I am a long-term budget traveller who has stayed in approx 100 hostels in 4 different continents. AMA about hostels!
My name's Dan and I am a long-term budget traveller. Though I am currently living at home in Canada, I have spent most of the past 3 years away from home, mostly in Europe and Asia. Later this week I am moving to Vietnam!
I run www.thenewtravelblog.com and www.danvineberg.com where I try to inspire people to travel the world for cheap.
Earlier this week I wrote a guide to staying in hostels (here's the guide). Now I want to answer any questions you might have about staying in hostels.
I think staying in hostels is the best way in the world to travel... so... AMA!
I know, I know, self-promotion sucks... but if any of my answers have been helpful, truly the best way you can saw thanks is with a quick follow. Building an audience is tough when you aren't posting bikini selfies! =P
youtube / facebook / instagram / twitter
Wishing you all a 2016 that is full of adventure, -Dan
Your question has been answered! (video response I made the other day)
TL;DW: A small % of hostels may have rules that don't allow older people. Most don't, and I've seen people much older than 45. It's not too old if you don't feel it's too old.
How many bed bugs have you seen?
Believe it or not... 0! I've been lucky. Though I did have an unidentifiable rash on my hand once in Thailand that looked like bedbugs to me and itched like mad. Other people who had had bed bugs said mine was something different. It stayed on my hand, which was a weird place if it was actually bed bugs. I never found out what it was and luckily it cleared up within 3-4 days
Which places have the cheapest/most easily accessible alcohol?
So far Thailand has been the cheapest. But I hear Vietnam (where I'm headed next) is even cheaper so I'm excited!!
Germany is definitely most accessible, as I learned when my buddy met me in the airport when I arrived and cracked a beer.
I looked around the airport and asked "can we drink here?"
He laughed and said, "Of course, this is germany. You can drink anywhere!"
If you liked Chang, drink some Saigon Green in Vietnam.
Will do, can't wait! Chang is my favourite room-temperature beer ever.
Cambodia beats Thailand by a bunch! My Tuk Tuk driver bought me a beer for the ride once : P
I hope to go there right after Vietnam! Any off-the-beaten path tips?
Currently about to head to Viet and around Thailand in a few weeks for the full moon party.
Any advice for booking hostels in Bangkok, small islands and Vietnam?
Also for travelling is it better to fly or catch a bus/boat?
Can't say much about party hostels in Thailand... All I know is that there are so many that you don't need to stress booking in advance if you don't want to. Hostels in Thailand are EVERYWHERE
My time in Bangkok and the islands was a bit unique because it was during a military coup two summers ago, and there was a 10PM curfew on the whole country. Koh San Road could push it to 10:30 or so, but the whole country was sort of shut down. Military on the streets. So if you are a partier I can't tell you much about that because I missed that side of Thailand!
Hi Dan! I met you in Fort Lauderdale for TBEX NA 2015. I drove from Miami to there to give you a ride out but your friend bailed. How's it going? Glad you're doing an AMA!
Question: How do you get people who are afraid to stay anywhere other than a hotel to be on-board for hostels?
HEY! You're awesome! (despite barely knowing me she drove to a different city on Halloween to help me out when I was stranded for a lift)
That's a great question.
I'm dealing with this myself with a few friends I'm trying to convince to stay in hostels... it's never easy!
Maybe just expose them to more information about hostels. I think there's a major misconception that they are dirty and dangerous when it couldn't be further from the truth.
When I arrived in Marrakesh, Morrocco, I was at a Riad (there a hostel is called a Riad) in the centre of the old town. The old town is an endless maze of ancient streets that is very confusing to get around. Plus there are crazy motorbike drivers who could hit you if you aren't used to the pace of Morrocan traffic. So every time someone arrives to the airport, they tell the guest to cab to the main square, where a staff member walks out to meet you and get you safely to the Riad. Then they have fresh mint tea waiting for you, and sit down for 20 minutes circling all the main attractions of a map and making sure you have everything you need.
This is a hostel. A place that costs $15 a night including breakfast and coffee.
Do you ever get that sort of service at a hotel???? Maybe, but they'll want $30 to pick you up and another $10 for the breakfast.
The hospitality of a good cheap hostel is honestly better than most mid-range hotels
How often do travelers go alone for the hostel route? Is it easy to join groups once there?
I've travelled solo about 90% of the time I've been at a hostel. It's very common. Keep flexible plans and you'll make new friends, and quite possibly travel to the next hostel together!
