If there is one thing that I am good at, it would be my innate ability to sniff out the right place to sleep (you may hence-forth refer to me as the Queen of the Damned-bed). “Right accommodation” means that it has to match both our budgets as well as our required comfort level. Most people think that to backpack means that you have to compromise on comfort and simply choose the cheapest accommodation available. But the truth is, not everyone can handle cold showers or having to share a room with 12 other people in a hostel.
My key criterias were that the number of occupants be less than 8 and it also has to be located either near the train station or near places of interests. Because of our heavy backpacks, we found that it was helpful if we were staying within walking distance (< 15 mins) of the train station where we had to catch our next train. This was especially so in Amsterdam where my friends and I overslept and had only 30 mins to make it to the train station which was a 15 mins walk away. So we skipped brushing our teeth (so ewww but priorities man!) stuffed our things into our bags and brisk-walked/jogged to the station where we caught the train by a hair’s breadth. The thing is even though the train station may be a distance away from the heart of the city, as long as you can put down your bags, you will realize that the great weather and endless things to see makes the longer walk more interesting, or at least bearable.
I gave myself a budget of S$50 a night for the 45 nights we have, making it easier to find accom as it gave me the flexibility to pay more in expensive cities such as London in return for paying less in places such as Budapest. Note that you will need to budget more for accom during summer months. The price of a bed (6 pax sharing) for my hostel in London increased from £22 in Mid-may to £32 in late June! But surprise surprise, I eventually only spent approx. S$1300 on accommodation in total (Avg out to about S$30 a night). I managed to squeezed it to this amount by taking advantage of my Eurail pass and taking night trains (See my post on travelling around Europe) and even sleeping at airports or at train stations (See my post on Safety when deciding to sleep in stations).
The easiest way to look for hostels is to do it online via sites as Hostel Bookers, Hostel World or Hostel.com. Prices can vary for the hostels and there could be special terms such as free cancellation or discounts so once you find a hostel that you want, do a double check on other websites or even the hostels own websites as well. I found such sites useful because not only do they rank the hostels, you can search by price and even see where the hostels are located on a map. It can make the decision of trading price for distance a little easier sometimes. I have included a review on some hostels that I like 🙂
A tip to note: Be smart about rankings. A hostel with 10+ reviewers may sometimes rank higher than one with 100+ reviewers due to a smaller pool of information. Reading the reviews can help you gain a good idea of what are some of the pros and cons of a hostel. You can’t trust the voice of one, but there has to be some truth in the voices of many.
Barmy Badgers Hostel – London, UK
Nearest station: Earls Court (Metro)
Pros: The room was simple, clean and occupants are provided with a large locker to keep their belongings. The beds were sturdy – meaning that we were not disturbed when our neighbors flipped around on their beds or climbed up and down. The toilet was beautiful and modern as well. Area is pretty safe at night.
Cons: There is not much to do in the area and we had to take the train to the city center everyday (expensive!)
Meininger Hotel – Brussels, Belgium
Nearest station: Comte de Flandres (Metro)
Pros: Room was shared by 6 pax and the toilet was ensuite. Photos are accurate! Although it says hotel, they have a hostel wing. Rooms are tastefully furnished and beds are comfy. There is also an extra basin area outside of the toilet so I did not have to wait if I simply wanted to brush my teeth or whatever. There is a big guest kitchen and large common area for guests. If you want to join a free walking tour, they have one that starts from the hotel front door itself!
Cons: Nearest station is at least 15 mins walk away and the surrounding areas look pretty bleak.
Jaeger’s Hostel – Munich, Germany
Nearest station: München Hauptbahnhof (main train station)
Pros: Room was shared by 6 pax and ensuite but lucky for us the other two beds were unoccupied . Hostel is located across the road from the main train station and there is a big supermarket nearby. Although there are bars in the area, it was still quiet in the room at night. A big beer garden (Augustiner Keller) is about 15-20 mins walk away so its good if you intend to drink cos you won’t have to stumble for very long to reach back. You may also get a complimentary Jagermeister at the hostel’s bar.
Cons: No cons that I can think of 🙂
(Here’s a pic from the beer garden drinking from mugs bigger than our faces. Note the crowd behind!)
Another alternative to hostels could be renting apartments. For this, I used Airbnb which hooks up home owners with short-term renters like me. All you have to do is to go on the website, register yourself and search for available apartments in the areas you want. Do not assume that since it is listed as available you will get it automatically. Basically, you will be sending your interest in renting to the homeowner who has the discretion to accept or reject your request. Once they accept your request, you can proceed to pay for the booking via Airbnb who will then charge you a small service fee on top of the renting fee. From what I see, sometimes the price listed does not include things like cleaning fees which is compulsory for some. So do look at the terms carefully.
When sending your request, it is good to note to the homeowner what time you will be arriving and leaving or any other special requests you have. This is because the homeowners may be working as well. They will try to meet your timing but it may not be possible all the time. To minimize chances that you end up without an accom, send requests to more than one host so that you can decide later on which one suits you best. So far I have not encountered any problems with any hosts but I have read about the bad experiences some people have (i.e. last minute cancellation, host is unfriendly, rooms in poor condition…). Many a times the rooms that I have rented are BEAUTIFUL! Note that all photos are taken by me so they are pretty accurate representations.
In Carcasonne, I rented from a woman named Sandra (pronounced Saaahn-dra) who spoke no English and we communicated in person using the French-English translation download from google translate (thank god for that!). I had the whole apartment to myself for only about S$80 a night. It was walking distance to the Cité de Carcassonne and the main street with the tourist information center and good food is just a street away.
Strasbourg is a city that is near the border between France and Germany. I rented this apartment from a German couple who seemed to be in the design industry. I was supposed to share the house with them but they ended up going on a trip so they left the whole house to us. The house has a living room, a fully furnished kitchen and a cosy guest bedroom. At the corner of the next street, there is a wonderful bakery where you can get fresh baked goods in the morning. I paid about S$70 a night for a room.
Because Paris accommodations are so expensive, a studio with no attached bathroom actually cost me S$80 a night. However, it was located near the Sacré Coeur and a Supermarket conveniently located just below. The area also has a lot of restaurants though we did not have the time to eat there. We rented this accom from a college foreign student who spoke good English and was really friendly. The Paris Metro is pretty efficient so I had no problems getting into town. I felt that the area is also quite safe at night.
In all, I think my experiences with Airbnb has been pretty positive. The benefits of Airbnb is that they have a hotline so if you encounter any emergency issues such as being kicked out of a house or bla bla… they will step in as a middle man and try to solve the problem or find a last minute accom for you. Always remember that you are a guest in someone’s house so be mindful of their things and try to respect their home. If you are a good guest, I don’t suppose there will be much problems 🙂
All the best to your Bed-Hunting!