Hotels vs. Hostels: Where to Stay

Last week we wrote about hotels vs. vacation rentals, but what if you are considering a hostel instead? Are there any benefits over staying in a hotel? There are a few differences that can help you decide whether it is a better choice to book a hostel or a hotel.

What is a hostel? When you book a hotel, you book a room. When you choose to stay in a hostel, you book a bed.  You are literally reserving the spot in which you will stay instead of the room.  This typically means that there will be other people in your room that reserved thLs of  staying in a hostel?

  1. Cost. The number one selling point of hostels is the price. I have stayed in multiple hostels for under $15 a night, which is significantly cheaper than many hotels.  There is often the misconception that hostels are dirty and much trashier than hotels.  This is not necessarily true.  Hostels are rated like hotels on sites such as hostelworld.com.  I have stayed in 4 and 5 start hostels that are as nice as some of the best hotels.  Since hostels are aimed toward the budget conscious traveler, they often include things such as guest kitchens where you can cook and discounted tours or attractions, especially for students.
  2. Social scene. If you stay in a hotel, you are isolated in your room.  Hostels are social settings and you are bound to meet other travelers that are sharing your room.  Additionally, almost every hostel has a common room or some type of lounge to encourage social interaction between residents; many even have bars attached.  I have met some amazing people in hostels who are usually like minded travelers ready to share stories.
  3. Hostel Staff.  The majority of the staff members I have talked with in hostels are younger people who love to travel.  They almost always have great advice, both on the local area and other destinations.  Particularly perfect for people who want to experience local culture, their suggestions are usually more off the beaten path than a concierge who often names the top tourist spots.
  4. Location.  Since hostels typically house a fewer number of residents than hotels, their location options are greater.  There are many hostels situated in restored historical buildings, big houses, old prisons, campsites, castles, etc.  

What are the cons of hostels?

  1. Bad roommates.  There have been a couple times when I have had to share a room with a particularly stinky guest, someone who snores, etc.  I will say these times are outweighed by the times I have met awesome people, but keep in mind you have no say in who is in your room, it is just the luck of the draw.  One night my friends and I returned to our hostel and found a guy that had crawled into my friend’s bed instead of his own. Awkward.  These usually make for good war stories though.
  2. Amenities.  It is common for a hostel not to provide towels for guests without an additional fee. Likewise, they may give you sheets when you check in to make your own bed.  If you are looking for added amenities and special treatment, hostels are probably not your best choice.
  3. Privacy.  Hostels are created to form a community.  The atmosphere is often much more relaxed and less formal than a hotel.  With this in mind, guests may stay up late talking loudly, you will be sharing a community bathroom, and you better get used to changing clothes in front of strangers.

Hostels can be an excellent option especially if you are looking for location character and travel buddies.  Just be cautious to do your research first. Below are some pictures from hostels I have stayed in, both costing a little more than $20 USD a night.

Hostel courtyard in Marrakech, Morocco

Budapest hostel bunk bed sheets.

 

Top Ten Venice (Top Ten Things to Do and See in Venice, Italy)

Top Ten Venice (Top Ten Things to Do and See in Venice, Italy)

Venice Top Ten

1. Take a Ride on Vaporetto Route #1.  A great way to get acquainted with Venice when you arrive is to hop on the number 1 vaporetto (vaparettos are basically the city buses of Venice) and ride around the city.  Find fare information and schedules here.

2. Wander Around the City.  Venice is often regarded as one of the safest cities in Europe. It’s small size and relatively aged population make walking around the city aimlessly a perfectly acceptable and safe thing to do.  The city is full of hidden shops and eateries perfect for stumbling into. Spend some time walking around and enjoying the unique city on foot.

3.  Climb (Ride) to the Top of the San Giorgio Maggiore Campanile.  Across the water from Saint Mark’s Square, you can go to the top of the bell tower of the San Giorgio Maggiore church and catch great views of the classic sights of Venice.  The view is a bargain at €3. Check the hours and get more info here.

4. Ride around Venice at Night.  This would be number one on the list if Venice wasn’t such a sight to see during the day as well.  The city is magical at night, with all the houses lit up.  I highly recommend you see Venice from the Grand Canal at night, just hop back on your trusty friend Vaporetto Number 1, you won’t regret it.

5. Sip on Spritzs. An aperitif that originated in Venice, a spritz is typically a a mix of Aperol or Campari, white wine, and sparkling water.  The Aperol version is the lighter of the two, with Campari being the more bitter alternative.

