What Hostels Are and Are Not
The Catalyst Program uses youth hostels for our housing in all four of our cities. We do this because hostels are popular, safe and super-well located housing options for travelers everywhere in Europe. Because they are ubiquitous in cities, many of our students want to use them on Acceleration Break. This is usually a really smart idea, but we always offer these points of advice:
1. Get the Hostelworld App
With this App or one like it, you can search for and book hostels anywhere in Europe. You'll get a clear confirmation of what you've booked and be able to share your travel plans easily with friends on the program, with the program administrative team and even with family at home.
2) Price is Key But So Are Ratings, Reputation and Reviews
It's tempting when students are on a tight budget to choose the cheapest possible option at all times. When it comes to hostels, we urge you to read reviews and look at ratings and reputation. Some hostels have been at a site for decades. They can have ups and down in terms of management, but generally they should have an established track record you can ready about and investigate. We often advise you to disregard a small share of the most glowing and worst reviews and focus on what's said in the middle. Is the hostel generally characterized as safe, clean and really well located? Do reviews praise the staff who work the front desk? Is there an overall rating of 7 or above out of 10 points? Going lower then this just to save a few dollars is often not worth it. Also take note of whether a hostel you are looking at is called a "party hostel." This can sound fun before you see what you're getting into. Between s strong smell of cheap beer, weed and the sound of music all night from a hostel bar, you may find that the party hostel makes your inner church-mouse want to rage.
3) Location, Location, Location
Most hostels tend to be in the heart of cities. Our Catalyst hostels are all located centrally. When you are booking a hostel for Acceleration, you really want to hone in on location. Look for a hostel that's by the train station you'll be coming into and leaving from. This makes your travel days super convenient and also puts you close all the amenities that develop around train stations: ATM machines, cheap food, laundry places, pharmacies, and clinics. It also means you'll be well positioned to use the subway and bus systems of the city you're in, because train stations always feature very convenient lines of both. Especially if you're staying in a city for a night or two or will be arriving after dark, be bullish on convenience and location. If you're staying more like 4 nights and will be arriving in the afternoon or early evening, then branching out to stay further away from the tourist core can make sense and offer a cool perspective on local life in the city you're visiting.
4) Room Configuration
When you book your room, pay attention to how it is configured. The cheapest rooms available will be open rooms, where you and your traveling group will be mixed together with random fellow travelers in what's called an "open" or "public" room. This can be fine, but it's not usually what our students prefer and it's not how we arrange our hostels on The Catalyst. If you pay just a bit more, you can usually get a "private room" for your group that can hold as few as 2 people or as many as 12. This is what we recommend and is how we do The Catalyst, The in-between option is housing by gender. This is not a comfortable position for our Trans students and is not how we organize housing on The Catalyst. But if your only choice is to sleep in a public room with travelers you don't know, a same-gender option can be a win.