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 Booking.com, 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.
Do your research to find the best fit for you.
Bring ear plugs!
Hang out in the common rooms to make travel friends.
Smartphones make traveling easier than ever before. On one device you have all the information you need to plan a trip, buy flights, decide where to eat, translate a language, entertain yourself, and so much more. There are some apps that are must-have’s when traveling to make everything seamless. Here are my top five:
Google Translate – If you’re visiting a foreign country with a different language, this is a must. You can download the language so you can access it offline as well – no need to waste data or search for cafes with wi-fi only. I’ve used this in the Ukraine, Italy, Greece, France, and Germany, and have been thankful for it every time. Not only does it allow me to communicate with people who don’t speak English, but I can translate museum plaques, restaurant menus, street signs, instructions, etc.
Google Maps Offline – This is a lifesaver in places where you don’t want to use data, or if you don’t have any data, you don’t need wi-fi to use it. You can download Google Maps of where you are, say Rome, and use it like you would regularly use Google Maps just without the internet. It is seriously a lifesaver!
City Mapper – This app is all about public transport and showing you the best options and the times for each option. I even use this locally in London to catch the bus. It can be even more helpful in a city that you’re unfamiliar with. I used City Mapper in France and Italy recently which was especially helpful given all the signs are in a foreign language. If you plan on using the public transportation system, I recommend this app.
TripAdvisor – I rely on TripAdvisor for the reviews of restaurants, attractions, cafes, hostels, hotels, etc. For the most part (there’s always an exception), TripAdvisor is a reliable source and can be helpful when looking for recommendations in a foreign city.
Airline App – As in, whichever airline you are traveling with. I always download the app once I book tickets (Ryanair, British Airways, United, etc). Usually, you’re able to access your boarding pass on the app, track your frequent flyer status and rewards, and make changes to your booking. Also, and annoyingly, many medium haul flights don’t have in flight entertainment systems and airlines now use their app to give you entertainment options. I say annoyingly because I feel like a flight from San Francisco to New York should have in-flight entertainment in the back of seats but not every airline agrees. Thus, the app. You can download it on your tablet as well and log onto the website on your laptop during the flight. Having the airline app makes your travel smoother and more seamless, so I definitely recommend it.
Download only what’s necessary.
Check local guides for more specific apps.
Remember to charge your phone!
Bonus– Other Useful Apps: Instagram (for sharing pictures, obviously), Mobile Banking, Weather, Kindle (or other book app), SafeTrek (or similar), and Uber (or another ride-share/taxi app).
Back in October, I wrote a blog, 5 Days In Rome in Under £300. This is the follow up to my trip to Rome in December and how I managed to stick to that budget along with a superstar 4 day itinerary (day 5 is travel only so I don’t really count it). Since it was my first time to Rome I enlisted the help of Lonely Planet and borrowed their guide to Rome from my roommate.
Total Spent: £277
Day One: Thursday
Flight: London (STN) to Rome (Ciampino) – 13:20 – 16:45
After arriving at Ciampino, I booked a roundtrip bus ticket for £8 that would drop me off at the Termini metro station and in four days I would take it back to the airport. My hostel, the Beehive Hostel, was only a couple blocks from Termini so this made the most sense. It was also the cheapest option for transport and didn’t involve any additional stops or changes. I can be really terrible with directions and public transport sometimes so this was the best option for my own sanity as well.
I arrived to the Beehive when it was dark and had to wait only a few minutes to be let into the electronically locked door to reception. Linda, one of the owners, greeted me and took me through check-in. Much to my chagrin, I booked through HostelWorld, which was more expensive than if I had booked directly. For the future, I will use HostelWorld as a guide to find a great hostel, but will be contacting hostels directly to see if they offer a better price. If they don’t, I’ll book through HostelWorld, but otherwise I am a budget traveler. Throughout the check-in process Linda was very helpful, showing me places to visit on a map and the Beehive app which has all their local recommendations. In all, I would definitely recommend the Beehive for any travelers who are looking for a clean hostel with great service. The only downside was the lack of social life at the hostel, as I only met one person in the common room the whole time I was there. This could be because it was the off season for traveling. If you don’t want somewhere too social, this would be perfect. In all, I really enjoyed my stay and definitely recommend.
After checking in to my hostel and settling in the room, it was too late to see any attractions, and being my first solo trip, I went out to dinner at the restaurant next to my hostel – Ristorante Regina. It had the most delicious ravioli I have ever tasted. A great recommendation from the owners of the Beehive Hostel. Then it was off to bed for an early wakeup the next morning.
Day Two: Friday
Knowing the Colosseum and the Vatican would have the longest lines, I decided to put them at the beginning of two of the days. First up, the Colosseum because I couldn’t resist.
