As time goes on, I regularly get more and more questions about traveling. How do I decide where to stay, where to go? Do I get lonely? How do I meet people? I’m finishing up another 3+ month stint in Europe, so I figured I’d write something out for people.
In general there are three ways I travel, and they’re determined on what kind of place I stay in: apartment, hotel or hostel.
Apartment: If I travel anywhere for more than a week, I usually get an apartment. In most parts of the world, you can rent a furnished apartment for about as much as you’d pay for a hotel room, but you get more privacy and often a much better location. In many places, apartments can even be cheaper than hotels. I’ll stay in one for as short as a week and sometimes up to 2-3 months.
The trick with apartments is location, location, location. Hotels are usually located around sight-seeing areas and the touristy bars and restaurants. Apartments, you can get one where the locals hang out, often in the nicest part of town.
When I get an apartment, it usually means I’m dedicating a little more time to a city/country than usual. If I’m staying anywhere for more than two weeks, when I get there, my first priority is to make local friends, not pick up girls. Unfortunately, just hoping to randomly meet people tends to be a shitty way to make friends, so I usually find a local activity, school, or event in which to build a little social circle for myself. In the past I’ve done this with martial arts gyms, surf schools, language schools, etc. If you have trouble building up a social circle, then couchsurfing is a decent back-up.
Once I’ve made some local friends, after a week or two, then I worry about going out and meeting girls. The reason for this is because early on, I often made the mistake of putting meeting girls before making friends, and not only did it make meeting girls harder, but it made for a much lonelier and worse experience overall in the country.
All in all, I’m discovering that longer-term stays in each city/country along with having my own place in a good part of the city, is ultimately the most enjoyable way to travel. It’s also the most expensive and requires the most amount of time and commitment. But it’s the most rewarding and fulfilling.
Hotel: If I’m only going somewhere for a few days up to a week, I’ll book a hotel. The benefits of a hotel are that you usually have all of the amenities you need. You have your own bed, your own bathroom, clean towels and sheets, TV, internet, a nice location and nice room, etc. The downside of hotels is that you’re pretty isolated and it’s harder to meet people. I usually only pick hotels over hostels (next section) in two specific instances: 1) I’m only visiting somewhere for a couple days and am not really interested in going out or seeing anything or 2) I already know someone who lives where I’m visiting and am meeting up with them.
Where I am now is a perfect example of the first situation: Dublin. I’ve been here before. I did the hostel thing. Nice city, but as someone who’s passing through for 3 days, there’s honestly little to do or little that’s interesting. I’m here right now because taking a two-day layover saved me almost $500 on airfare back to the US. So I’m basically just killing time. Another example is when I was in Kuala Lumpur last year. I was there for 2 days, just to stop through between two other countries. Wasn’t too interested in doing a whole lot or meeting a ton of people.
The second situation is either when I’ve got a friend who lives in the city I’m visiting. I’ll take the hotel because really the only advantage hostels have over hotels is the ability to meet people easily. If I don’t need to meet people, then I’ll do a hotel. I also always do hotels when I’m coaching (got to keep some semblance of professionalism, right?)
Hostel: I’ve developed a love/hate relationship with the backpacker route, and these days I prefer to avoid it as much as possible. But I would say if you want to travel on a budget and/or you’re under 25 years old, you should definitely do the backpacker/hostel thing at least a couple times.
The benefits of a hostel is that it’s extremely easy to meet people. Hostels are like dormitories in college, except for travelers. You’ll often share a room of tiny beds with anywhere from 4 to 16 people in one room. You almost never have your own bathroom. They’re dingy, tiny places. But they’re cheap, and usually full of young people who like adventure.
It varies from hostel to hostel, but typically they’re full of English-speakers and Europeans, aged 18-25, and are usually inexperienced at traveling. If you are passing through a city for a few days and want to meet people to hang out and go drink with, see some tourist sites with, or just hang out with and talk, hostels are great. Yes, there are a lot of girls in hostels too. No, they’re usually not that hot, but yes, they’re easy to hook up with. Either way, a hostel is never a boring time.
But hostels have drawbacks as well. The accommodations are often small, cramped and not very nice. A bunch of drunk 19-year-old British guys seem like fun at first, but when you are woken up to them vomiting at 4AM in YOUR bathroom, the charm is quickly lost.
I may just be getting old and elitist, but in general, I’ve come to loathe the backpacking culture a little bit. The people are overwhelming young, naive, drunk, English-speakers, who have little appreciation for the culture/city they’re visiting and usually make little to no effort to meet or mingle with any locals. Now, I don’t really hold it against them. I was the same way a few years ago when I first started traveling. And god knows, I had some great times staying at hostels. But now, no thank you.
Accordingly, hostel experiences vary very widely. Some of my best travel experiences happened at hostels. Some of my worst travel experiences happened at hostels. Usually you’re at the mercy of the quality of service you receive (always a crap-shoot), the environment of the hostel itself (party hostels versus chill hostels), and most importantly, the other people you happen to meet while you’re there. As with anywhere in life, you will meet total jackasses sometimes, and other times you will meet some really incredible lifelong friends. I just recommend that if you have the money to book a private room. It’s worth it if you can afford it (both for pulling girls, but also for a sound night’s sleep).
Like I said, the hostel experience is something every traveler should do. But do it and then move on to apartments and really enmeshing yourself in the culture and people of wherever you travel. In many hostels, it’s almost like the kids never left home. They drink the same beer, go to the same bars and hang out with the same people they do back home. They just do it in another country.
Churchill famously said, “If you’re not a liberal at 20, then you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative at 40, then you have no brain.” I think I could say something similar for hostels: “If you don’t enjoy backpacking at 20 then you’re not fun. If you don’t dislike backpacking by 30, then you’re not mature.” Or you’re still broke. Either way. Something like that.