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Why US Hostels Need More Attention

Two years ago New York City effectively made most hostels illegal. The new bill said that that no residential building is allowed to rent out any apartment for less than 30-days. Since most hostels in NYC were held in apartment buildings, this forced most hostels to close down. With a few loop-holes like having a non-profit hostel, some hostels were able to survive. Hostelling International for example has been able to stay open. There are currently 35 hostels throughout the entire city listed on HostelWorld. Compared to many other large cities around the world, that is a sad number. It really hurt the hostel industry in NYC.

There’s a bigger issue though that might have played a role into the passing of the bill in 2010, hostels get a bad rap in the United States. They’re often seen as dirty places and Hollywood hasn’t made it any easier with movies like Hostel where they’ve given the image that hostels are dangerous.

Why has American culture not picked up on the hostel culture but in Europe it does so well? There are some sweet luxury hostels throughout Europe. In comparison, there are over 500 HI hostels in Germany while the US has over 50 HI hostels. Germany is slightly smaller than Montana so try to imagine Montana with 500 hostels. Are there even that many hotels in Montana?

What do we need to do to support the industry and help it grow as it does in Europe? For one I think we need to be sending out a clearer message to Americans that there are really incredible hostels in the US. The HI in San Diego has a full kitchen for all guests to use, it’s located right in the middle of downtown, has free walking tours, and a free pub crawl. I don’t know ANY hotel that provides all of that.

HI-San Diego, Point Loma
The outside common at HI-San Diego, Point Loma. Live music outside and BBQ.

There’s also this misconception that hostels are only for young backpackers which is not true. Everywhere else in the world, I see families taking weekend trips to cities while staying in a hostel. Many hostels have private rooms so if dorms aren’t your thing, private rooms are still available and still cheaper than staying in a hotel. Even the level of service can often be better than a hotel.

Not to say I don’t say in hotels but I think hostels in the US are often ignored. There’s a time and a place for a hotel and sometimes you can find great deals for them too. But if you’re looking to stretch your money and you’re traveling in the US, please support the hostel industry here and search for a hostel too. Hostels allow for greater discovery of a destination and money gets spent locally rather than to only a few select big corporations. You’ll be surprised to find we have a lot of really great and unique hostels with a lot of personality.

[disclosure]I went to San Diego as a guest of Hostelling International. All opinions are obviously my own.[/disclosure]

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Being a Local in Berlin

east berlin

“Berlin combines the culture of New York, the traffic system of Tokyo, the nature of Seattle and the history of, well, Berlin“ – Hiroshi Motomura UCLA Law Professor

berlin streets

I spent a week in Berlin and stayed in a beautiful apartment in east Berlin thanks to GoWithOh. Berlin has turned into one of my favorite cities in the world. The city has us considering moving there for a few months (probably after Italy and only during the summer because it gets crazy cold there in the winter).

In our apartment we had the wonderful Pete & Dalene (Hectic Travels) and Michael Hodson (Go,See,Write). Together we turned the apartment into the ultimate working place as if we had been living in Berlin for months. We got comfortable fast. Each morning we brewed our big pot of coffee and sprung up all our MacBook’s. It didn’t take us long to make a mess basically.

Berlin Apartment

For lunch, we would either eat in our apartment or go to our local kebab place. There was probably over a dozen of them within walking distance and apparently we lived close to the first original kebab place but we never did end up there. I may have ordered kebab far too often in Berlin but it’s so cheap and delicious. Currywurst was another favorite of mine with super hot sauce.

berlin kebab

For dinner we would either cooked a meal in our apartment or we would attempt to order delivery. The one time we ordered delivery we apparently ordered from a very popular restaurant and it took three hours for our food to arrive. We were starving but luckily with whatever snacks we had in our apartment and a few glasses of wine, we made it through.

east berlin

I really loved our apartment in Berlin. It felt like we had been living there for much longer than a week. I had gotten comfortable and I knew my way around so well just after a few days. We went to our local supermarket, cafe, bakery, and kebab place. The more I travel, the slower I travel. I’d prefer at this point to stay in cities for more than a week and really immerse myself in the cultural than saying for just a day or two.

