Adventuring on a budget

As a 22-year-old who is completely enveloped in the idea of traveling the world, I am continuously trying to find the cheapest way to do so. Between flights or other means of transportation, room and board, and basic means of living costs, traveling can be expensive.

“I have a lot of experience traveling cheap, that’s basically the only way I know how to do it,” says seasoned traveler and Western Carolina student Kristie Watkins.

Despite the options that are offered to travelers- a lot of people, myself included at one point in time, are too skeptical to indulge in traveling. Such is the underutilized option of staying in hostels.

When it comes to hostels, there are a lot of stereotypes that are paired with them. 

People believe that because of the low prices for the beds and sharing rooms with strangers (sometimes with opposite sex) hostels must be unsafe and dangerous places. Some people will warn you that staying in a hostel you could be at risk of being robbed or harmed in some way.

The movie Hostel definitely did not help with these views at all. Many people are scared to stay in hostels… at least I was before doing it for the first time.

The first time I stayed in a hostel was in York, England. All the warnings I told you above could not be further from accurate with this place. It was an extremely nice and clean place that accommodated nearly 200 people. It felt very similar to a sleep away camp, just filled with other travelers instead of campers. The most convenient was the price. I paid 12 British pounds for my bed for the night, which makes out to almost $18. This was much cheaper than any cheap ‘safe’ hotel in York.

Last summer while traveling in Thailand, Watkins had the opportunity to stay in a hostel for the first time also.

Kristie Watkins wondering the streets of Spain. Photo provided by Watkins.

“At first I was a little nervous because of all the negative things I had heard about hostels. After my first night though, I realized there was nothing to be nervous about,”  Watkins explained. During the course of the trip Watkins decided to continue staying in hostels along the way.

“The more hostels I stayed in the more fun I had. I like the community that hostels have. It’s a bunch of people doing the same thing, trying to see the world and experience it fully without spending all their money.”

Although the most that you may hear about hostels is when someone is talking about traveling abroad, hostels are common is the U.S. as well. All you have to do is go online and search for hostels in the location you plan on visiting and find one that matches your needs. Even if you are not completely comfortable with the idea of hostels yet, you can do the same process but with Air B-and-B’s. This means that if you do not necessarily want to travel to another country, you can still travel for cheap using the same methods right here at home.

Sweet Peas Hostel concierge Eleni Mariner believes that hostels are definitely the way to go when traveling.

“Hostels are cheaper lodging. When you think of it against a hotel it’s a lot more intimate. You get to be closer to more amazing people and friends you wouldn’t meet normally. It’s a lot better in that way,” Mariner said.

Sweet Peas is located in Asheville, NC and is known for having a wide range of guests.

Co-ed bunk area option at Sweet Peas Hostel. Photo provided by Sweet Peas.

“Typically guests are from a younger demographic, early 20’s to 30’s. What’s special about our location specifically is that we have a wide demographic because of being so close to the Appalachian Trail. Sometimes we get people in their 70’s to 80’s that have traveled all over the world as well,” mentioned Mariner about the types of travelers they tend to get. Mariner is a huge supporter of hostels and after working at one for two months, said she would recommend it to any traveler looking to save money.

Before personally traveling through parts of England, I admit that I was extremely skeptical of the idea of hostels and public transport. Based on the travel experience that I have had with my family in the past, it is not surprising that I had never truly utilized anything besides hotels and rental cars. So it’s not entirely surprising that when I ran my plan of traveling through unknown cities by public transit alone and my first stay at a hostel were not exactly smiled upon. My mom was so nervous for my trip, mainly because of the crime shows that she watches and horror stories she has heard, that she sat me down to talk about my safety. After a convincing chat on my part, I was able to ensure her that I would be saving money and, most importantly, would be safe.

It is not to say that I managed my entire traveling career by myself.  I spent my trip to England with my best friend, and now London resident, Allie Carter. Originally from the U.S., she took advantage of the study abroad program that her university was offering her junior year. She loved London so much, that after a year of studies, she decided to transfer schools entirely.

Having a drink in London for the first time with Allie. Photo by Kayla Minion.

Carter now works as a bartender in London when she is not studying dance at school or traveling in her spare time. Like me, she has a passion for adventure and discovering new places. This is what made her such a good travel companion. Not only did she want to explore as I did, but being a resident she already knew all of the coolest places to visit.

“I’ve stayed at hostels in Venice, York, and Paris, and have never run into any problems with them,” Carter said. “I’ve never felt like I was in immediate danger or anything, even when staying in the massive co-ed room I stayed in in Venice.”

I had the opportunity to meet some extraordinary people, in part thanks to the hostel. At night, all of the guests of the hostel would sit around and talk. I learned that some of the people were actually temporarily living at the hostels until they could make enough money to move to their next desired location. They would work at the hostel to gain free room and board and then would pick up a second job, like bar-tending, to save up the money needed. These people had the travel cheap mentality down pact. Eleni Mariner is a prime example of this lifestyle.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do but wanted to be in Asheville. The manager offered me a job and a chance to do work trade. So now three other employees and I work to also pay rent at the hostel. Its the most amazing experience,” Mariner said.

Here’s some last advice- the key to traveling cheap is to do your research and plan ahead. It is not that hard to hop on the Internet and search for places to stay and to eat that will not kill you financially. A great way to do this is to go on yelp reviews or search for local’s favorite spots. Watkins says doing your research is a huge factor to cutting down travel costs.

“Take advantage of Hostels and Air B-n-B’s. They’re amazing! Always compare sites for whatever it is you are going to buy to make sure you’re getting the best deal.”