Staying in hostels was the BEST decision I made with regards to travelling. It coloured and enhanced my entire experience – for a first-timer, both in terms of travelling and going solo – it provided me with a safe and secure way to explore Europe as well as meet other fellow travellers without being too far out of my comfort zone.
I used Hostelworld to book all my hostels. It is a very user friendly and fully loaded site and I had no trouble using wide range of filter options to sort out the things I felt were necessities, such as lockers, luggage storage, 24 hour reception, free wifi and internet access, a common room, as well as things like laundry facilities, depending on what stage of the journey I was on.
Choosing which hostel to pick was a daunting task for me but I knew from the outset that there were some things I was not willing to compromise on, such as safety, security and peace of mind, which helped ease the anxiety of a new experience. And, of course, wi-fi as a slightly indulgent must. I found that not comprising on these elements greatly enhanced my experience as I was never left in position of truly being afraid of being robbed or violated in the hostels nor having to worry about my possessions and in particular my passport, when I was off exploring, whether day or night.
Despite sounding like the same thing, lockers and luggage storage are different and were both, for me anyway, a necessity.
You will usually find lockers to be situated either just outside your room, or inside. These are a lifesaver and shouldn’t be underestimated. While you are always advised not to take valuables with you, things like passports, extra cards and cash, as well as extras such as camera parts, jewellery, ipods and ipads won’t always be things you want to or are able to take with you everywhere, everyday. In these cases, lockers are a life saver. Also, you can never anticipate the kinds of people you will meet travelling and while we’d like to think the best of those we meet, it is better to lock possessions away than give anyone the chance to steal.
It is a good idea to take a big lock with you on your travels, as most places will charge a renting fee for locks or you will have to go out and buy one, probably at a more expensive rate than at home and cut into your fun time. Ideally, a combination lock so that you are not stuck looking after a tiny key. It makes one less thing to worry about and keep safe.
Luggage storage is handy if you will be arriving earlier than check-in or staying later than check-out. While everything kept in luggage storage is kept at your own risk, it helps to be able to park your bag somewhere safe (relatively) and makes for a better, more enjoyable day if you’re not lugging your huge backpack around. However, be prepared for some hostels to list luggage storage as a provided facility, only for you to turn up and realise that this meant storing everyone’s luggage in the common room. However, some hostels will have a designated storage room, kept under lock and key. If this is something that bothers you, ringing up in advance and asking before booking is an option.
Along with lockers and luggage storage, many hostels will offer the facility of storing your valuables in a safe in their reception area, which provides added safety and security to your belongings. Things like passports and ipads can be stored here.
Whether facilities such as common rooms and bars are a priority for you, these can help when travelling solo, as they offer all the hostel residents a place to meet, get to know one another and hang out – it opens everyone up to each other and doesn’t limit people to their dorm mates. For a whole host of reasons, I think these facilities should be prioritised by solo travellers as I have experienced first hand how much of a difference they make in one’s experience. I have met some truly incredible people thanks to hostel bars and common rooms/lounge areas and even met travelling buddies this way.
When looking for hostels, something to look out for, whether in the hostel summary or in the reviews section, is how accommodating that particular place is for solo travellers. Some hostels will have a clear policy of admitting only small or no groups at all in order to foster a friendlier, more open environment.
Peace of mind all round.