[disclosure]Disclosure: GoWithOh provided us a complimentary apartment in exchange to share our experience with you. All opinions are my own.[/disclosure]

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When Hostels Use Social Media

Ostello Bello Hostel Milan

It’s very rare for any hostel, especially those that are not chains, to be active on social media. Ostello Bello in Milan, Italy has close to 14,000 Facebook Likes. Most of their activity is followed by 100 likes and a few shares. They’re active and comments are frequently made. They also active on Twitter, Flickr, FourSquare, and YouTube. This has made them into one of the most popular hostels in Milan and coolest place to hang out even for the locals. Ostello Bello has been ranked one of the best hostels in Italy and in the world by HostelWorld. They’re topping the charts even on TripAdvisor.

So what is Ostello Bello doing differently than everyone else?

Ostello Bello Hostel

They have a wonderful hostel and here’s why.

1. I am ALWAYS exhausted when I check into a hostel. I hate the whole introduction and showing me around the hostel ordeal. I usually just want to throw my bags on the ground and do nothing. So what this hostel decided to do was provide a free welcome drink of any kind to anyone first checking-in. I ordered a beer and they told me to go sit on the table and relax while filling out the check-in form. It was a nice easy way to check-in without feeling rushed.

2. They have two huge common areas. There’s more than enough tables, chairs, couches, and places to hangout. They are far from the rooms so the loudness doesn’t disturb anyone.

Ostello Bello Hostel

3. They have a fully stocked bar with a variety of beers and wines to choose from. This flows for as long as you want it to. The bar never closes for those staying at the hostel. And if you’re looking for a deal, 5euros can get you a drink AND food during happy hour. Happy hour is when the party really gets going. The pictures you’re seeing were in the morning because it was too difficult to take pictures when the place was packed and I was having too much fun.

4. Locals are allowed to hang out in the common areas but they need a keycard to use the elevator or stairs. They get a lot of locals that come in to party at the hostel. The locals usually come in groups and add to the party atmosphere. Usually they stay to themselves but that’s not always the case and you’ll find yourself talking to a few locals at the table sometimes. Everyone not staying at the hostel must leave by 11pm or 12, which I think is smart.

The week we were there was louder than usual apparently. If you’re looking for a quiet hostel, this might not be for you although the rooms themselves are very much quiet but that just depends on who’s in your dorm room too.

Ostello Bello Hostel

5. The wifi actually works and it’s fast. Plenty of room to put your laptop down. Unfortunately they don’t have enough outlets, which is the case in all the hostels I’ve been to.

6. They have an amazing fully equipped and clean kitchen that leads to a balcony. During the spring and summertime, they grow their own spice garden. Need some basil? Just pick it from outside and add it to your dish.

Ostello Bello Hostel

Most hostels don’t see the point in having a Facebook page since they think many of their guests may never come back but they forget about the other benefits of having a page. It’s also a memory. I’ve liked hostels on Facebook where I had a good time because I like to see what they’re up to and how travelers are having fun there. Ostello Bello posts pictures of travelers having fun, food they’re cooking, events happening at their hostel and in Milan, and other random activities happening over there. It’s fun to go through their timeline and all their pictures. And who knows, maybe I’ll be back.

I can prove to you how great this hostel is just by linking to their Facebook page so you can see for yourself.

Ostello Bello Hostel

[disclosure]My stay in Ostello Bello was comped in exchange for review. They did not force me to have a good time and I paid for all my drinks. All opinions are my own, obviously.[/disclosure]

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Review: EuroHostel in Helsinki, Finland

EuroHostel Helsinki Hostel

There isn’t a whole lot of hostels to choose from in Helsinki unfortunately. Luckily although our options are low, there’s still a great hostel you can stay at.

Eurohostel is one of the largest hostels in Scandinavia with over 135 rooms and 255 beds. The hostel is located on a small island region called Katajanokka. There’s a tram that stops directly next to the hostel and the tram car goes all around the city including the train station.

There are two categories of rooms at this hostel. Backpackers category and Eurohostel category. I stayed in the Eurohostel category and I have to admit, this was way more than a hostel room. My room had a TV that included internet, movies, TV shows, and even information on the hostel and setting up wake up calls all right from the TV. This came at a pretty good time for me because I was incredibly sick with the flu so I laid down and watched movies all day in bed. The movies are pay-per-view or a one time fee for everything on the TV. I usually watched the regular television channels because it was free.

EuroHostel Helsinki Hostel

Perhaps one of the coolest parts about the hostel is the sauna. I’ve never stayed in a hostel that had a sauna. It had a very cool atmosphere and played random chill sounds in the sauna for relaxing.

