My First Hostel Experience in Europe

I think I saved the best for last. To wrap up my ‘Travel Fails’ series, I thought I’d tell you the story of the first time I planned to stay in a hostel.

I want to preface this story by saying I have since stayed in hostels and had wonderful experiences! You just have to do your research and know what you’re getting yourself into before you book.

Back in the spring of 2018, my friend Morgan and I decided to plan a trip to Italy. She was about to graduate and never studied abroad, so I told her to pick where she wanted to go and we would make it happen for spring break. She decided on Italy (great choice) and so we went. I had never been, but was so looking forward to it! At this point, the only countries I’d visited outside of the U.S. were Mexico and Greece.

My trip to Mexico was part of a cruise with my family, and my 5-week study abroad trip in Greece was fully guided. This would be my first time traveling internationally independent of a group.

Because we were both working just part time we were trying to save money and budget travel. I had the great idea of staying in a hostel. I’d heard so many people tell me how fun they were, and I felt confident in my travel ability. We ended up booking a hostel for €18 per night, per person and felt really good about it.

Finally, spring break came. The day had finally arrived! We packed up and headed to O’hare. We had one flight from Chicago to Frankfort, Germany. Then we had an 8-hour layover before catching a short flight into Rome. We had no trouble in Chicago, then spent the day exploring the Frankfort airport (totally oblivious to the fact I’d be returning here in just a few short months for student teaching!).

By the time our layover was over, we were pretty exhausted. We made our way to our final gate, only to be struck with the bad news that our flight to Rome was delayed. We ended up not taking off for two more hours, making it 10:30 p.m. by the time we finally arrived in Rome. At this point, we had been awake over 30 hours and exhausted didn’t even begin to describe how we were feeling.

We waited for our bags, caught the express shuttle from the airport to Termini station, then found ourselves on the streets of Rome walking to our hostel. Luckily it was only a 10-15 minute walk from the train station. One of the reasons we booked it was because of its central location in the city!

We found the hostel easily and went inside to check in. First of all, we had to pay an extra city tax, increasing the price of our room we were unaware of. This was our first mishap. But we didn’t complain. We were too tired and too grateful we’d finally be able to sleep soon. So, with our keys in hand, we hauled our bags up five flights of stairs to our room. This was not ideal, but was expected after similar experiences in Greece.

It was pretty standard. Truthfully, I don’t remember too much of how it was decorated. Plain, kind of drab. There was graffiti on the walls. Some people were already sleeping so we tried to be quiet. Our second mishap came when we tried to lock up our belongings and realized our locks didn’t fit in the cubbies. It was fine when we were here sleeping, but what would we do when we went out during they day? We couldn’t carry all of our belongings with us. We decided to sleep with our luggage in our bunks for the night and then do more brainstorming in the morning when we could function properly. That’s when we discovered the beds didn’t actually come with bedding. Just one blanket/comforter!

After getting everything situated, we grabbed our PJ’s and toothbrushes and went to find the bathroom. The fourth mishap was discovering it was a co-ed bathroom. A man walked out just as we were about to enter. It wasn’t the end of the world, but wasn’t ideal. Being in a strange city in a foreign country, suddenly we had to share a bathroom with men.

However, the final straw was once we actually entered the bathroom. Small, grimy, and broken. Yes, I said it. It reeked of sewage and the toilets were out of order!

That was it. We were not staying in a dirty, broken-down hostel where we couldn’t even lock up our luggage.

I must remind you: we were running on no sleep, a bit overwhelmed and not thinking totally straight. However, I still stand by our decisions.

Morgan and I practically ran back to the room and as quietly as possible threw all of our things back into our bags and lugged them down the stairs to reception.

“Hi… we need to check out,” I said, handing the employee our keys. He was clearly confused since we’d checked in just 30 minutes earlier. I tried to explain that this just wasn’t working and we’d like to cancel our reservations and leave. They wouldn’t refund us any of our money from the room, but they did return the money we paid in city fees and taxes. That is the silver lining of this night.

So that’s how Morgan and I found ourselves on a random sidewalk after midnight in the rain, without cell service or WiFi, trying to decide what to do next. And of course, that’s when Morgan realized she couldn’t find her passport. She looked through all her pockets and it was gone. Next to some dumpsters and graffiti, in the middle of the night, which was freezing because it was early March, we were opening all of her luggage trying to find it! Luckily, we did.

Now that we knew we had everything, we just started walking through the city. I can’t express how stressed we were. Down one of the streets we saw a sign that was still lit that said Hotel Igea. We looked at each other and decided to see if they had any rooms available, at least for one night.

When we walked into reception there was one man working behind the desk. We were dripping and trying not to make a mess, but we must have seemed so disheveled in his eyes. I asked if he had any rooms, and luckily he said yes.

In that moment, I burst into tears. I hardly remember it, but I put the room on my emergency credit card. Plus it was only €60 per night, so it didn’t even break the bank. I swear I could have hugged that man.

We had to haul our luggage up more stairs, but this time it was only three or four flights. We easily found our room. It was very simple, two twin beds with a bathroom, but it was clean and it was ours. We basically spent the entire night crying, feeling homesick, and wondering what we’d gotten ourselves into.

But, eventually we passed out from exhaustion, and when we woke up the next morning we had the cutest view.

We ended up staying in this hotel for the rest of our time in Rome and we loved it. It was central in the city and close to Termini station, the staff was incredibly nice and we had it all to ourselves.

In the end, it all worked out. And I’m grateful we had this experience because it taught me a lot about planning for travel and what to look for when booking a hotel, AirBNB or hostel. Most of the time, it’s worth it to pay a little bit more for cleanliness and comfort. You can almost always find a budget hotel in Europe!

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