Saturday, 10 May 2014

Hostel Virgin?

You're a virgin?!  You mean you have never experienced one before?!  A bit scared about it?  Well...let me help you; I've done it loads of times before!  With my advice, I guarantee you will have a pleasurable experience EVERY time!  Is this sexual nirvana, I'm referring to?  Nope...I'm talking about your first stay in a hostel.  These FIVE top tips will help you through your first hostel stay.

For the hostel averse out there, my advice is to give it a try.  As I have said before, hostels are an affordable, good value accommodation option for the budget-savvy traveller.  And for those that do not fancy the sights, sounds and smells of your average dorm room, staying in private rooms in hostels need not feel like you are 'slumming it' and can give you access to a host of activities and services you might miss out on if you were to stay in a hotel.

Par-tay! (source -

1. Choose Your Hostel Carefully...
- Selecting the hostel that most suits your personality and travel requirements is key.  Need a riotous party?  Make sure the hostel you choose offers free shots on arrival and bar crawls every night.  Need to chill out after a day's sightseeing?  Opt for the hostel that can hook you up with a local yoga class and 'knits' their own muesli for breakfast.  My main advice here would be to read the reviews on hostel booking websites such as Hostelbookers and Hostelworld; where travellers post frank reviews about their experiences and the quality of the accommodation on offer.

I just need to use my hair straighteners...and charge my iPad...and my camera battery! (source -

2. Don't Be The Hostel Oddball...
- You are likely to be sharing a dorm room with several others.  It is therefore, paramount that you do not mark yourself out in a negative way in the microcosm of the hostel environment.  Taking up all the floor space, leaving your underwear strewn across the room or hogging all the plug points for your phone, iPad and hairdryer is not going to win you many fans.  The key to being a good 'roomie'?  Easy!  Treat others as you would expect to be treated.

Greet the travel massive! (source -

3. Press The Flesh!...
No, not that way!  Though, that will help you make friends very easily!  Hermits and hostels do not go together very well.  The recluse will find it difficult, in the sociable community you get in most hostels, to be completely alone.  This, for me, is one of the real advantages of a hostel stay.  You get to encounter and share experiences with fellow travellers.  These 'micro United Nations' allow you to meet people from different countries, cultures and socio-economic backgrounds that, ultimately, help you understand yourself, your own country and its unique culture a lot better.

Breaking bread at the Lisbon Lounge Hostel (source - MikeW)

4. Get Active!...
Linked into the previous tip about the social nature of backpacker accommodation; hostels will often offer a range of formal and informal activities I would heartily encourage you to get involved in.  For example, the fantastic Budapest Bubble hostel runs an informal nightly bar crawl which allows even the most hardened wallflower the chance to join a group of like-minded travellers for a drink or two without the pressure to finish the night at 5am, staring up from Hungary's finest gutters and covered in vomit.  However, that option is there...if you want it!  The brilliant Lisbon Lounge Hostel is one of many excellent, top quality boutique backpacker pads in the Portuguese capital that offers a number of free and reasonably priced activities for their guests from free tours of the city (something I highly recommend in any city you visit - see 'The Glorious Free Tour') to tours of the Fado scene as well as fabulous in house dinners, cooked by Pedro the chef, for a reasonable price that would shame many of Lisbon's well-established and costlier eateries.  Remember...a good hostel and its staff will want to show off their city and country at its best and ensure you have a great time.  At the very least, make it a priority, once you have dropped your backpack, to ask a member of the hostel staff to sit down with you and map out the best places to visit, eat and drink.  This quick orientation can be a good way to get to know your hosts and offers an invaluable local insight into your destination.

Lock it up! (source -

5. Stay Safe!...
I am the first to admit, I am anally retentive when it comes to my safety and well being when I travel.  In addition to this, I am keen to ensure my belongings remain safe and secure.  When I stay in hostels I always take a good quality medium sized padlock with me to lock your backpack or to allow you to lock it or any belongings in the lockers many hostels provide in the rooms.  And, if there is a safe in the hostel...use it for your passport, at the very least.  I have stayed in hostels where people have left valuable electronic items within easy reach and in once case an iPad on their bed while completely unattended in a busy room of 9 other strangers, while the woman went for a shower.  This was despite having a locker in which she could have easily stored the tablet safely and securely.  It made no sense to me.  I do not mean to worry you and you should not be consumed by fear about hostel security as most hostels are filled with friendly like-minded folk who probably will have absolutely no interest in your treasures, but the way I see it is...the less hassle you can get into the more enjoyable your trip will be; saving you from laborious insurance claims, visits to the police and angst about the cost of replacing your stolen belongings.

