Staying in a hostel
Finding a hostel and checking in
The day before you are due to arrive somewhere check sites like Hostel Bookers for options in the area, choose one you like the look of and reserve a bed (there will usually be a 10% deposit up front which will be deducted from the rate). Pre-booking ensures that upon arriving in an unfamiliar town you don’t have to spend an hour traipsing around under a heavy backpack looking for a room!
Once you’ve found your digs you’ll probably have to provide some ID, like a passport, so have that to hand. Depending on the hostel you will either pay up front or when you leave. You may be given a kitchen kit – i.e. a plate, bowl and cutlery – so you can cook yourself some food. and or a bed sheet and pillow case. Make sure you look after these or you’ll end up footing extra costs when you check out.
Check the fire escapes
Once you’ve dumped your stuff in your dorm go for a wander. All hostels have a communal kitchen and most have some sort of chill-out area, be it a TV room, bar, roof deck, pool – or all the above and more if it’s a good one! These are great places to meet fellow travellers, especially if you’re backpacking alone.
Now, we’re going to sound like your mum for a moment, but this is very important: make a mental note of where the fire escapes are. While it is extremely unlikely there will be a fire, they do happen.
Read our guide to fire safety in hostels to ensure you don’t become a depressing statistic.
Meeting your roommates
If you haven’t met anyone in the communal areas head back to your room for a bit – sooner or later someone will show up. Having some alcohol to hand can help break the ice; if you’re in Australia or New Zealand grab a box of wine. More commonly known as ‘goon’, this stuff tastes lethal, but countless friendships have been forged over it so it’s worth raising a glass!
It’s a slightly odd thought, just bedding down in a room with a bunch of people who’ve you’ve only known for a few hours (sometimes not even that) but you get used to it surprisingly quickly. What you probably won’t get used to is the inevitable noise which accompanies a group of (often inebriated) people crashing out for the night. Think snores, rustling bags, creaky bunks… sex.
Earplugs are the way forward.
Checking out a hostel
Most hostels have a check out time of midday, but be sure to check. Some hostels are fairly relaxed on late checkouts, others will charge you. You’ll often have to bring down any bedding you’ve been given. If you’re moving on to the next place but not leaving until later on the day, ask at reception if you can put your bag somewhere – this is usually fine. It’ll give you a chance to have one final explore before you leave.
For even more information check out our first-timer’s guide to hostels.
If travelling in developing countries (think places like South East Asia, India and South America) you will be more likely to stay in hotels than hostels, simply because they are more abundant and about the same price per night as a hostel would be in a developed country – if not cheaper.
The main difference between, say, a backpacker hotel in Thailand and a hostel in Australia, is privacy and amenities. Hostels tend to have a communal kitchen and be made up of shared dorms, whereas hotels provide individual rooms and aren’t self-catered. Apart from that, it can be difficult to discern the difference. Keep in mind that many hotels will offer free airport transfers; this is most welcome when you have just arrived in a brand new city and nothing is written in English.
You may well end up spending a night or two under the stars on your gap year, but don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ll be the next Bear Grylls, fashioning hammocks from parachute cords and wrestling tarantulas in the night. Some people have been known to lug a tent around for their entire gap year and not open it once.
If you’re not a wild, outdoorsy type with specific plans to hike for weeks on end, think carefully before packing camping equipment. It could well be cheaper and less burdensome to hire a tent as and when you need.
These are about as awesome as they sound. They’re usually found in places like the islands of Thailand, and while they’re basic, their locations are just unbeatable. There will typically be a ‘village’, where anything up to thirty huts or bungalows are sprinkled just off the beach. Bungalows will usually have air conditioning, a TV (not that you’ll need it) and a bathroom, whereas huts are much more basic.
Ski chalets will make or break your holiday so it’s important that you find the right one.
There are plenty of options of choose from when it comes to ski chalets. It depends on whether you’re staying for a couple of weeks or for the whole ski season.
Courchevel, Meribel, Obergurgl, Saas Fee, Selva Val Gardena, St Anton, Val d’Isère and Verbier are the most popular ski resorts in Europe, and Banff and Whistler are the two most popular ski resorts in Canada. All offer beautiful ski chalets in the mountains near to the slopes at varying prices.
Blackcombe in Whistler has been named the best resort in North America for 11 years in a row. Down the mountain, Whistler village has an array of great restaurants and lively bars. For serious skiers and snowboarders, a winter in Whistler is a must.
Most ski chalets have en suite bathrooms, a communal area, internet access and a TV for you to kick back and relax after a day on the slopes. You’ll have all the comforts of home as well as all the exciting extras that come living in a ski chalet.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles
And boats. And buses. Transport, basically. It’s going to happen sooner or later: the overnight journey. You, like everyone else who’s ever been on a gap year, will have that light-bulb-moment, where it will suddenly make perfect sense to kill two birds with one stone by saving on a night’s accommodation by travelling overnight. Overnight trains are actually quite fun, especially if you get a sleeping berth; buses and planes not so. You could also find yourself sleeping in an airport on certain occasions. It’s all part of the gap year experience – character building or something.