6. Day Trip to the Surrounding Islands. Venice has a selection of other island cities easily within reach to Venice tourists.  Murano, Borano, and Torcello are likely the most popular, and there are a wide selection of organized tours to see them.  However, you can easily get to these islands via Vaporetto for a fraction of the cost.  Murano is famous for its hand-blown glass, Burano is well known for lace and its brightly painted houses, and Torcello is a relatively unpopulated island known for its cathedral and peaceful reprieve from tourist filled Venice.

7. Take a Traghetto.  Since you can’t j-walk across a canal, the unique Venetian experience of traghettos was created.  A traghetto is a gonola-like boat that transports people from one side of the canal to the other.  The ride will set you back €2, but that beats walking until you find the next bridge.  Plus if you play your cards right, you can take a picture with a gondolier in the background and convince all your Instagram friends (and yourself) that you took a gondola without dropping the cash for a real one.

8. Dine in Piazza San Marco.  St. Mark’s square is bustling with tourists non-stop throughout the day.  Grab a cup of gelato or sit down for some cicheti (Italy’s version of tapas) at one of the restaurants around the square to observe some tourists in the wild.  The best time to do this is in the evening; you can watch the square clear out as tourists head back to their hotels for dinner and experience the square when it’s more peaceful.

9. Have a Beach Day at the Venetian Lido.  Across the lagoon from the main part of Venice, lies the Lido.  An oasis from the non-stop crowds, the Lido offers a more relaxed feel with great views of Venice.  The lido also has a beach perfect for a relaxing day.  Take a vaporetto over, grab a bike, and spend the day lounging around the island and visiting the many restaurants and shops.

10.  Enjoy lots and lots of Wine.  Wine, an Italian staple, is prevalent throughout the city.  There are also vineyards that are within easy reach of Venice, perfect for day trips.  You can travel to the vineyards on your own, opt for an organized tours of the wineries, or you can enjoy the Italian version of a pub crawl and hop from wine bar to wine bar in the city.  Grab a glass and get started!

Explore more things to do in Venice here or start planning your trip itinerary here. 

Hotels vs. Rentals: Where Should You Stay

From couchsurfing.com to airbnb.com, room and house rentals have become the latest trend among seasoned travelers and are now gaining traction as a viable alternative to hotels. If you’ve never used a service like this, there are some things you should know before you take refuge in someone’s humble abode. Below are six things you should consider and whether hotels or rentals dominate that category.

1. Convenience: Hotel
Having someone at a Front Desk at all times is invaluable. If there are problems with your rental (which there tend to be, just as there are with hotel rooms) you chance whether or not the owner will answer his email or phone call before your stay is up. Plus, should you need anything additional like towels or soap, the front desk has that covered.

2. Location : Tie
Hotels and rental properties can be found in just about any part of a city, so neither has any leverage over the other. If you want to stay away from the constant movement of hotel guests, using a rental that is away from the hotel-infested areas is probably your best bet and often provides for a little more privacy than a hotel.

3. Last-Minute Availability: House Rental
Last year, I decided I wanted to go to Dallas for OU/Texas (one of the largest events in the city each year) in the 11th hour. Hotels are sold out months in advance. Even when hotels in a city are completed booked, there are often available rental properties since a lot of people still don’t think to check for them and property owners often don’t decide to list their rentals far in advance.  We found an awesome apartment with a rooftop pool in the heart of downtown days before the game, not to mention it was 40% cheaper than a comparable hotel in the same area.

4. Cleanliness and Comfort: Hotel
Many rentals rely on maids that must be arranged each time they are needed to get into the rental. If there is any difficulty getting into the unit, the maids will simply move on. This was the case with my last experience. The maid never came and I had to spend two days in the previous renter’s filth. Seasoned owners are more likely to have the system down and ensure cleanliness for guests, but it’s never a guarantee you’ll even be able to get in touch with them.

5. Amenities: Hotel
Hotels typically have more standardized amenities.  Since each unit of a rental is fitted to the individual owner’s needs, cable, blow dryers, coffee makers and so on vary extensively by unit. The only thing that each unit seems to have had in my experience is Wi-Fi – no shock there.  Some rentals may have more unique amenities than hotels though, my friend stayed in an apartment in Chicago with a driving range on the roof free for all tenant’s use.