The downsides are that you need to pay for wifi (still affordable) and breakfast. But you save costs because if you don’t need wifi or you have your own breakfast, you save costs in your room rate.


  • If you’re looking to eat AMAZING Nepalese food, ask the front desk for a 10% off flier coupon with directions on how to get there. It’s only three blocks away from the hostel and it’s incredible. The restaurant may seem fancy but it’s actually pretty affordable. Make sure you go hungry as the servings are enormous.
  • The directions to the hostel are not great on the site. I couldn’t find the 4  tram out of the railway station. Take a look at Google Maps before leaving.
  • Have questions? Check their FAQ page.

EuroHostel Helsinki Hostel

Rates are:

  • €24.30 for a triple room
  • €27.10 for a double room
  • €45.40 for a single room
  • About €5 extra for Eurohostel category fancy rooms

EuroHostel is a member of HI Hostels so if you’re a member, you get a discount.

[disclosure]I was invited by Visit Finland on a press trip to Finland as part of a Navigate Media Group project. The room was comped by EuroHostel for review. All opinions are my own, obviously.[/disclosure]

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Best Hostels I Stayed in 2012

I’ve stayed in a lot of hostels these last couple years. There’s been a lot of good ones and just as many bad ones. My frustration with some hostels got me to write an open letter hostel owners a year ago. What about the good hostels though? Who are they and what do they do differently from everyone else? Here’s my list of the best hostels I stayed in 2012 and why I enjoyed them so much. I hope to make this a yearly roundup going forward.

Hostel Meyerbeer @ Nice, France

Hostel Meyerbeer

Hostel Meyerbeer is a great example of a hostel that made the best out of a small area. The common room is setup very well for meeting others and entertaining guests. I loved all the decoration on the wall and the overall layout of the common room. When I walked in, a bunch of people were playing in a tournament on a Fifa video game on a nice big LCD screen.

I’ve never stayed in a hostel that had a refrigerator in our room. I’m not sure if the dorms had them though but it was so smart. The kitchen didn’t have a refrigerator for guests to use and instead we were to put the food in our room. Normally at a hostel the refrigerator in the kitchen is cleaned out once a week for any bags or items without a label. By having a refrigerator in our room, they could clean it every time someone checks out. A whole lot easier to manage.

Then there was breakfast. It had more than just bread and butter. One of the receptionist said to me that because there was a large group of Germans at the hostel, they had brought salami for breakfast. Apparently, salami is a popular breakfast item in Germany. That’s attention to detail.


St Christopher @ Barcelona, Spain

St Christopher at Barcelona, Spain

This is going to be a big claim but St Christopher in Barcelona might be the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in out of all my years of traveling.

First the receptionist at 1am was helpful and kind. What stood out though was the small talk we had while he was checking us in. It was quick and he knew how tired we were so it wasn’t a long conversation. Just simple things like where we were coming from, if we had any questions, a quick overview of the hostel, and that’s it. Too often when we check in at a hostel they either talk too much or not talk to us at all. On travel days I don’t feel like having a huge discussion when I’m minutes away from my bed to relax a bit. Just tell me what I need to know in a quick summary. It makes a difference.

The hostel must’ve been a hotel or something before. The elevator had a LSD screen with the weather and news. We got to our floor and was overwhelmed with artwork plastered on the walls. Every inch of the wall covered all around. It was creative, weird, and awesome. Our hallway had a mini common room though it doesn’t look like it gets much attention. Ideal probably for large groups for a place to hang out. We discovered that every floor of the 5 (I think) floors had a unique theme.

We stepped into our room and again surrounded by artwork. We were on the top floor and had a view of the city from above. It didn’t feel like I was at a hostel at all (granted it was a private room).

St Christopher teamed up with another company to provide free walking tours of Barcelona. That’s smart. They’re providing more services to their guests without having to do extra work.

Next door was one of the most impressive hostel bars I’ve ever been to. It was enormous. Unfortunately for me, there was no party going on that day but it looked like when a party does occur, it’s probably awesome. The bar is also way far from the bedrooms so they could go on to blasting music and I won’t hear anything. From what we were told, they’ve sound proofed many of the rooms anyway.


Hostel Empedrado @ Mendoza, Argentina

vineyard roof

Backpackers don’t stay in hostels just to save money but also for a chance to meet others. Hostel Empedrado does a great job in providing activities to its guests that will bring guests together.

On one of the days they had a free wine tasting activity. There were about 20 of us and we had the chance to try a variety of different wines from Mendoza. The lady gave us a lesson on wine and how to appreciate it. She also talked a bit about the wine culture in Mendoza. It was educational and free! The smart part about all of this is that the hostel themselves sell wine. We were taste testing the wine we had the option of buying a bottle of thus generating more revenue. We did in fact buy wine afterwards too.

On another night we had this incredible asado (Argentinean BBQ). It was very reasonability priced and included a few glasses of wine and a big meal with meat and salad. The meat was locally bought and the hostel just brought over a local chef to cook up the feast at the hostels custom made stone grill. A bunch of us observed his cooking methods and asked some questions. For dinner, we had to sit next to 20 other guests on a big table. As the night went on, we bought more wine bottles and drank the night away.

Want to pick some grapes? Just grab a few growing on their roof outside.

La Lomita del Chingolo @ Punta del Este, Uruguay


The rooms were nothing special and the location of the place wasn’t really that convenient to go downtown. So what made this place so great? The owners and the BBQ.

The hostel was placed in the middle of a neighborhood full of what probably was multi-million dollar houses. It wasn’t really even a hostel, more like a guesthouse. We were literally just staying at the owners house in which they’ve expanded to include a few rooms with a few beds. The house was about 15 minutes to walk to the supermarket and huge mall. Easy to go shopping and come back to cook in their kitchen. Breakfast was also included and tasty.

The beach was about 20 minutes walking I think. It could have been mostly because we went during the off season (March) but it was totally deserted compared to the downtown beach area. The way I like it.

Similar to the asado we had in Medonza, we had a full bbq outside. The owners had this incredible bbq setup which probably most houses in Uruguay have. So most of the people from the hostel gathered round the table as the owner cooked seriously THE best steak meal we’ve ever had in South America. I am not over exaggerating. It was perfectly cooked on all sides, salty, and juicy. The way I love my meat.

The owners helped us rent a vehicle and provide advice for our road trip through the coast of Uruguay. They were helpful and the house was comfortable. I wish we weren’t so limited on time because I wouldn’t have minded staying longer.


Uprising Beach Resort @ Nadi, Fiji

villa uprising

Staying in a beach resort sounds like it’d be out of most backpackers budget but this resort does something other resorts don’t do, they have dorms. For $19 a night, you can stay in a luxury resort while a villa in the same resort cost $335 a night. Out of all the resorts we’ve stayed in Fiji, this was one of our favorite ones. It’s locally owned and small compared to many other fancy resorts in Fiji.

The common area is enormous and all basically set outside but with a roof. There’s a cute small bar outside and a larger bar inside. The food was always delicious with good variety and the drinks were strong.

Where was the best hostel you stayed in 2012?

Uprising Beach Resort, St Christopher, and Hostel Meyerbeer were comped. All opinions are definitely my own.

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Staying on the Other Side of NYC

The last stop on the 2 and 5 train is Brooklyn College. Prior to our recent visit to NYC, I’ve never stayed that far in Brooklyn. It takes more than 40 minutes just to get into Manhattan on the subway and that’s if we’re lucky with no transfers due to maintenance. This was a new part of the city I didn’t know at all.

We rented an apartment in New York City for a few days thanks to Wimdu. We were visiting because of Meet Plan Go and to see a few friends. I’m very familiar with NYC having grown up in NJ but this made me realize there’s still so much to see in the city.

Perhaps it’s that I’m not that great of a photographer but I didn’t take any pictures because I didn’t know what to take a picture of. The area was interesting and not somewhere I would have gone to for just walking around in NYC. Not much to see really and it’s more about the actual neighborhood than any specific attraction.

We got to know the area pretty well in just the 5 days we were there. A 30 minute walk to one of the best pizza’s we’ve had at a place called Di Fara’s, Target was just five minutes away, and the neighborhood had a selection of deli’s we often went to for breakfast and/or lunch because New York’s bagels are the best. Everyone walking by were probably locals. There was no reason for any tourist to come here unless they’ve rented the same apartment. I’m always looking to stay local whenever I’m abroad so why not do that when I’m in my own country? Rent an apartment in New York City if you want to something a bit different than the regular hotels in the middle of downtown.

After coming back each night from a long walk around the city, we sat on our couch and watched a few Netflix movies on a big screen and Wii.

NYC Apartment

Have you ever stayed somewhere on vacation that was far from the city center attractions?

Wimdu gifted me with free nights stay in NYC. All opinions are my own.