Meet Layni, a girl with a passion for adventure and giving back. Read about her journey teaching in rural Thailand, and backpacking throughout Asia after.laynicgirlboss

1. What inspired you to volunteer in Thailand?

Hmm.. That’s a question I feel like I get all the time, and I never know how to answer. I had originally wanted to go to Thailand and teach English for the entire year, but taking the LSAT and applying for law school took priority over that. So instead, I decided to go and volunteer for six weeks, and travel throughout Asia after. I wanted to make an impact on the people that needed it the most, so decided volunteering teaching children was the best fit.  I bought a plane ticket and knew I would figure it out!

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2. Where exactly were you volunteering, and what was the mission?

I volunteered in Chiang Rai, Thailand! It was a very rural area that many people have never heard of. It was about three hours north of Chiang Mai, and about an hour to Laos and Myanmar boarder (The Golden Triangle). My job as a volunteer was to teach English to Thai children. I volunteered at the Mirror Foundation, where there were many different missions; but the main jobs of the volunteers were teaching English and outside work.

One of my great friends who I made there from Paris, Alix, was on the outdoor team. Even though we had different jobs, at the end of the day it was all about helping the local people in any way possible.

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3. How did you choose the program, and how did you know it was legit?

I just Googled what I wanted to do and this foundation seemed like the best option for me! I knew it was a legitimate program after researching online, and reading positive experiences – it’s all about doing the right research ultimately.

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 4. What is your advice to people looking to volunteer abroad, or in Thailand?

DO IT! Seriously though, do it – and stay positive!! It was one of the best experiences of my life and I would go back tomorrow if I could. Don’t be afraid. Honestly, it can be scary at first, especially arriving in Asia and not knowing anything or having any expectations.

I had a bumpy start to my trip, but I quickly become accustom to the “Asia lifestyle”. It was intimidating at first, but people are always willing to help. For example, when I was stuck in an airport in Vietnam, I was crying (of course) but seriously, I was scared, it’s normal, but I didn’t know what to do. Nobody spoke English, I was alone and wasn’t allowed to leave the airport. While sitting on a bench, this man walked up to me (who I later found out was from Kansas) and asked me if I needed assistance. I was SO thankful for him at that moment. He gave me his business card and told me to call him if I needed anything. This wasn’t the only circumstance where I was offered help, but it was definitely the most memorable. Because of this specific instance, I made sure that I always offered help to anyone in need. I promise you that it’s worth it; it will make you a more independent person and forces you to grow throughout it all.

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5. Do you feel like you accomplished a lot during your time there?

I definitely feel like I accomplished a lot while I was there! Our program was very unique, where we would go to different schools every day, but we would still see the same children every week. I could see the kids growing and learning as the weeks went by, and it was one of the most incredible feelings! You become attached to the kids, so every day we went to at least 3 different schools, and on your way there you just get so excited to see them and you want to just hug them and take them all home with you. The day care I taught at was truly incredible, the children were ages 3 and 4 and you could see them learning every single day; one day you’ll be teaching them numbers 1-15, and then you come back the next day and they remember!! It’s a great feeling when they remember things you teach them because it makes you feel like you’re making a difference.

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6. What was your day to days like?

Every morning we would have similar schedules but at the different schools. We would: wake up, eat breakfast, go to a school and teach, come back for lunch, tgo back and teach, then come home and lesson plan, have dinner, and usually do something together as a group. With every being at a new school, it was always something new! Of course we went to the same schools every week, but I think the break up in the different classes every day really made the entire experience that much better, because you didn’t feel as if you were doing the same thing every day.

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 7. What was the highlight of your volunteer trip?

I had two absolutely incredible experiences during my trip. I think the absolute highlight of my trip was going on my home stay and the second highlight was teaching the Monks.

So to start, my home stay was absolutely incredible! A bunch of us went and stayed at a principal’s guest home for a week, while teaching at his school. A principle in Thailand is essentially a movie star in Thailand. Joking, but also serious… They know EVERYONE and are very highly respected. During the home stay, the couple took us to the Golden Triangle, running around with wild monkeys, going to a Thai University, running through tea fields, eating delicious home made food, and SO much more! ALSO, the principle and his wife didn’t speak English well, but we still connected on a different level. It’s so funny that we didn’t speak the same language, but we, as human beings, still connected and established such a deep friendship. The day I was leaving Chiang Rai, I arrived at the airport at 4 in the morning, and I got there and the Principal and his wife were there, with presents and cards for me – they lived an hour and a half away and they came ALL that way just to say goodbye to me! I couldn’t believe it. The people in Asia are absolutely incredible, I can’t say it enough. I can’t wait until I can go back and visit everyone and hopefully one day live in Asia!

