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.

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18 Responses to Three Ways to Travel

  1. T says:

    Irish women are grand! But they talk too fast … You should check out the Temple Bar.

  2. David says:

    Worth mentioning too that at least here in Europe you can easily get a nice apartment even for a few days + save 50% on a hotel.

    Eg last time I was in Budapest I paid around aroud 60 euros for a whole flat to myself (hotel rooms would be from 100).

  3. Peter Phoenix says:

    I’m liking how practical your articles are becoming. Really living up to the name ;)

  4. michael says:

    how do you feel about sites like couchsurfing.com?

    you stay in other people’s place for free and exchange your life stories

    • Mark says:

      I like couchsurfing. I never use it to stay with people. But I’ll use it sometimes to meet interesting locals. Have made a few friends on it.

  5. Matty says:

    Arrgh, I hear ya on the hostel! I stayed in one this weekend in a Korean beach town with like 7 frat boys. Fun at first, not so fun when they all come back at 6am and have a drunken bro debriefing of the night. Sorry, “debrofing”.

  6. Jamie says:

    I keep thinking of travelling but it seems so expensive to me. I would love to travel around North America and Europe but it always feels like I would have to spend upwards of £500 ($800) on accommodation/travel/food alone per month. That’s even before spending money and having a good time.

    Do you know any good websites that give good tips about travelling on a budget? 6 months on £3000 ($4800) would be my limit!

    Surely it is doable, whilst having a good time?

    • Mark says:

      To survive on $800 a month in the developed world, you’ll have to really be slumming it: peanut butter sandwiches, super cheap 16-bed hostel rooms and/or couchsurfing, no going out and definitely no alcohol. Europe is going to destroy that budget, and anywhere worth visiting in the US (NYC, LA, etc.) will too.

      On that budget I’d recommend Asia or Latin America. $800 can buy you a reasonable experience in Latin America and you can actually live pretty well on $800 in SE Asia.

    • Tim says:

      Why travel for 6 months? Doesn’t seem like you’re an experienced traveler, so let me warn you that 6 months non-stop travel is a hell of a long time unless you’re working. Even then… I’d say try traveling for 2 months, see how you like that and then maybe you can do more in the future.

      Although I did meet a South African who had been traveling the entire globe for the last 13 months. He partied almost every night I was with him too. That was crazy.

      • Jamie says:

        Because i want to experience the towns i visit, not just spend a few nights here and there. I want to spend maybe 2 months in Germany to practice my German. Then go through Switzerland, Austria, Czech Rep, Slovakia and Hungary.

        My other wish, is to circle North America, starting In NY then going up through Toronto, Chicago and over to Vancouver and down the west taking in Vegas too. Finishing up in New Orleans and Miami.

        I may learn to drive and make a road trip out of it. I may not have experience but i know what i want :-)

  7. Jimmy says:

    Great post Mark! How do you go about finding an apartment in a great location?

    • Mark says:

      Most places, the internet. Also, more sites like hostelworld.com and booking.com are showing apartment listings for major cities.

  8. Tim says:

    What I’m really interested in is how you got to this point. When you first started traveling did you try making friends through cold approach and that failed? Have you made friends who you stayed with? That’s my current aim when traveling; meet people from all over the world and then build friendships strong enough that they would be happy to host me if I came to their neck of the woods (and I’d do the same for them). So far I’ve mainly stayed with family or family friends when I don’t stay in hostels, but I’m hoping that soon my friends will be getting old enough to be owning their own places big enough to host me comfortably. I’d say from what I’ve built now that in a few years I should have places in at least 10 major cities. Hoping to increase that with more travel.

    Also, I might start a thread in the forum on this, but what ways do you find ways to save on travel? I use kayak.com and hostels.com for travel and accomodation, but haven’t really expanded much from that. I always hear about good deal websites that offer really cheap prices due to short notice or low sales or whatever, but I’ve yet to find and use any. Any experience with that?

    • Mark says:

      Yeah, I had to learn the hard way that cold approach leads to few to zero lasting friendships. I basically cold approached for 2 months straight in Argentina, and other than one girl I slept with, I keep in touch with no one. Then the last few weeks there, my friend and I joined some classes and hung out with some local musician guys my friend met, and through them we met a bunch of people who we made lasting friendships with, all within like 2 weeks.

      Building up friends all over the world takes time. 90% of the friends you meet and hang out with you’re probably never going to see or hear from again. Just how the world works. But as time goes on, you begin to make some real and genuine connections and keep them going. Facebook is absolutely a godsend. I cannot even fathom living like this pre-Facebook. I’d be screwed and lonely.

      But yeah, I’m just now getting to a point where I feel very comfortable with the friends I have around the world. I’ve got friends in NYC, Boston, Austin, Chicago, SF, LA, London, Sydney, Brazil, Guatemala, Mexico, Russia, Ukraine, Belgium, etc. All of whom I could hit up to at least hang out and grab a drink, if not crash with them or take a week-long trip with them somewhere.

      One thing about many other cultures is that their hospitality puts us to shame. In the US, people are very independent and somewhat untrusting. But in a lot of these other cultures, it’s unbelievable how hospitable and friendly people, sometimes people who are practically strangers, will be to you.

  9. Georgios says:

    Well this is the first email I m actually posting because the previous i left them unfinished because of my poor english.Thank you for couchsurfing I didnt knew that.I live in Greece,so I can couchsurfer firstly the comrades of pick up :P (no mystery bullshit here:)
    I wanted to ask you is it possibly to meet girls through this ?
    Also yes hostel I think its the best pick up experience,and it will suit for someone at my age(28) if he hasnt does that before a lot.

  10. Dame says:

    Very, Very well done, however, my travel region is on a much smaller scale (12) city’s throughout the Midwest for work purposes, which literally puts me in a different city almost every week. Clearly, a week isn’t a lot of time to solidify too much, but it’s time that I should be doing something with. Any suggestions on how to “Micro Manage” this lifestyle with these short 1 to maybe 2 week long stretches??? Thanks!!!

  11. David says:

    I’m a passionate traveller.

    Another great mid-way option I frequently use is private rooms in high rated hostels.

    Cheaper than a hotel, privacy, good for meeting people.

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