Hostels – Four Reasons They’re Awesome

hostels

Anything can happen in hostels – from just a good night of sleep to waking up to a naked Dutch dude parading around.

If you’re not used to that sort of mayhem, the latter can be a bit off-putting. You might even conclude "Well, I’m never staying in a hostel, then." And your travel experience will be poorer for it.

I’m not literally talking about The Flapping Dutchman here – but the overall vibe of a hostel. Here’s what I like about hostels, and why you should make it a point to stay at one.

They’re cheap – You dropped serious scrilla on airfare. Staying in hostels is a good way to take your budget back. You’ll pay less than a hotel. And yeah, in many cases, you’ll give up some amenities and privacy. But let’s remember: You’re traveling to get out and do things, not faff about in your room.

 

hostels
Me enjoying a relaxing moment at the Skotel in New Zealand.

You’ll meet people – Hostel crowds are more gregarious than typical hotel folk. They’re often younger, too. So if you’re just venturing into travel, you’ll find people who have something in common with you. It starts to get fun when you move from town to town and start bumping into the same people. Next thing you know, you’ll be hiking together or hitting a nightspot for a drink.

They’re not as Spartan as you’d think – Some hostels are far from the glorified barracks you’ll expect. Sure, in some places, you’ll bunk 20 to a room. But there are some way sweet hostels out there – like the three-person rooms at the Skotel ski lodge in Whakapapa, New Zealand: The cozy wood rooms and sparkly bathrooms make it one of my favorite hostels ever. You’ll be surprised at the quality of other hostels like it.

They’re great for planning travel – Hostels seem very plugged into the cool places to go. Often, the staff members are extra-helpful for planning excursions, getting boarding passes and finding local places to eat and drink. I’ve always felt the service is a little less polished, yet more personal. And I’ll take genuine friendly over corporate-mandated courteous any time.

So, what are your thoughts on staying at hostels?

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Tourism Versus Travel – And My Struggle to Not be a Jerk

Your backpack can be your best friend - or your worst enemy.
I like beautiful destinations – but I work for them.

One of my ongoing travel problems is getting off my high horse – especially about types of travel. This writer seems to go through the same struggle:

When choosing your destination, you need to decide: are you traveling for leisure or culture? I define leisure travel as relaxed and quite a bit like home, but with either service or beauty influencing the destination (ex. beach, cruise, resort, etc). Cultural travel (my kind of travel) is where you set off in hopes to learn, truly experience and open yourself up to a whole new culture and way of life. If you’ve chosen leisure, unfortunately I will have to stop you here, because I don’t think I’ll have much to offer you as far as travel tips that you can’t easily find on some corporate-owned, high-dollar, travel website. While leisure travel is fine and there’s nothing wrong with it, I don’t have much experience sitting on my ass while locals wait on me, so I can’t really pretend to be an authority on the subject. (Emphasis mine)

"Beauty of the destination" is a huge influence on my travel destinations. You could say that Brandon argues that traveling for a destination’s beauty is inherently less valid than traveling to visit a bunch of historic museums. Or that a beach always has more intrinsic eye-candy value than a lava field. But I don’t think that’s what he means. I think he’s traveled enough that he realizes reaching beautiful destinations can involve serious work.

flam norway
Cruises are not really my bag. But … I could be kinder to those who like them.

I think he just didn’t thrust the point home all the way. What I read is that he grapples with the same thoughts about "travelers" versus "tourists" that make me act like a jerk sometimes. I’ve lost count of how many cruise ship passengers and "guided-from-arrival gate-to-wheels up" tour groups I’ve snickered at when I travel.

And I have to stop that. The travel industry is symbiotic: Every traveler of every type is part of a network that creates opportunities for us all to find the experience we seek. I’m glad not everyone wants to eat boiled silkworm larvae; watch a soccer game in a driving Icelandic rain; camp north of the Arctic Circle; or swim into a cave filled with human sacrificial remains. It would get awfully crowded, wouldn’t it?

There are people who just want to escape, clear their mind, recharge their batteries. A beach isn’t a travel destination that will make me happy. But others find solace and renewal in the sand. I get it. The way I travel can be arduous, and I understand why a glacier, a volcano or a cave isn’t a destination for everyone. And I grok why some might want a different dose.

I have no lofty goal when I travel. I just want to do something cool, something different from my everyday life. Call it whatever you choose. No matter what label you tag on me, I’ll enjoy myself doing what I like. You do the same, OK?

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Stand Up Paddle Board Trip – New On My “To Do” List

Stand up paddle board

When I travel, I’m always on the lookout for something new to try. An excursion on a stand up paddle board is now a new item on my to-do list.

So, first off … what is a stand up paddleboard? I think of it as a surfboard that’s so stable you can stand on it – and paddle wherever you feel like going. Here’s the wikipedia definition. It’s an emerging sport that has much of what I look for: a chance to build fitness, some cool equipment and the chance to spot cool wildlife.

Let’s start with the fitness part of it. You’re standing up. You’re using your arms. And here’s a big one – water is an unstable surface. So you have to use just about every muscle in your body to stay balanced on a stand up paddle board. Remember, you can catch a wave, too – so you’ll need stability even when the water works in your favor.