Teaching the Monks was another highlight of my trip. I mean, in all honesty, I learned more from the Monks than I think they taught me. Buddhism is such an amazing religion and I loved learning about it while I was there.

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 8. How much money did you bring for your trip?

I saved a total of $2,000, and didn’t spend it all while I was there. Asia is the easiest place to budget while backpacking!

 9. What was the most difficult moment of your trip?

I’m not going to lie, I had a few moments when I wondered why I was even in Asia. I think the most difficult moment was arriving in Asia, not being able to communicate since no one spoke English, being detained in the airport (that’s another story!), and being stared at when I arrived. I have blonde hair, so everywhere I went I was asked to take pictures with people or stared at. Once I adjusted to life in Asia, I was completely fine and any issue I had I could deal with. I got sick a few times and that was obviously awful, but it honestly wasn’t a big deal. Again, I think the most difficult moment was arriving in Asia initially.

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10. Did you travel after volunteering in Chang Rai?

Yes! I went to Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and traveled all over Thailand!

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11. What are your best tips for people looking to backpack through Asia?

Stay positive and do your research. I would ensure you know where you want to go, what you want to see, what happens in certain countries i.e., what to do when you get sick (because that happens A LOT), what you need to bring, where your nearest hospitals are (there are certain hospitals you don’t want to go in Asia), how much money you want to spend (aka budget plan), etc. Asia is a whole different trip then backpacking around Europe. I always say my trip to Asia was a whole different world compared to my trips to Europe.

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 12. What was the most essential item you brought from America when traveling around Asia?

This is going to sound silly, but I was so happy I brought dry shampoo, a journal, a book, a sweater for the temples, a long skirt, GoPro, and Toms! Everyone dresses very conservatively in Asia, so you want to make sure you respect their culture – there’s nothing worse than going to Asia and seeing girls wearing short shorts.

13. What were your overall favorite moments?

Some my favorite moments:

Going to an elephant sanctuary in Thailand

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Visiting the Monkey Temple in Bali and seeing the rice paddies and coffee plantations in Bali

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Going to the waterfalls and hiking all throughout Asia

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Eating street food (Banana Roti with condensed milk is my favorite – also you can never go wrong with street Pad Thai)

Exploring Thai beaches

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Going to Siem Reap

Floating down the river in Laos with a beer in hand

Hot air ballooning in Laos at sunrise

Catching the sunrise over Laos (from Thailand)

Meeting amazing people in hostels

Swimming in Ha Long Bay

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Getting custom suits made in Vietnam

Drinking Thai tea and Vietnamese Coffee

Eating authentic Pho and Banh Mi on the streets in Vietnam

Riding on mopeds in crazy traffic

going to the Gili Islands and swinging on a swing in the middle of the ocean

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Dining at the Cliff bar in Nusa Dua

Walking around Sihanoukille and relaxing on the beach

Spending the day at Potato Head Beach Club in Seminyak, Bali

Participating in a Thai cooking class

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Buying souvenirs at the night markets and day markets

Seeing a Thai boxing match

And so much more!

Every single day in Asia was an amazing day. It’s hard to come back to real life after living in Asia. I miss the every day life in Asia. The people are so peaceful, calm and caring. I look forward to the next time I get to go back!

 Follow Layni on Instagram@Layniic and comment below with any questions you have for her about teaching abroad or traveling throughout Southeast Asia.


Just a few reasons why you should pack Mother Dearest on your next vacation.

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Your mom was your first ever travel buddy and here are 6 reasons (not including endless memories and unparalleled bonding) to bring your mom along on your next traveling adventure.

1. She can be your personal photographer

She will undoubtedly need a basic photography lesson, but with enough support and practice she may just be able to get you that insta pic you’ve been dreaming of. She won’t necessarily understand what you are going for, or know why the first 399 pictures weren’t good enough, but she will click away until you are satisfied.

2. She packs things like gloves

As you’re preparing for your trip you think to yourself “I wouldn’t be caught dead walking around with gloves on my hands when it’s not snowing”. You imagine yourself blending in with locals as you tell your mom to leave the gloves at home.  Flash forward to when as you are walking down a city street with numb fingers and your mom whips out the gloves you told her not to pack you understand the saying “mother knows best.”