I compare it to the first day of school, there are tons of people looking to make friends if you're willing to say hello
Any advice for someone in their young 20's who's interested in seeing the world on a small budget but doesn't know where to start?
At the risk of becoming shia labeouf... JUST... DO IT!!
As much as people rip on blog spam these days, there is an incredible wealth of free information about there. Pick your dream destination and some blog posts on it.
Remember that once you're at your first hostel you'll be surrounded by more seasoned travellers and staff who will be happy to help you out if you have questions. That's the big benefit of hostels for me
How do I get the best deals?
I go to hostelworld.com, search by city, sort by cheapest, then compare the options rated above 80% by user reviews.
You can usually get better deals via the hostel website itself. Sort on HW, then go to that hostel's website to book.
HW take large cut and hostels will incentivize not to use them.
EDIT: To clarify, I wrote below. Source: worked at hostel
So lets say a hostel is $25/night. If you pay on HostelWorld, they'll take a "deposit" of 15%, which is really a booking fee. The hostel itself will never see any part of that deposit. So, in reality, the hostel is getting $21.25 for that reservation. The hostel has the incentive (up to 15%) to NOT have you book on HW. Therefore, you'll find 10% off for booking on their site (for example). Either way, it is better for the hostel if you book on their site, over HW
How do you fund your travels?
Work, travel, work, travel.
Before SE Asia I taught English in Korea.
Before Europe I worked as a bartender in France.
Trying to grow an audience around my site and transition to the elusive work AND travel life. It's hard. Going to be teaching English online when I move to Vietnam to try and keep funds coming for the moment.
How easy was it to get work authorization in the countries you've worked in?
In both South Korea and France I have had to apply for working visas online, a month or so in advance. Both were pains in the ass. Though other countries (notably Australia I hear) can be much easier.
I want to do this so bad. I dunno if I could land a job or not tho...
If you have a university degree, you could land a job teaching English in South Korea. Possibly tonight, if you set your mind to it....
That's an exaggeration, but not by much! They truly require a lot of teachers in parts of Asia, and it often pays well
did you need to speak french to work as a bartender in france or just know names of drinks and prices? writing this i realized you are from canada and if you are french Canadian was that good enough?
I'm not French Canadian, but I can speak some French. Part of the reason I moved to France was to improve my French - which it did!
I worked in an Irish pub so we had a good expat crowd that spoke English. We also had French speakers of course and needed to respond in French. Some were huge assholes when I was learning (the French are much like English speakers in that some hate hearing other languages in their country)... but I picked up quick enough.
A bigger problem was learning french slang for drinks. For example "un demi peche" means a half-pint of beer with a shot of peach syrup. You'd get kicked out of a pub in Canada for ordering something that lame. And yet, in France.... people do it.
Sorry France, I love your country and your wine is the best, but you don't know how to drink beer!!
If they're so hostel towards you, why do you stay with them? Some sort of ambassador complex?
Which one smelled the worst?
Oh man... I don't get easily bothered by smells... but there was this one hostel in Romania. Only me and two other travellers were there when I checked in. A very quite, clean, peaceful place.
Then this girl arrived... A vegan girl from San Francisco. She had just spent a month living with sheep farmers or something in Mongolia. She must have not had access to a proper shower the whole month she was there, because the smell was horrific. Then she opened her backpack and started taking out dirty socks and clothing. She was very nice when I talked to her, but that's by far the smelliest experience.
Usually the hostels are clean, it's the travellers you need to worry about haha
Did you bring it up? Some might think that's ridiculous because it would've been impolite. But she's subjecting her smell to all her nearby victims.
Nah... I'm a guy and she's a girl. I know it might seem like something to say, but at the end of the day that would be far too awkward a conversation to have.
I was out most of the day exploring and when I came back the smell wasn't so bad.
Did she know she smelled bad? Like did she bring it up or apologise for it or completely oblivious?
She made no mention of it. Another girl from Hong Kong kept making passive comments (the hippie girl would say "I just got back from a sheep farm", hong kong girl would say "Yeah, I can tell") haha...
Of all Hostels you've been to, which is the one you liked the most? and why?
There are really two types of hostels... 1.) Party hostels 2.) Quieter hostels
Favourite party hostel has to be Sant Jordi Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Every night of the night staff members take you out to a different pub crawl. Cool guests and good times. The common area is unbelievable, it even has a half pipe for skateboarding.
Favourite chill hostel was probably the capsule hostel patong in Thailand. Capsules are a cool idea where instead of bunkbeds you each get your own "capsule" in a huge hallway. It had a built in Sauna and a big open common area. Perfect for relaxing, it is harder to meet people in a capsule hostel since you're a bit more isolated
Wait! I take that back!
Best chill hostel was Dar Dadicilef in chefchaouen, morocco's "blue town"
1.) Party hostels 2.) Quieter hostels
What do you see as the split between the two? Overweighted towards partiers? Pretty even? How do you know beforehand?
I ask because I've traveled a ton, and am not overly averse to hostels (especially in countries where "hostel" is just another word for a kind of hotel). But overwhelmingly hostels seem to be oriented towards meeting up with other travelers and partying.
That's great for some people, but I didn't go to Xazhiristan to get drunk with Americans/Brits/Australians. On the other hand, a nice quiet local hostel is fantastic.
Check out the hostel's website, many explicitly mention "this is a party hostel" or on the other side "no partiers / no drinking allowed". If not, reviews will help you out
Is it a better idea to go in rooms with fewer beds or the big ones? Is there a difference?
Often you'll see 4 bed rm / 6 bed rm / 8 bed rm / 12 bed rm. Each costing slightly less than the one before it.
I think 6 or 8 is the sweet spot. Once you get to 12 people in one big room, there's just a bigger chance that someone will be a very loud snorer, or someone is checking out in the middle of the night...
One tip though is if the hostel is very empty you can move to a bigger room and pay less and maybe have more space. For example if you're staying some place for 4 nights you could book 2 nights online. Then if you notice that there are only 2 people in the 12 person room, you could book 2 more nights in there
How cheap can you really travel doing these methods? I'm not really well off but I haven't been on vacation in years and would love to try it sometime.
Where are you now? If you're in America the most expensive part will be the first flight. Once you're in cheap parts of the world you can live well for $1000 a month
What are some things to avoid doing when traveling on a budget?
Drinking too much! It's easy to say "why not" in countries the beers are very cheap, but if you do it every night like some travellers do it's a big expense
Do you feel like in general, hostels are a safe space for women?
The two hardest questions for me to answer are always:
How can I afford to travel?
Is travel safe for a solo female traveller?
(1) because I don't know how cheap people are willing to go, how much they're willing to sacrifice luxuries back home (I sometimes travel without a working cell phone, for example)
and (2) because I'm not a woman and can't really relate to that experience in a strange city.
All I can say is I've met many female solo travellers who have inspired me to believe anything is possible. One just came back from a 5 month solo trip through Iran and Turkey! An American girl, on her own! Meeting travellers like that truly makes me believe that the media has fed us a big lie and we are only bound by the limitations we set ourselves.
Barrage of questions incoming:
How much cash do you keep on hand? What methods of payment do you find most widely accepted? Where's the best place to exchange to local currency?
Is free wi-fi pretty standard now?
Have you ever couch surfed? What was that like? What about air bnb or similar in other countries?
How are you getting around once there: car, bus, bike, taxi?
Thoughts on organized tours versus winging-it?
Edit: how common are laundry facilities?
Trying to keep up with the whole thread, going to answer a couple quickly...
Free wifi everywhere. I'd immediately do a 180 out of there if they didn't have it.
Yes! Twice in America and once in Morocco! Both Americans were very cool and the Morrocan experience was quiet humbling because the family was extremely poor. The guy had never left his city in Morocco and just wanted to learn about the world through travellers. I ate bread and eggs with him, his wife and his son, for breakfast and lunch.
Usually walking. Find a good centrally located hostel. Take metro / buses when needed.
1) Have you ever seen Hostel the movie?
2) Is it a pretty accurate portrayal? Seriously though, did it freak you out a little?
No I haven't! Should I? Or will it make me never want to stay in another hostel? Haha I've heard it's scary that's about it
What should you look out for (good and bad) with hostels in Thailand?
Anywhere that doesn't explicitly mention warm water probably has cold showers!
What's the weirdest thing you ever saw in a hostel? Most disgusting?
An aussie cracking an egg in a pint of beer and drinking it down in the morning as a hangover cure might answer both your questions!
Have you ever seen families with young children at hostels? Not babies. Do you think hostels are ever kid friendly?
Yes I have, a couple of times in Europe!
Some hostels are definitely kid friendly. I assume they booked a private room. For them it would have just been like a cheap hotel. I see no problem with this.
There's a lot of talk about cheap here, and it's mostly centering around hostels. But even if you find cheap airfare, that's pretty relative, and it's never THAT cheap. So, both, how are you finding flights? And what is financing that?
You'd be very surprised how cheap flights can be. Heard of ryanair? ;)
But yes you are correct that trans-continent flights are the biggest expense
I experienced that hostels can be more expensive than hotels. For example last summer in Prague a bed in an dormitory was around 30 €. We were a group of 3 traveler so I found a 3 bed room in a 3 star hotel for 17€ each (including breakfast). We proceeded our trip through Europe (7 cities) and everywhere we were better off or paid the same in 3 star hotels than in hostels. So here's my question. Do hostel prices vary heavily depending on the season? Or are the prices pretty stable through the year?
They definitely vary seasonally. Prague is a very popular spot to visit these days. Summer would be peak tourist season so I'm not all that surprised!
im hoping to take a year off and travel when i graduate high school, is it safe to stay in hostels and travel around by yourself when youre that young or do you recommend having someone with you? also whats your favorite place to travel to/is there anywhere you would recommend people to travel to? thanks man!!
Right after high school is young, but it's not at all unheard of for people to do it.
My favourite country was probably Morocco. At least that's where I experienced the kindest generosity and have the most vivid memories.
It is, however, perhaps a more challenging country to travel to because the cultural shock is greater and it's not as westernized. A place like Thailand or a big European city is a great place to start because there are so many resources for tourists
Do you snore? i'm a snorer and i've been asked to leave hostels before. how do you deal with it?
Not a snorer... wow! Asked to leave? By who, the staff? That's rough
How many nights did you need to sleep on the street due to full hostels?
Zero! Though copenhagen was the closest... everything was booked online because the copenhagen marathon was in town, and I guess that's a big deal. I just walked around asking hostels if they had vacancies and found one that had had a cancellation. Luckily I did. The girl working the desk said I had literally the last bed in the city. When people phoned they were directing them two towns over, because the NEXT nearest town to copenhagen was booked!
I've also heard of one awesome dude working at a hostel in Marseille who let a guest sleep in his car overnight when the city was booked up. Travellers tend to respect travellers and try to find solutions
Ever stayed in an Australian Hostel?
Every hostel is sort of an australian hostel.
I figure per capita there are more aussie backpackers than any country on earth
Dude, did you die?
Only once, briefly, when I got food poisoning in thailand and had to sleep in a room with no AC
Have you had any experience in Italian hostels? If so, any tips/ recommendations?
I have only been to Italy when I was young and didn't stay in hostels - sorry!
Why do you think using IAmA as a self promotion tool and to generate revenue via your blogs, youtube channel, etc is acceptable??
You freely admit that you can't post content like this to /r/travel and others because they don't allow self promotion spam. Instead you post this to /r/IAmA as a way to pump traffic to your blog, youtube channel, and new subreddit..
If you really wanted to run an IAmA you should try doing it without all the self promotion spam / and traffic pumping attempts...
EDIT; On top of this here you actually say https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/3z2pl8/i_am_a_longterm_budget_traveller_who_has_stayed/cyiviqq
I'm just trying to get relevant information out there, not to share "10 places you need to visit before you die, number FIVE will blow your mind" type clickbait.
But clearly this is inaccurate because someone asked a question about the top 5 places you've been to, and instead of answering it they get a clickbate type answer of "Next week ill make a video!" https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/3z2pl8/i_am_a_longterm_budget_traveller_who_has_stayed/cyiudnj
This is a big question. Top 5 places based on enjoyment. I'm locking this into memory and I will make a video response next week when I'm in Vietnam! Quick and dirty answer though: Eastern Europe is cheaper and in many ways more enjoyable than Western Europe
Honest answer: self-promotion sucks. It's by far the least enjoyable part of being a content creator.
What sucks even more though? Getting interest in your content, but losing every fan the next day. It's like building a tower that gets knocked down 24 hours later.
A new subreddit was a stupid idea. And in hindsight, offering video responses wasn't too smart either since I won't have time to make them on the fly.
Just trying to help people out with info I've learned over time. If I get a few more fans for my site that's even better.
I liked the video responses!
Thanks! I'll try to get more up as soon as I can. Truth is I expected this to be a 10 or 15 comment sort of AMA that I could watch while eating dinner. Give some short answers and make some videos next week.
Now it's 3 hours later and I haven't eaten yet as I try to answer questions + keep up with the claims that I'm an asshole for shouting out my site... I guess you can't please everyone. But I am glad to hear that you like them!
I'm 45. Can I stay in hostels? What am I going to run into that might take a little more empathy and consideration if I stay at one?
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