One of the perks of studying abroad, aside from having the opportunity to live in a foreign country, is having the freedom to be able to travel. Some of my favorite memories from my past semester in London have been of exploring new cities—from Copenhagen, to Prague, to Dublin, to Amsterdam, to Paris, I’ve fallen in love with each of the cities that I’ve visited. As exciting as traveling may be, though, you can only truly appreciate a new environment if you feel safe in it.
Preparation for travel is crucial to ensuring a safe and stress-free (or, at least, stress-reduced) trip. Before you go anywhere, follow these steps and take note of these suggestions to make sure that you’re fully informed about your destination and prepared for whatever circumstances may arise:
What to Consider When Booking a Hostel
Read reviews of your accommodation before booking: If you’re a student, then chances are that you’ll be staying in a hostel. Don’t underestimate this timeless rule: you get what you pay for. When it comes to hostels, this rule couldn’t be more accurate. I’m a huge proponent of Hostel World; its rating system is reliable and the comments are invaluable. A couple months ago, I didn’t take the comments about a hostel in Copenhagen seriously enough, and ended up on the same street as several prostitutes and drug dealers—this is a safety DON’T.
Be wary of hostel cleanliness: When reading reviews, steer clear of any hostels that have had reports of bedbugs or any sort of rodent or insect problems. Only book hostels with high sanitation ratings. Even if they do have high sanitation ratings, though, hostels aren’t hotels, so their standards of cleanliness are much lower. A couple of my fellow abroad-ees got nasty cases of scabies in Venice from their accommodation. Do yourself a favor: bring flip-flops, a towel, a pillowcase, and even a sleep-sheet (basically just two sheets sewn together like a sleeping bag). Emily, a junior at WashU, studied abroad in London and highly recommends investing in a sleep-sheet: “After I purchased my sleep-sheet—also known as my sleep cocoon—I slept much better in those $10 hostels.” It may seem like an unnecessary cost, but a few pro-sanitation investments really go a long way when you’re staying in a hostel—you’ll thank yourself when you come home scabies-free. And lots of hostels will charge you for towels, a locker, even sheets and a blanket, so it saves money too!
Make note of the hostel’s operating hours: Like I said before, hostels aren’t hotels. This simple yet significant fact applies to the operating hours of the hostel as well as to its cleanliness. Hostels often do not have a reception desk or a concierge, meaning that—you guessed it—they aren’t open 24/7. There are a couple exceptions out there, as some hotels have their own hostels that are actually part of the same building, but it’s safer to assume that your hostel has limited operating hours and to not only find out what they are beforehand, but also to make sure that your flight or bus arrival and departure coincide with them. Sarah, a junior at Boston College, studied abroad in Aix (in the South of France) this past semester, and is unfortunately all too familiar with being unaware of operating hours: “Always check in with your hostel about their hours. We got back at 5:00 am after being out in Norway and our hostel was closed. We had our room-key but were locked out of the actual hostel. We ended up freezing outside until they finally let us in at 8:30 am.” Sarah was lucky that the temperature was her only discomfort; depending on the hostel’s location, her safety could have been jeopardized. To avoid any sort of discomfort, simply make note of the hours before your trip begins.