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3. She understands you

After a long day on your feet, when even though you’re on vacation,  you just want to buy a pint of good ‘ole  Ben & Jerrys – she won’t judge you. She will find an American television station and help you finish the whole thing, eating just the right amount to give you enough, but ensure you don’t hate yourself the next morning.

4. She’s a better driver than you

As you plan your trip abroad, you casually rent a car to get around Ireland the most efficient and convenient way. It’s not until you are in a stick-shift car, on the left side of the road, on what should be a one-way street, with a jaw sore from clenching your teeth that you are thanking the Lord above that your mom is behind the wheel – and not you!

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5. She can be your excuse for doing touristy things

Traveling is tough as you try to balance having a true cultural experience, and seeing everything you can. Most of the times cheesy touristy things don’t include either of those—but SOMETIMES they are fun/funny/you can see a lot/you have to try them because you are indeed a tourist. And in those sometimes, it’s nice to have Mum with you to blame on “dragging you” on….a duck tour of Dublin per say…that ends up being a hilarious way to see the city.

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6. She’s your best bet at a good travel buddy

She has already seen you at your worst…multiple times. And she did carry you around for 9 months…so if you don’t travel well with your mother, there might be something wrong! Traveling can bring out the worst in people as you deal with the inevitable travel debacle (including but not limited to: delayed/cancelled flight, medical emergency, cosmetic emergency) all while living out of a suitcase for a number of weeks. Being with your mum is the best because she knows just how to deal with you in this situations—when to leave you alone, when to let you take the lead, and so on. She will also still love you after the trip…no matter what.

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Guest Blog – Written by Maddy Hart

Honored to introduce Amanda, a girl with a heart of gold. She’s following the legacy of her cousin, Tim, to create a lasting impact on the underprivileged children of Arusha, Tanzania. Read about her incredible journey continuing Tim’s mission, providing the most disadvantaged children with quality education and a safe place to live.

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1. What inspired you to volunteer in Africa?

My cousin, Tim, quit his job to live in Africa and help the people there who are suffering. Sadly, last summer he passed away and a school was built in his honor to help underprivileged children in Arusha. I felt a calling to visit, walk in his footsteps, and understand the love he had for this place and it’s people. I knew if I didn’t go now, I might never get to experience it!

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2. Where exactly were you volunteering, and what was the mission?

A primary school in Arusha. Arusha is a city in northern Tanzania beneath Mount Meru. Unga Limited is the name of the slum our children primarily come from. The school continues Tim’s mission by providing the most disadvantaged children with quality education and a safe place to live. Here they learn life skills since many don’t have adult role models in their life. Tim’s “Kaka” and our brother, Yesaya Wilfredy, oversees and manages the school. He posts about the children, often with signs thanking donors and sponsors. 

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3. How long were you there, and what did you accomplish?

I was in Africa for about 2 weeks; my family is funding the building of dorms for the children who are going to the school to keep them from living in the slums. This allows them get to school easier (it took us half an hour to pick up the kids up for school in the morning) and to be in a safe environment. A humbling moment was when my Dad, cousin Jeff, and I got to personally work on the construction of the dorms –with help of the locals of course!

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4. What did your day to day look like?

We actually slept at the dorms in wooden beds with mosquito nets. I would wake around 6:30 to the rooster, brush my teeth with bottled water, the “toilet” was a hole in the floor with a bucket to manually flush (I brought my own toilet paper from the states). We would drive to three locations to pick up the kids for school. When at school, they did warm up exercise and songs before splitting up by class. We would teach numbers, colors, animals, mathematics etc. the kids would sometimes even lead the class. We would have a traditional meal from the school chef and at the end of the day, drive them home and walked them through the slums guided by a governmental peace leader, Amani, to their individual homes.

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5. What was the highlight of your trip?

Taking the kids to see the dorms! All 40 of them- they were running. The children of Arusha are so loving, each of them wanted to hold my hand, which was difficult at times so I let them each hold one of my fingers. That is a memory I will never forget. We built a playground out front and it was happy chaos, they were so happy they were climbing on every inch of the playground equipment and taking turns on the swings. Also, meeting the mothers and grandmother of the children-only one girl had a father figure in her life. Many times grandmothers are primary caretakers. Women in Tanzania don’t have the same rights and only speak when spoken to; only people with education are permitted to voice options. Social customs aside, they were composedly overjoyed to meet us and share stories and hardships.

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6. What was the most difficult moment of your trip?

 Visiting Unga Limited was one of the most difficult moments. