said they had vacancies. My dad asked how much it would be to stay for the night, to which the man replied, “for how many hours?”
Many times my parents would simply knock door to door and ask if they could set up a tent in the backyard of people’s houses. Other times, they would sleep in train stations if they were all out of ideas.
Surprise surprise, my parents always seem worried when I’m heading out on a backpacking trip. I’m sure they are replaying in their head about twenty different scenarios that they experienced when they were my age. I try to explain to them is thatbackpacking is not what backpacking was.
Backpacking was a shot in the dark if you didn’t speak the language or call ahead of time and have a place set up and ready to go. Even if you did call ahead of time, how did you expect to confirm you would still have a bed when you arrive? There were no internet bookings, cell phones, wifi at the next coffee shop, or google maps. Need an ATM? Forget it. These days, there are so many tools to a backpacker’s disposal, that backpacking is hardly what it used to be.
By that statement I’m not knocking new technology, or saying that backpacking was better back in the good ole days. Are there times I wish I could go back in time and experience what they did? Minus the “whorehouse” incident, absolutely. But my point is actually the opposite. Thanks to the technology boom, backpacking could not be a safer or easier hobby if you do it right. In fact, it makes impromptu travel 100 times easier, and who doesn’t like to make a split second decision to stay in a city for a day longer, or get out of a dodgy one sooner than expected?
My favorite tool for travel of the 21st Century is not the iPhone or even Google Maps, although both have saved my behind more times than I can count. Hostelworld.com is the greatest invention since, well, ever. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it is 100% true (And no I’m not being paid to say that). Being able to scope out the best places to stay in the city, and see what other travelers have said about their experience is the most valuable tool I could ask for, and is the reason I can travel without feeling unsafe. I know my hostel is going to be my “safe zone” when I get there.
Let me show you.
Let’s say I want to go to Seville on Sept. 16. (wishful thinking)
It pulls up a search page like this.
Note that you can sort by availability, rating, price, or name.
I sorted by rating.
Don’t forget to pick the type of accommodation from the left side bar!
Now, here’s the fun part. Pick your hostel!
I picked La Banda Rooftop Hostel, the number 1 choice.
You can read the description, look at rates, location, and reviews.
The most important part of this site is the reviews. If you’re traveling solo, look for comments that say “good for solo travelers”. Trying to avoid bedbugs? You’ll know pretty quick by reading the reviews if they have ever had a problem. Want to know if the location is good? Don’t check the map, check the comments. Someone will talk about it.
Go to the rates tab and book, or keep looking!
After your stay, leave a review for the next person!
At this point many travelers are probably saying “been there, done that, and so has the rest of the world”. Well as unbelievable as it sounds, there are a ton of people who legitimately have never used the site. While I was living in Spain this past year, many of my friends had never used Hostelworld, let alone stayed in a hostel. I was so baffled by this since it is such a big part of my experience. I will even plan some of my stops around a specific hostel. For me, a large part of the experience is the people I meet along the way.
If you haven’t tried Hostelworld, I urge you to do so. If you had one bad experience with a hostel, please don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. I promise the first time you stay in a good hostel and have a good experience, you might never want to return back home. I know I didn’t.
Where do you like to stay while you travel? Do you use other sites to book hostels or other accommodation?