6. Price: House Rental
This is often the big selling point for rentals. The owner sets the price and the smart ones will keep a busy schedule by setting their prices a little lower than competitors.  Rentals can also be much more cost efficient for groups since renting a 2 bedroom apartment is commonly less expensive than renting two separate hotel rooms.  If you spend the time, you can typically find a good unit for cheaper than the hotel across the street.

So what’s important to you? For me, I value cleanliness and convenience, so hotels are my preferred choice. But to each their own!

If you choose to book a hotel, make sure you check out how to choose the perfect hotel room, and the best sites to book your hotel on. 

Best Free Travel Apps for iPhone

We pay a lot for our iPhone’s so why should we pay for expensive travel apps? These five apps can help you be more prepared for your trip and save you money.  Get your iPhone handy and download away!

1. uPackingListFree Figure out what you need beforehand 

There’s no way you can forget anything with this app- it covers all your grounds.  Download this before you leave and you won’t be spending money on pricey necessities while you’re trying to enjoy your trip.

2. Hearplanet – Learn about where you are

Sometimes finding time for a tour that also fits your budget can be hard, so use HearPlanet on any of your major landmarks and learn everything you need to know.

3. Tripit – Organize your trip

Between flights and other travel plans things can get muddled up quickly.  Tripit centralizes  and makes the travel experience that much smoother by doing things such as sending flight confirmations and syncing up with your calendar.  A must have!

4. Road Trip LiteCalculate gas, MPG, and more. 

When driving it can get pricey and frustrating.  RoadTrip is awesome tool to calculate how much you’re paying for gas and the mileage.  We learned that our car got us 39 MPG on a 1000 mile trip to Los Angeles.

5. Yelp – Find the best locations 

Finally, you’ve got to find the best foods and fun and Yelp knows it all.  Whether you want it to use your location or find what you like by search, reading reviews and looking at photos will help pick the best places during your trip.

 

How to Successfully Travel with Others

How to travel with others

 

If you travel at all, you are bound to take a trip with someone else at some point.  Doing so can be incredibly rewarding and can result in great memories; but if you are not cautious and prepared, the trip can turn into a nightmare.
Here are some tips to travel well with others.

1) Pick your travel partner wisely.  Sometimes it is tempting to go on a trip just to go; but if you do not know the person well or they are not your favorite, think carefully before accepting the invitation.  It is important to travel with someone who has similar interests and likes to do the same things as you, to minimize disagreements. One of the most common causes for disagreements between travel partners is money.  If you and your travel partner plan to have similar budgets for the trip, you are much more likely to avoid conflict.

2) Plan together before you go.  It is important to discuss what you want to do on the trip with a potential travel partner before the trip, or you will end up in disagreements the entire time. If you both have long lists of things to do that rarely overlap, your trip will be one long argument. Likewise, if you love museums and your travel partner cannot stand them, you will have some problems.

3) Do your research. Some of the biggest problems I have had traveling in groups came from not being prepared. I have spent hours on some trips walking around trying to find a restaurant that had satisfactory prices for one group member, only to end up eating at a restaurant just as expensive as the first one we stopped at.
Create a list of potential restaurants to eat that you know are within budget, look up the hours of the attractions you want to visit, etc. The more prepared you are, the less likely something will go wrong and destroy the group attitude.

4) Don’t be afraid to break away from the group.  If you have different interests than your travel companions, don’t be afraid to go do these activities on your own.  You will regret not going to an attraction you really want to see just because your travel partners have no interest in it.

5) Large groups should split up.  Traveling in large groups is not recommended by most travelers. It is rare to get a group of 8 or so travelers to agree on anything.  Discuss splitting into smaller groups to see the things each member wants to do, or to eat at restaurants within each traveler’s price range.

6) Establish meeting points.  If your group decides to split up, never rely on technology to find each other again.  Establish a time and place to meet, then if anything goes wrong or you can’t get a hold of one another, you will still have a plan of action.

7) Create a group fund for shared expenses.  One of the things that has caused problems on past trips is when one traveler covers group expenses then never gets paid back.  If everyone puts a determined amount into a group fund before the trip, one person can hold it and always be responsible for paying for taxi rides, tipping tour guides, hotel rooms, etc. This way no one has to worry about getting paid back.

8) Prepare yourself with realistic expectations.  One of the most important things to remember when traveling with groups is that you are more than likely to have disagreements, it happens to the best of us. If you prepare for your trip thinking that you are going to have an amazing time and everything is going to go as smoothly as a movie, you are only setting yourself up for failure.  Be prepared for arguments and varying opinions so you can conquer them quickly and move on with your trip.