So, there it is...five great tips to help you navigate your first stay in a hostel and make it go as swimmingly as possible.  Please let me know, in the comments box below, how your first stay went or if you have stayed in hostels before the tips you would offer the plucky hostel first timer.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Why I Blog About Travel...

MikeW checking out Ljubljana! (source - MikeW)

After two years of blogging about travel, I have realised I am writing in an overcrowded part of the Internet.  Blogs about travel, independent travel, budget travel and backpacking are numerous.  Many of those writing have established their space on the web longer than The Rough Guide to a Lonely Planet and have reached further around the globe than I can possibly hope to do at this current moment in time.  So, why do I choose to write about travel when there are thousands of others doing very much the same?  The simple answer...I like it!  Travel and experiencing other places are a genuine passion of mine and I love to share this with others.  As I have written about before (The Art of Travel Blogging), I do not like to scribe trip reports for you as I find, on the whole, reading other peoples' similar blog posts dull and incredibly self-indulgent.  And, besides, so many people can write these types of posts better than I ever could.

Am I hoping for a press trip?  Are the 'Rough Guide', 'Lonely Planet' or a national newspaper going to beat down my door so they can fly me out to South Africa, tasked with a 2500 report on wine trips to the Stellenbosch?  Of course not!  I am utterly and completely realistic about the potential for this to happen.  It just isn't going to!  So many other bloggers out there have a larger following, a more regular readership and seemingly write more than I can on a more frequent basis.  Is the hope that I can make this a full time job?  If only!  A pipe dream at best.  Even those that write about travel full time report that pay is low and can often be disproportionate to the work and effort involved.

So, if I am not doing this for the 'free' trips or to earn a crust, my objective is clear.  I am here to inspire YOU!  To encourage you to travel.  To see the world.  To break free.  To explore.  To take that adventure.  To set sail.  Do it!  Then, one day you might decide to inspire others with your writing too!

Happy travels!

PS - If there are any rich benefactors or wealthy patrons out there with money to know where I live! ;)

Bizarre Bumps!

Do you know that moment when you go shopping or to a bar in your hometown and you bump into a member of your family or one of your friends?  It is a nice surprise, isn't it!  Exaggerate that feeling a hundred times and add a 'WOW' moment; because that is what it is like when you meet those people on your journeys around the world.  Over the course of my travels, I have had the strangely serendipitous pleasure of bumping into a variety of people that have connected me to some point in my past.

Only last year, I opened the gate to the apartment I was staying at, in the gorgeous Croatian town of Hvar,  to hear a woman's voice (tinged with a hint of shock) shout my name.  I turned round to find Heather; the person I used to sit next to in History lessons at sixth form college!  This is someone I had, probably, not seen for about fifteen years!  And, bear in mind the road on which the apartment was situated was a quiet one, a walk away from the centre of the town.  Both surprised, we had a quick catch up, swapped Croatia tips and went on our way open mouthed at what had just happened.  I then turned to my friend, who I was travelling with, and reminded him of the conversation we had the day before, as the ferry pulled into the dock, when I said that I had a strange feeling that I was going to meet someone I knew on the island!  Odd, eh?!

My Croatian 'bump' in Hvar - Heather from school! (source - MikeW)

This is not the first time this kind of thing has happened.  In Brisbane, Australia, I was checking out the leaflets in a backpacker travel agent, when I looked up on hearing a Yorkshire accent; spotting a guy I went to university with.  On that very same trip, I spent a couple of days travelling with a guy who had gone to agricultural college with a mutual friend and his younger brother, whom I attended primary school with.  And, a week previous to that encounter, I walked into the common room of a hostel in Port Macquarie in New South Wales where I got chatting to a girl from my home city, Hull; whom I later discovered when showing her mum photos of her year in Australia, instantly recognised me as the student who had worked with her as part of a work experience module for my degree course four years previously!

The strangest random meet, however, came when travelling with Irish friends I had met in New Zealand, around the south west of Ireland.  We were in a hotel in the Kerry town of Dingle, when I spotted a face I recognised.  I stopped the guy and, yup...he confirmed that he was indeed one of the Irish guys from the 3 day boat trip I took round the Whitsunday Islands, 3 years before.  So, whilst travelling to one country to meet friends I had met in another, I bumped into a random acquaintance, I had met in another country.  Weird, but I enjoy these meets.  These random encounters make me realise how small the world really is and, though probably in part down to my 'Terminator-like' ability for facial recognition, I am always surprised how often this happens.

So, keep your eyes peeled and listen out for your name.  You never know what old school friend, ex-partner or former travel buddy you may encounter as you make your way through life!

If you have already had some similar experiences to me why not share them in the comments box below.  I would love to hear about them!