I would recommend getting to the Colosseum early – I arrived at 8am for an 8:30am opening time. I did not reserve tickets beforehand. The line for no tickets was already 100 people deep by the time the gates opened. I was the first one inside though so getting there early definitely paid off (I got in free with my ICOM card). I spent about two hours in the Colosseum, walking around each level and viewing the exhibits. One of the exhibits tells the entire history of the Colosseum from inception to present day. It was interesting to learn about its different uses, owners, and repairs. The entire place was full a feeling that’s hard to describe – like the history of it was seeping from the walls. It was really quiet in the morning which gave me space to immerse myself in the atmosphere and imagine what it would have been like two thousand years ago. As a previous classics student, I have been wanting to visit the Colosseum for years and it lived up to its hype. It’s an absolutely incredible feat of architecture, engineering, and culture.
As a solo traveler, I took some selfies, but also asked other tourists if they could take my picture. I’m usually selective when handing my phone over to a stranger. Typically, I pick someone who is about my age and female – female because other girls usually know how to take really great pictures and will get all the angles. In return, I take their picture so it all works out.
After the Colosseum, I walked across the road to Palatine Hill, my ticket from the Colosseum also got me into this historic site. There was no line at all at this point but behind me there were a couple hundred people in line for the Colosseum, further evidence of why you should do the Colosseum first thing in the morning. I walked through the ruins of the emperor’s palace first. There are a ton of plaques to tell you what you’re looking at. I also had the Lonely Planet guide with a map inside which helped me to navigate as well. The palace was unusually quiet for how late in the morning it was, but that made the experience more special. What a unique and odd thing to be wandering the site of one of the greatest men in the world history, imagine walking on the same mosaic tiles as an emperor. It was hard to wrap my head around that fact, still is. The grounds are massive so it took me about an hour to wander the whole thing, ending at the balcony overlooking the Roman Forum.
It took me a little bit of work to get down to the Roman Forum, but once I did, I was not disappointed. It was significantly more crowded down there with tons of school groups messing about. But that’s how the Forum is meant to be, busy and bustling with the daily crowd going about their business. I was once tested on the layout of the forum, having to draw it from memory and label every building. It was really cool to see that come to life and to remember most of the buildings, only needing the guide a few times. Have I mentioned yet that everything is massive? The scale of buildings and temples is unreal.
For lunch, I headed across the street from the Forum, Imperiale Ristorante. I ordered a delicious pizza and glass of wine. It was definitely touristy, but it was convenient and had a great patio so I could still marvel at the Roman Forum.
After that I headed over to the Capitoline Museums. The walk was gorgeous taking me past the Altar of the Fatherland.
The museum itself wasn’t as crowded as I expected. There was no line and most of the galleries were empty except for a couple people here and there. I enjoyed the quiet and relaxed feel – very different to some other tourists spots. I love Greek and Roman sculptures and art, so I really enjoyed this museum. It only costs 1 euro with my ICOM card – otherwise there is a higher entrance fee.
I walked down the road a bit to a small coffee and sweet shop called San Teo. I was recommended this place by the Lonely Planet guide, and as I’m a total sweet tooth and it was close by, I had to check it out. It definitely didn’t disappoint. The staff were lovely and kind and the desserts were delicious (I had three to hit the 5 euro card minimum, but so worth it).
After this, it was getting late so I took a bus back to my hostel. I wasn’t sure how the buses worked at this point and didn’t know how to buy a ticket. I assumed I could do so when getting on the bus – I was wrong. You have to buy a ticket from a shop or a station and then put it in the ticket machine on the bus to get it stamped. Technically, you could ride the bus without a ticket but if you get caught the fine is steep. So from then on, I bought my tickets at the Termini station in the morning.
For dinner on Friday, I went to Mama Angela Trattoria – another recommendation the the Beehive’s app. It was so good! I was sad to be eating alone only because I didn’t have anyone to share in how good the food was. I ordered bruschetta and popcorn fried gnocchi with a glass of white wine. The waitstaff were very friendly and recommended wine for me. They made me feel less awkward for sitting alone which endeared me to them. I would definitely go back!
Day Three: Saturday
A couple weeks prior to my trip, I booked a guided tour of the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. I would highly recommend booking a guided tour. Mine started at 8:30am and the museum was already packed. When I arrived at the Vatican at 8am, it was pretty empty, so I was able to take advantage of that and get some fun pictures with barely anyone else in them. The guided tours are offered in multiple languages and are very thorough. In total, it was a three hour tour. We spent the first hour and a half walking through the museums, stopping at well known or historically important objects. My tour guide was very knowledgable and gave us a bunch of fun facts along with the history of the objects. The Sistine Chapel was breathtaking – luckily I was able to get a seat along the wall so I could relax and take my time looking up at the ceiling, mesmerised by the scenes. I would have loved to experience the Sistine Chapel with less people in it, but it was still cool. Next we moved in St. Peter’s Basilica, which was ridiculously big. The sheer grandeur of the inside took my breath away – I’m still astonished at HOW. But, that’s the Catholic Church for you – they really know how to go all out. Again, our tour guide took us around the most famous parts of it, stopping to see one of the Popes mummified and on display. A bit weird, but cool at the same time.