Stand up paddle board, SUP

Add the paddling motion into it, and the intensity ramps right up. When you really bear down with the power, you’ll have to work your core muscles even harder to stay upright. All that adds up to nice fitness benefits – and I’ll try just about anything that promises a fun way to work off all the tasty local foods I like to sample when I travel.

Now, let’s talk about equipment. For some people, gear is a huge chunk of the stand up paddle board fun – I can say this with all the authority of 20+ years on the mountain bike. The crew at Legends SUP in Southern California knows the gear and its impact on the fun; the Legends SUP staff outfits all sorts of paddleboarders from the beginner level all the way up.

You’ll need a board and a paddle. But what else? Possibly a wetsuit, a personal flotation device and some sunscreen. I was surprised by the array of gear for different usage – you’ll see a stand-up paddle board for every application from river use to women-specific designs.

Paddleboarding at Sunset
Paddleboarding at sunset looks alright to me. (Photo credit: Rosa Say)

That leaves us with some opportunities to spot wildlife. If your travel takes you to the Monterrey, Calif., area, you’ll find places to spot a sea otter from a stand up paddle board. And sea turtles and sea lions sighting ares common in the Galapagos Islands.

I’m an Australia-phile, so I’d try a stand up paddle board next time I travel to Australia. The only thing better than spotting wildlife in Australia is managing to not get eaten by them. But just mind the advice from any locals, and you should be good to go.

This is a sponsored post. All opinions and thoughts on the sport of stand up paddleboarding are my own. 

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A Day in Iceland: Kirkjubaejarklaustur – Hof

pseudocraters iceland Kirkjubaejarklaustur
Sarah and Dokna in the pseudocrater field near Kirkjubaejarklaustur.

Dokna could easily allow herself to be the world’s saddest dog. She loves sticks – but some cruel twist of fate has put her in Kirkjubaejarklaustur, Iceland.

Klaustur, as it’s often called, has as many sticks as Arizona has native species of whales. Trees? The people at the Hotel Laki Efri-Vik where Dokna lives have planted some, but that’s about it. They rarely shed branches. Those that fall to the ground are limp and perhaps a bit unsatisfying. When she does find a stick, she bounces side-to-side on her front paws until you throw it for her. This happens often enough to keep her happy.

Dokna – whose name I am probably misspelling and is the Icelandic word for "Spot" – also amuses herself by latching onto hotel guests and walking around with them. Continue reading

6 Things You Won’t Find in the Iceland Travel Guide

Iceland travel guide
From Reykjavik, Iceland (Photo credit: Helgi Halldórsson/Freddi)

It was nearly midnight as my wife and I strolled back to our guesthouse on Barugata in Reykjavik. The sky was still light, and the partying was just getting started since this was a Friday. Music was blaring out of the upstairs window of a house we were passing. Someone noticed us as we walked by.

"Hey!" he yelled, sticking his head out the window. "How do you like Iceland?"

I yelled back that we were having a great time.

And it was the truth. And part of the enjoyment came from noticing all the interesting quirks of Icelandic society. Here are a few random tidbits that give the place flavor. These are all things you won’t read in an Iceland travel guide.

    • Iceland loves trampolines – In every town, a really surprising percentage of the homes had trampolines. I would guess a good 25 percent, versus fewer than 1 percent for the U.S. It was actually rare for me to walk past five homes and not see at least one trampoline.
iceland travel guide
Iceland loves its trampolines. (via wikimedia)
  • Homebrewing is illegal – Well, you CAN brew your own beer or other alcohol in Iceland if its ABV is 2.25 percent or lower. And what would the point be? The government has a huge hand in the alcohol business. The consequences are pricey spirits, beer and wine. And the beer? Well, this is certainly no craft brew hotspot like Oregon. We ran across one brew that was outstanding – Lava, an imperial stout brewed by Brugghús. Enjoy it with a rich chocolately dessert for best effect. Anyway, it would be nice for Iceland to open the door to homebrewers.
  • Guesthouses go Rick and Lucy style – Every place we stayed at had twin beds. It was easy enough to push them together, but it was just kind of odd. Nowhere did I see this in an Iceland travel guide.
  • Signs of a literary society – There’s an old Viking proverb that says something like "It is better to go without shoes than without books." Iceland also cranks out a lot of books each year. Thus, you have a book-loving society. That’s why every hotel/hostel/guesthouse bed is flanked by reading lights. That’s refreshing – I can’t tell you how many times I try to talk about books with someone, and they say "I don’t have time to read." I’m pretty sure that could get an Icelander exiled.
  • Stirring the English pot – Icelanders are very good at speaking English. Many of their signs are in English. What’s amusing is the mix of British English and American English. For example, most signs refer to a bathroom as a Water Closet or WC in the U.K. fashion. On the other hand, it’s gasoline and not petrol.
  • Iceland puts its kids to work – We arrived in the summer, when kids weren’t at school. But they were busy, taking on work projects such as tending gardens in public areas. Putting kids to work is apparently encouraged; it’s more for giving the kids spending money. They standard of living is high enough in Iceland (economic crash or not) that their work isn’t really for the family to make ends meet.

 

 

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