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Hostels Abroad

Hosteling for the Young at Heart

Tips for Making the Most of this Affordable, Convenient Option

The declining value of the U.S. and Canadian dollars against the euro has made those older, independent travelers like me more budget-conscious. This can mean moving from cheaper hotels and B&Bs to hostels.

Some older travelers no doubt see hostels as exactly the wrong place to find the privacy and comfort they've worked all their lives to achieve. Yet with a little preparation a hostel stay can be convenient, affordable, and a great place to meet new people.

I recently spent a month traveling solo through Ireland staying 26 nights at 13 different hostels in nine cities and towns. Along the way I learned a thing or two about how to enjoy a youthful environment.

Book ahead. A great hostel advantage is it's not always necessary to book in advance. But if you want more comfort and greater security, call ahead and request a single room. More expensive, yes, but worth it.

Bring earplugs. I cannot stress this enough. You may well learn, at 6:30 in the morning, that the handy hostel you booked next to the bus station—like Isaacs in Dublin—also happens to be beside the elevated train tracks.

Request a bottom bunk. If you're sleeping dorm-style, those 3 a.m. bathroom trips can be a real experience from the second tier. Besides, you're older, and seniority still counts.

Locate an alternate bathroom. After you've checked in and stored your luggage take a few minutes and find the public bathroom on another floor in case yours is always in use.

Rent a towel. You'll always get clean sheets and a pillow, but you may have to ask for a towel. Some hostels offer them for free, others charge a euro or two.

Use the kitchen. Many hostels have surprisingly spacious and well-equipped cooking facilities. Even if you don't cook often at home, buy food at a local grocery and have at least one of your three meals at the hostel. A hostel meal leaves more money for the reasons you're really traveling.

Grab an extra breakfast. Not every hostel includes a free breakfast and some have very spare offerings. But if you find a place, like Kilronan House in Inishmor, that provides juice, cereal, toast and jam, go back a second time and fuel up.

Take care of yourself. A hostel offers a secure sleeping environment but it is not always the place for proper bed rest. So be realistic: eat well and moderate your evening activities.

Most of all, don't be a stranger. New friends and fresh knowledge: that's what the hostel experience for an older independent traveler is really all about.

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