Guide to Your First Hostel Stay

I stayed in my first hostel in Kyiv with my boyfriend, but recently had my first experience in a hostel while traveling solo in Rome. I enjoyed both stays immensely and will definitely give more hostels a chance in the future. There are a few questions you should ask yourself before you decide to stay in a hostel. How many people are you traveling with? What kind of accommodation experience do you want? Are you comfortable sharing a room with strangers? Are you a light sleeper? Is the cheapest option the best option? Other alternatives to hostels are hotels, Airbnb, homestays, and motels. Additionally, a private room in a hostel is usually more expensive than an Airbnb or hotel. If you want the social aspect of hostels with the privacy, then a private room makes sense. If you just want a private room and the best value for money, a hostel might not make sense.

Other factors to consider are location, dorms, and booking:

Make sure you research the area you want to stay in – for the good and the bad. One highly rated hostel in Rome is also on one of the more dangerous streets near the station. Since I was a lone female traveler, I chose not to stay at that hostel and chose to stay at another highly rated hostel on the other side of the station in a safer area. Granted, I based the safety of the area of extensive research of online reviews, but since I had never stayed in Rome before this was all I had to go off of. And it turned out, my hostel was in a safe neighbourhood and I never had any problems.

For dorms, I chose an all-female dorm (four beds) in Rome because I feel safer around women when I am alone than men. You may feel differently or the same, so it’s always good to check the room options a hostel has. In Kyiv, Conor and I stayed in a two-bed ‘private’ dorm. All hostels differ on what they provide, so shop around a bit to find what works best for you.

Finally, when booking, I suggest booking direct with the hostel. I do my research on sites like HostelWorld or, but when it’s time to book I reach out to the hostel directly to get the best rate. That may be unfair of me as I used HostelWorld for its resources to then not book through them, but the added fees add up for a budget traveler. Skips the fees, book direct.

Things you MUST bring if you want to have a good stay: Lock, Ear Plugs, Day Bag

Be courteous, but expect that it’s not a hotel: For example, don’t be that person who snoozes their alarm from 6am to 8am – it’s just rude. Make sure to cleanup after yourself in the bathrooms and kitchen, don’t be loud late at night, don’t turn the lights on early in the morning, etc. Most of this you already know, but it makes the stay so much better if you’re conscious of how your behaviour affects the other guests. Unfortunately, there are times when you get stuck in a room with a rude guest who snoozes their alarm, leaves puddles on the bathroom floor, or comes in at 3am yelling and stomping around. If it’s a short stay, try to take it in stride (maybe add eye mask to the list of things to bring just in case). If it’s a long stay and you’re really not happy – talk to the person (nicely), talk to your host, or pack up and find somewhere else to stay – whatever it takes for you to have a good holiday.

Last but certainly not least, be social. Besides the low rates, most people book hostels because they want to be social while traveling, have people to talk to, or have people to do things with. So hang out in the common rooms, talk to you roommates, and ask the host for recommendations. It can be awkward at first, but I found reading in the common room to be a good way to start. It allows you to be doing something if no one is in the common room and it allows you to just exist in the space while you work up the courage to talk to other travelers. This worked for me in Rome where I met two other Americans and we made plans for dinner. In Kyiv, the hostel was a bit more social with a bar so it was easy to approach people in that setting. Staying in a hostel is a great way to make friends who want to see the sights with you or do an excursion – while staying in a hostel in La Paz, Conor met a fellow traveler to climb a mountain with! People you meet in hostels can become friends you keep in touch with for a long time.

Dana’s Do’s:

  1. Do your research to find the best fit for you.
  2. Bring ear plugs!
  3. Hang out in the common rooms to make travel friends.

Travel Tips and Tricks: Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day

This year my boyfriend and I visited Dublin, Ireland for a long weekend over St. Patrick’s Day. I have been planning this surprise trip since December as a birthday present for Conor, who was born lucky on St. Patrick’s Day! Since it was a surprise, I also got to do all the research and planning for the trip (my favorite part!).

How to get there:

Since Dublin is just a hop skip and a jump away from Cambridge we had a few option for how to get there. However, the time constraint limited these options.

  • Drive: the drive would have taken nine hours, so this was less preferable since we had to leave on Sunday the 17th due to other commitments.
  • Train: this would have required multiple stops and changes, as well as the ferry ride, so also not preferable, though doable.
  • Fly: the short flight would only cost us about 4 hours in total travel time (including airport time). And there are great deals over the holidays to take advantage of! So, I chose this option.


I chose to fly Ryanair because of the low fares, and only because of the low fares. We flew out early Sunday morning and came back Tuesday evening. For such a sort trip, we only needed backpacks, no extra cabin baggage or checked baggage necessary. I paid extra to pick our seats, but that was the only add-on. I was able to score two round-trip tickets for the low price of $126 (I booked while I was in the U.S. for Christmas). If we were going for longer, I would have looked at other airlines because the fees on Ryanair add up quickly so it might be more cost effective to book with another airline that has higher ticket prices but better benefits. For us, this ended up being the cheapest option as well as the most time-effective. Upon arrival, we bought AirLink Express round trip tickets for 12 euros to get into the city center and back on Tuesday.