After the Vatican, I walked to Piazza Novona, passing Castel Sant’Angelo. I stopped for a tea and croissant at a little cafe on a side street near the piazza. There was a Christmas market on the piazza so I walked around that for a little bit, sat on a bench, and enjoyed people watching. I then walked to the Pantheon, and was again astonished at the sheer size of it! However, I was disappointed when I entered it, which is entirely my own fault for not Googling it beforehand. I am a huge Greek and Roman history buff, so to find out that the Pantheon has been completely converted to a Catholic church – no sign of any Roman gods or religion whatsoever. Disappointing, but at the same time, the only reason its still standing is because the Catholic Church saved it from destruction. I then went for lunch at a wine bar/cafe called Taverna Capranica- I had a delicious cheese board and selection of wine. It was a little off the beaten track, so not as crowded with tourists, but still close enough to the Pantheon to attract tourists.
After lunch, I headed over to the Trevi Fountain, another must see attraction. I’m sure you’re tired of this by now, but again it’s massive. It’s way bigger than I thought it was going to be! And so intricate. Really a spectacular sight to see. I asked a couple of girls to take some pictures of me throwing a coin into the fountain – I needed a couple of takes to get the shot I was looking for so I threw a couple of coins into the fountain. If you’re wondering, the money is collected on a daily basis and donated to a Catholic charity – about 3,000 euros per day. Crazy. I sat at the fountain for awhile, watching other people take pictures and interact. It was interesting and funny and a nice break from the long day I’d had.
I took the bus back to the hostel and rested for a bit before heading down to the common room. I met another American who was traveling with his brother. We decided to get dinner together at another restaurant recommended by the hostel – Bramble Bar and Kitchen. I had a vegetable pizza and glass of wine and we shared some bruschetta. It was delicious! (So good in fact I went back the next night). It was really fun, as my first time solo traveling, to make some new travel friends from my hostel. It felt like the last missing part of the ‘real’ hostel experience.
Day Four: Sunday
I had breakfast in my hostel this morning – taking a bit more time than the last two days since I didn’t have anywhere I needed to be at 8am. I then went to Baths of Caracalla – ruins on the other side of Palatine Hill across the street from Circus Maximus. These ruins used to be the massive public baths of Rome. You’re able to walk through the entire structure with great informational plaques detailing what each room was and the people that visited, along with the types of activities to do there. The ruins are more overgrown than some others, but there is still a lot of stonework and architecture to see. It was really quiet as well, which made for a really nice morning walk.
My roommate from London flew in on Saturday night with another friend and was planning on staying a couple more days, so I met up with them on Sunday afternoon. I headed to the Spanish Steps to meet them for lunch. Little did I realise, it was December 8th, which is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and the Pope visits the Spanish Steps on this day every year to lay a wreath at the monument. We were a bit early for that so we went to lunch at a restaurant around the corner. I had some more bruschetta and pasta with, you guessed it, a glass of wine. After lunch, we wandered over to the road where the Pope was supposed to come down, but it turns out he had already passed and was up near the steps doing his thing. We walked up that way when all of a sudden a black sedan drove past us with the window rolled down and the Pope waving to us out of it. I was expecting the Pope-mobile, so this was a shock. We ran along the side of the railing to get a better look and some videos. It was crazy because the street wasn’t even that crowded with people dying to see the Pope. It was definitely a rush of adrenaline, and it will forever be my fun fact.
For my last night in Rome, I went back to The Bramble and ordered their chocolate lava cake with ice cream and a hot tea. It was so good – I am a total sucker for a chocolate lava cake and this lived up to all my expectations! After that, I packed up and set my alarm for an early wake up call to catch my early flight back to London.
Day 5: Monday (Fly Day)
Rome (Ciampino) – London STN: 11:10am – 12:55pm
I took the same bus back to the airport from Termini Station, leaving at 7:10am, getting to the airport at 8am. I did get to the airport a bit too early – 3 hours was too early for such a small airport. But at least I didn’t miss my flight. Better to be early than sorry, right? Also, the next bus time was 8:30am and I thought that was cutting it a little close since I had never flown out of Ciampino. Now I know better, and so do you!
In all, this was the trip of a lifetime! Rome has been on my bucket list for ages and it lived up to all its expectations. As for my first solo trip, I wasn’t totally scarred and would definitely travel alone again. I’ll be writing a whole other post about solo travel, so stay tuned for that. I hope I could help you plan your dream trip to Rome. If you have any questions, drop a comment or fill out the contact form! Ciao!
Plan ahead for the biggest attractions like the Colosseum and the Vatican.
Ask the staff at your hostel/hotel for local recommendations.