Hostel Hopping: A comprehensive guide

Bed and Bike Barcelona

Bed and Bike Barcelona

“Bed and Bike” two nights. “Hip Karma” five. “Urban Jungle” another three. “Granada Inn” the following four. Two nights at “Albergue Los Molinos”. “Lemon Garden” for my last 4. After three weeks of hostel hopping across Spain, I concluded my journey at the grungy Bushwick “NY Moore”.

Prior to this trip, I’d only ever stayed in one hostel. And those three nights at the HI Banff didn’t really expose me to much. It was shoulder season, so the place was empty. My friend and I had our own two bunk room. We did pay a visit to the bar one night, but aside from a few conversations about the mess of an election that had just occurred, we kept to ourselves. This time around I wanted to get the full experience. After three weeks of tossing and turning in hostels across Spain, I’ve decided to share what I learned.

How to choose a hostel:

Due to its longstanding backpacking culture, Europe offers a surplus of quality hostel options. So, when there are 15 pages of results in Barcelona alone, how do you choose?

1. Consider your goals

               What are you trying to do or see? Is your goal to meet people and party? Or are you looking for a place to get some decent rest and enjoy the museums? Both? Give some thought to your goals in each location before you move on to Step 2.

2. Consider your Budget

Many hostel activities are free!

Many hostel activities are free!

              How much do you want to spend? Are you looking for the social aspects of a hostel stay without the public quarters? A private room may be for you.

Looking for a place that includes food? Free breakfast can be a lifesaver for those with an eager stomach. European meals typically don’t start before noon. Although, if you’re just looking for something to hold you over ‘till tapas, you can get a cortado and a baguette for about 1 euro 50 at a café on any corner.

              Is your hostel city center, or will you have to ride the metro to get where you want to go? Do they charge for locks? Do they rent towels? These are the hidden fees to consider when filtering by price. They may not seem important, but every bit adds up.

Don’t be deterred by cheap rooms. Hostels in the states are a different story. In Spain, I paid between 12 and 20 euro per night. Although, a Friday in Paris did cost me 45.

3. Read the Reviews

              So, you’ve determined your goals, and you’ve locked in a price. You still have seven pages to sort through. Find the ones with a high percentage rating. Now, it’s time to read the reviews.

              No matter how nice the place is, there are likely a few bad reviews. Find them. Read them. Decide. Is this just a grumpy sleep deprived traveler who forgot his ear plugs and had one unpleasant night? Or, does this person have a valid point?

What are your concerns? Do you struggle to sleep if it’s too warm? Look for reviews that mention a/c or heat. Look at the pictures. What do the beds look like?

Looking for privacy? You’d be surprised how much less exposed it feels with even a small curtain. But then again, as I found at “Hip karma Hostel” in Barcelona, even a thin piece of fabric is enough to hide behind. If you have more social ambitions, you might be better off at in a traditional bunk room.

“Albergue Los Molinos”   , my favorite hostel of the trip.

“Albergue Los Molinos”, my favorite hostel of the trip.

4. Avoid the chains

Like your LaQuintas and Holiday Inns, chains exist with hostels too. I found these massive complexes like The Granada Inn, to be sterile warehouses void of character. If looking for an authentic experience, I recommend finding a place more local and unique. In my experience, not only will the accommodations be more interesting, but the conversations will too. Set at the bottom of a cascading waterfall bellow the cliff edged town of Ronda, “Albergue Los Molinos” was my favorite hostel of the trip.

Booking a hostel

Hostelworld.com was my go-to site for pre-booking research. The app is easy to use, offers useful reviews, extensive descriptions, and events calendars. But I found Booking.com to offer better rates. When it comes time to book, use Booking.

For $25 @ Booking

Also, important to note, unless traveling peak season or holidays, it’s usually not necessary to book more than your first night. Check the place out before deciding to extend your stay.

Making the most of your hostel stay

Hostel stays aren’t just about saving money, they’re about opportunities to socialize. But meeting people still requires effort. So, avoid any temptations to hide behind your bunk curtain.

Attend the free events. At “Lemon Garden” in Sevilla, every night, from 7-9, backpackers were invited to gather on the terrace for free Sangria. At Bed and Bike Barcelona, they offered free cycling tours. At both hostels, I made friends. In contrast, in five night at “Hip Karma”, a boring bunk room with no activities or social space, the only person I interacted with was the guy at the front desk.

While most activities and events at hostels are free, you should remember to tip the volunteers. It doesn’t have to be much, but keep in mind that many hostel employees are travelers just like you, who are volunteering their time for the experience. Who knows, you may find yourself on the other end one day.

Before my hostel journey, I expected to embark on sleepless nights and pub crawls. I found my hostel stays to be surprisingly mellow. In three weeks across Spain, I went out to the bars just once, as I found far more value in the conversations in the common rooms. If you’re looking for a place to sleep and socialize, I highly recommend giving hostels a try.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bored in Barcelona : How to avoid wasted money and time

That exciting first night at the intercambio, the drinks after with the beautiful Spanish girls, the bike tour of the city, the strolls along the beach, and through the park. La Sagrada Familia in the morning, the Gothic Quarter at night. My dinner date with the Italian girl, shopping for breakfast at La Boqueria. The adventure of the cannabis club, the familiarity of the metro lines.

When I think back on my week in Barcelona, it's easy to remember the highlights. But, not to be overlooked are the feelings I had there, which weren't exactly bright.

After three weeks of WWOOFing in remote locations of France, I was excited for the freedom of hostel hoping, and even more excited to be in an urban area, where the prospect of meeting people reigned high. But what I failed to account for, were the many hours in a day, and how quickly a completely open schedule can lead to monotony.

Barcelona Street

Barcelona is beautiful, but as I learned, without purpose, even the most beautiful places can become boring. Sure, I was there to document, but I had no plan or angle. Yes, I took photos, and yes, I wrote, but ultimately, much of my time and money spent during that week was wasted.

I thought I'd just be able to walk up to a hostel and land a volunteer job on the spot, but that wasn't at all the case. As a backup plan, I signed up for Workaway, where four months later, I'm still waiting for some of my messages to receive replies.

Don't make the mistakes I made. Don't spend a second in your bunk outside of sleep. Don't be deterred by a language barrier. Don't be afraid of meeting people. Do some research on the place before you go. Going in entirely blind is an overly romanticized mistake.

With that being said, don’t try to plan every hour of every day. Have an idea of a timeline, even if you don't have a definite end date. Have a budget, or at least a ballpark of how much you're willing to spend. Think of a few things that might interest you. Highlight a couple of attractions, don’t try to see them all.

During a recent trip to Barcelona, I had delusions of figuring it all out day by day. After a week of wasted time and money, I found this outlook to be entirely over romanticized. Don't get me wrong, I'm still a believer in spontaneous travel, but I now also believe in the importance of a foundation.

Follow a strict sight seeing itinerary, and you’ll almost certainly miss out on interactions with locals. Wake up without any ideas or plans, and you’re likely to browse Instagram from your bunk and miss out all the same. What I’ve found to be the most rewarding way to travel, is to build a foundation for experience, and then allow your trip to unfold.

While WWOOFing in France, I had no idea what my days would consist of, but my volunteer homestays served as platforms for authentic experiences to take place. In Barcelona, entirely without a plan, I found it too easy to do my own thing and avoid interaction.

Be it Barcelona or Bangladesh, the next time you travel, go with some loose ideas, a tentative timeline, and an open mind. Don’t try to force experiences, but instead put yourself in interesting situations, and allow them to unfold.

Seasonal work: 5 things I Love & Hate

I’ve got it. I'll go to Spain to hike the Camino, and then find a summer job in a park. No, but I've already done that. Plus, parks are too isolated. I want something with more culture. Maybe I'll go to Asia instead. Yeah, start up north, then work my way southeast. Maybe come back to Colorado after that. Or maybe I’ll find a hut on some Cambodian beach. Take a season off. Yeah, that sounds nice. Somewhere warm. I’ll write.

As I write this, I’m about half-way through my third seasonal job, and again, I’ve begun to contemplate what’s next. I know, it's too early. I just started this one, but then again, it’s almost over. It always is. All this thinking has made me well... think, about the things I love and hate about seasonal work and the lifestyle which accompanies. Here are 5:

1. It ends

Love

During my four months in Denali, the I watched the seasons change three times. Beautiful fall foliage signaled the end.

During my four months in Denali, the I watched the seasons change three times. Beautiful fall foliage signaled the end.

Everything in life is temporary, including life itself. "Dudeeee that's deep". But, unlike the inevitable end of life, the last day of the season feels more concrete. During my brief stint in the corporate system, I became terrified of potentially staying forever. Up until then, I'd lived my life on a student's schedule. School, break, school, break. New classes, new year, new friends, new school. After five months at Schwab, I was ready to move on to the next grade, and to eventually graduate, but it didn't work that way. I fled.

With seasonal work, you can see the finish line. It's not invisible, but neon bright, and it's anchored firmly in the ground. Sure, it may sway a day or two in blizzard conditions. But you know it’s there. It's a reminder to enjoy your time, and a comfort to know that there's an end to the grind.

Hate

If you're a planner, seasonal work is not for you. Trust me, it’d be miserable. Luckily, I’m not quite that way. I may have grown up thinking toward the future, but lately I've learned to follow opportunity. Of course, the best path isn't always clear.

Having an end date is refreshing, but it also means constant uncertainty. The urge to think about your plans after the season can be consuming. Do it too early, and you'll waste the present dreaming of some far-off date. Put it off until the last minute, and you may find yourself blowing through hard earned savings without purpose.

So, when’s the right time to think ahead?

I’ve found that booking a flight about two months before my departure helps me to avoid the stress of obsessively checking prices. And once the flight is booked, I can set aside the plan and enjoy the time I have left in my current life.

*tip* use skyscanner for amazing flight deals

 2. Employee housing

Love

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Summit County Colorado is home to some of the most expensive real-estate in the country, and me. How expensive, you ask? A friend of mine rents a room in a three-bedroom condo for 900 per month. It’s a great deal considering that it’s not uncommon to pay well over 1,000 for something similar. This is where employee housing comes into play.

My fully furnished studio costs just $385 per month, including furniture and utilities. There’s no lease, which means you can leave at the end of the season, or even early without paying a fee. It’s less than a mile from the slopes, and there’s a free shuttle that runs every twenty minutes. So, what’s the catch?

Hate

My place is about 15x15, and I share it with a roommate. We have a full kitchen and a bathroom, but we share that with two sweet mates. Multicolored stains cover more floor area than the original carpet brown. I can’t tell you how many sleepless nights I’ve had on that springy mattress. And believe it or not, this place is a pretty substantial upgrade from my room in Alaska.

Before moving into employee housing last season, I’d never shared a room. But, to my surprise, I adjusted in no time. Sure, employee housing isn’t exactly HGTV, but it’s a place to sleep, and as a seasonal employee, that’s all you need. After all, you’re there for an experience, and it’s temporary.

3. Benefits

Hate

“You know, you’ll have to get a real job someday”

Even if they don’t say it, I know that’s what some people believe. And they’re not entirely wrong. Seasonal work can be difficult. No healthcare, or 401k. Plan on taking a mid-season vacation? Think again. With seasonal work, PTO doesn’t exist. Oh, and I hope you don’t mind working holidays, without extra pay.

Love

“After a summer in Alaska, I used my savings to travel Europe for six weeks.”

“After a summer in Alaska, I used my savings to travel Europe for six weeks.”

But, if you limit your expenses and live in employee housing, you should be able to save. In Alaska, I worked as a server on the breakfast shift. With tips, I made a decent wage, but nowhere near as much as some of the dinner servers, who were making over $3000 per month after taxes, with housing and food included.

As for time off, you may be able to attend a wedding or family event, but most requests will have to wait until shoulder season. The time between seasons, or shoulder season, typically lasts about two months, and it’s an excellent time to travel. After a summer in Alaska, I used my savings to travel Europe for six weeks before returning for another season at Keystone.

 

4. The Schedule

Love

The slopes are empty in the middle of the week.

The slopes are empty in the middle of the week.

It’s Wednesday as I write this, but it’s more like Saturday to me. While schedules vary widely across departments, it’s not uncommon to have odd days off as a seasonal employee. By nature, we work when the crowds demand, therefore, mid-week weekends are the norm. For a ski bum, it’s great. The crowds are absent, and the snow is fresh (usually). In fact, I’ve just finished up a day of snowboarding at Breckenridge, the most visited resort in the country. In three hours of riding, I didn’t wait in line once. After I finish this coffee at Clint’s Bakery, where I easily found parking across the street, I plan to go buy groceries, again without waiting. Everything is easier in the middle of the week.

Hate

Part of my decision to return to Keystone was based on its proximity to the city. After spending my entire summer in Alaska, I craved an urban setting. At just over an hour from downtown Denver, my apartment in Keystone offers the access I was looking for. But because I have Tuesdays-Thursdays off, I can’t take full advantage of the city. My city friends have normal weekends, and most events take place on Saturdays and Sundays. I still go downtown time to time, but when I do, it’s quiet. It’s been nice to visit cafes and write, but because of my odd schedule, I haven’t been able to fully immerse myself in the city life.

 

5. Relationships

Love

The 2018 Blande Gruffs Softball team.

The 2018 Blande Gruffs Softball team.

In the seasonal world, things happen fast. I moved to Keystone in November of ’17, without knowing anyone. Within a week, I’d met an entire group of friends. Mid-way through the season, I left to teach English in Korea. There, I felt extremely isolated, and I longed for the familiar faces of the seasonal community.

It was this longing that ultimately drove me to accept a summer position in Denali. Again, I went alone, and again, I made friends, and interesting ones too. Yanara, from the Dominican Republic, Felipe from Vegas, my roommate Blue, from China. Toward the end of the season, I even met a girl. Seasonal work brings together communities of people from all over the globe. As part of such, you never know who you might meet.

Hate

As a returning employee at Keystone resort this winter, I expected to plug right back in to my old community. But to my surprise, I seem to be one of the few who’ve returned. Many seasonal employees are nomadic, which means there isn’t much stability in these pop-up communities. It can be frustrating constantly starting anew, but at the same time, it’s exciting. With each new season comes new opportunity.

 

As a student at Texas Tech University, I studied Hospitality Management because I though it may one day allow me to live and work in an exotic place. In three years, I never once heard even a mention of seasonal opportunities. Since, I’ve worked three straight seasons, and in just 14 months, I’ve seen more of the world than I ever thought I’d see. From entry level jobs such as snowboard instructing, to management (with benefits), and constant exposure to interesting people, there truly is no shortage of opportunity amongst the seasonal community.

Interested in seasonal jobs? Check out these links to find opportunities:

Coolworks.com

Vailresorts.com

GrandDenaliLodge

The Grande

The Grande