What to do:

I researched things to do in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day as well as other tourist things to do since we would be there for three days. I mostly used Pinterest and TripAdvisor

St. Patrick’s Day Parade

  • St. Patrick’s Day Parade: We arrived in the city center around 11:15am and the place was already packed, the streets lined with thousands of people decked out in green, ready to watch the multitude of marching bands and people waving from the back seat of convertibles. It was an incredible sight to see.
  • Temple Bar: The bars in this area didn’t open until noon or 12:30pm so we grabbed some fish and chips from a local stand in the meantime and walked around to check out all the different potential bars to stop at. Across the river from the Temple Bar area were also a bunch of hotels and pubs serving rowdy parade-goers.
  • The Temple Bar: As in the most famous bar in Dublin. This was our second stop and it was packed with young people from all around the world, drinking, singing, and dancing along to the live music. This bar is massive, I lost count of how many rooms we walked through. This was definitely the St. Patrick’s Day vibe we we’re here for!
  • Al Vesuvio: We stopped by this restaurant after seeing a sign for it on the main road during a desperate search for a free table. We ducked into the alley and around the back into a courtyard where the restaurant was located and were sat immediately (lucky!). It was an incredible Italian lunch and didn’t break the bank. I had a pizza and Conor had a pasta dish, paired with a glass of wine. The atmosphere was incredible, we were sat in an underground cavern with low lighting and decorated by shelves of wine bottles. I highly recommend and would definitely go back! There are definitely other places for lunch, but I would recommend making a reservation somewhere or be prepared to wait awhile with the mass of people all getting hungry around the same time.
  • St. Stephen’s Green: We walked past this park on St. Patrick’s Day because it was closed to the public, but visited it on Tuesday. It is great for a midday stroll or to sit and rest your feet for a bit. There are a few coffee shops nearby where you can grab a drink before walking around the park.
  • Dublin Castle: I was surprised by Dublin Castle, we stumbled upon it trying to find our way to St. Stephen’s Green. It is free admission and there are lovely gardens with memorials for different people. We didn’t go inside the castle, but we walked around the gardens and the grounds.
  • Old Jameson Distillery: We visited the distillery on Tuesday and were wowed by it. There is an amazing gift shop, which we would have taken advantage of but our carry-on luggage wouldn’t allow for it. In addition, there is a cocktail bar upon entering that serves unique and fun whiskey cocktails! I had a hot chocolate with whiskey and Conor had a orange old-fashioned. We sat at the bar for awhile and watched other cocktails being made, all of which looked gorgeous and delicious! There are a multitude of tours, differing in length and price. Unfortunately, we did not have time to do any of them.
  • Royal College of Physicians: This was a unique stop for us and required an appointment. The Royal College of Physicians has a small collection of Napoleonic artifacts, including a toothbrush, powder boxes, soap, and allegedly a piece of Napoleon’s coffin! Conor is fascinated by Napoleonic history, so I booked the tour of the collection as a surprise for him. Granted it is a small collection, but it has a fascinating history and I would recommend it for any history buffs!
  • Other places we visited in Dublin:
    • Christ Church Cathedral
    • National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology
    • National Museum of Ireland – Natural History
    • Trinity College (not the Book of Kells)
    • Bunsen Burger
    • Cleaver East (tasting menu)
    • Oscar Wilde Statue
    • Merrion Square Park
    • Walked along the Seine

Places to Stay:

There are many places and ways to stay in Dublin. For a holiday like St. Patrick’s Day, it is important to book early!

  • Hostels: There are many hostels in the city center that cater to short stays for young people. The prices are unmatched. However, it is important to do your research about the place you’re staying at, the area it is in, and the proximity to where you want to spend your time. A private room in a hostel is just as expensive, if not more so, than a hotel. I would recommend this option only for those who are comfortable sharing a room.
  • Airbnb: This is a great option for staying in the city center, and there are some really cool and unique places to stay. Again, make sure you do research about the area you are in (safety first!). The prices vary, but you can definitely find a moderately priced place that won’t break the bank!
  • Apartments: Similar to Airbnb, there are apartment rental sites you can look at for places to stay. They specialized in, you guessed it, apartments! This may be difficult for a shorter stay, but prices and amenities are very similar to what Airbnbs offer.
  • Hotels: This can be the most expensive option, but you can also find moderate prices with great amenities! In addition, hotels have the added benefit of safety and security, but still do your research.

Conor and I stayed at the Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel in Dalkey, a small suburb of Dublin. I debated staying in the city center until I found out we could stay in a castle instead! There were a few other castles that have been turned into hotels, but the Fitzpatrick was in a great location and was the same price as the Airbnb I had been looking at in Dublin’s city center. We took a quick and cheap train (3 euros) to Dalkey on Sunday night and then a short taxi ride to the hotel (if it wasn’t dark we would have walked). The hotel was incredible- the staff were friendly and helpful, providing dental kits and a shaving kit; the buffet breakfast was delicious and plentiful; and the rooms were elegant, clean, and ours overlooked the sea! I would highly recommend this hotel to anyone wanting to visit Dublin and stay somewhere unique.

On Monday, Conor and I explored Dalkey by hiking through Killiney Park which overlooked the sea and Dublin. We hiked down to the waterside and walked along the road overlooking the water. The views were gorgeous in the clear afternoon. In town, we went to Dylan’s Park where we could see Dalkey Islands and learned about the folklore surrounding the church and fort on the main island. For lunch, we ate at Ouzos, a small restaurant in town. We walked back to the hotel afterwards.

In the evening, we took a taxi to Johnny Fox’s Pub in Glencullen (Conor’s dad recommended it). It was a fun pub, full of those ironic and punny signs and local characters. We had dinner and drinks while listening to live music. It is the highest pub in Ireland, 280m above sea level! I highly recommend to anyone looking for a local pub out of the touristy parts.

It was a whirlwind of a trip, but one of the best travel experiences I have had! My biggest takeaway: do your research and planning, but have a little flexibility to be spontaneous!