Before heading out on my grand adventure, I wasn’t sure how I would control costs, especially for housing. Hotels were right out: if you look into the average cost for a night in a hotel in Europe, you can see I’d quickly go bankrupt). Besides, staying in hotels leaves you so separate. You retreat to your fresh linen, 24 hour concierge, and bedside room service. This is lovely for a weekend getaway, but I wanted to get to know the places I was in, along with the people.
So I signed up for a site called couchsurfing.com. This is a great idea: if you have a place people can stay and you love to meet new people from different places, you can offer up your couch (bed, futon, whatever) and people can send you messages asking if they can stay with you. This would be perfect for me: I get to stay with local people and learn the city and culture through their eyes! perfect!
Well, apparently, there are few limitations to this. First: many people are offering couches “to women only”. Seems a bit creepy if it’s a guy hosting, but alright. Secondly, I think being a large American man, traveling alone, also throws some people off as I sent out a few requests and got no reply. How are they to know I’m not the next great serial killer? The few replies I did get were either off on their own trips, or already hosting people. So I hear couchsurfing.com is awesome if you are a young female. I’m pretty far removed from both those descriptors.
So, eventually I found another site: airbnb.com. Excellent and highly recommended. The way this works: you have a room that you aren’t using, you can put it up on airbnb for rent. Someone traveling in your area can rent it (for a day, a week, a month, whatever). You get extra income, they get a place to stay and a local to talk with, everybody wins! My experience with this in Mexico was fantastic, and in Madrid was pretty good as well.
However, since leaving Madrid, I’ve been staying in hostels. Now I had some dire warnings about hostels before embarking on this trip:
Hostels can often be located in sketchy neighborhoods
The insides can be a little rougher than you might be used to
And some hostels will try to attract you with somewhat questionable features
Lastly, it was very clear to me that I would be the absolute oldest person in existence to ever set foot across the threshold of a “youth hostel” (named such for a reason, doncha know).
My experience so far:
First hostel in Seville: Backpackers Triana.
- Clean and very well run, with people that were bi- or tri-lingual.
- Amenities included a rooftop deck complete with hot tub.
- Cost: 11 euro per night.
- Bonus: in the 6-bed dorm I was in, I was actually the youngest person. Craziness.
Following such a successful stay, I had to try again. So, I drove to Malaga for the day, then to Granada for the night.
Second hostel: Granada inn backpackers (I figured it might be related to the one in Seville)
- Clean, new, and HUGE.
- One of the employees took everyone out for a “tapas crawl” on the city. Excellent way to get to know everyone.
- Cost: between 12 – 15 euro per night.
- I was, indeed, the oldest person around. But the young’uns took me in regardless.
So, after another excellent experience, I tried again in Valencia, to even better results.
Purple Nest Hostel, Valencia
- Again, very clean, modern, and professionally run.
- Super close to great nightlight, the “city of arts and sciences”, core downtown, parks, everything.
- Cost: 15 euro.
- Bonus: common area with beer taps, wine on sale, and major cooking events each night. Cue giant pan of paella:
Lastly (so far): Barcelona. I stayed in the sister-hostel of the one in Valencia, Yellow Nest:
- Super friendly staff, regular nightly activities.
- Excellent crowd of international travelers eager to make new friends and go out exploring.
- Cost: between 13 – 18 euro.
- Bonus: Movie room, from which we watched the European Futbal Final, as well as nightly movies for whoever doesn’t want to partake in the madness / drinking games / music sing-alongs going on in the common rooms.
In addition, I’ve found that cooking large meals in the common kitchen with a bunch of new-found friends is a pretty great wrap-up to the day. In Barcelona we have 6 people and rotated responsibilities for a few nights, so you always get a surprise, or when it’s your turn you get sincere thanks and appreciation for what you provide. Great atmosphere.
So, down sides to staying in hostels:
- You are going to be sharing rooms with people. This means snoring is inevitable. As is people stumbling in drunk at 3am (or later).
- Showers can be hit-and-miss. Some are great, many employ various water-saving methods that can be annoying.
- If you are over 30 (or in your mid-40’s like me) you WILL be with powerfully young people most of the time. This can be good! Can also be… odd. Your mileage may vary.
- Not everyone in the hostel will be awesome. But that’s true pretty much anywhere.
So, in conclusion, I have to say that hostel stays have been absolutely fantastic for me. If you are traveling in a manner where you don’t want to meet new people, have a rigid itinerary, or really REALLY need all the comforts of a 5-star hotel, by all means avoid the hostels. If you are open and flexible and love meeting new people, then you really can’t go wrong with hostels (at least from what I’ve seen in Spain). Perhaps I’ll have worse experiences as I head north, but so far I’m sold.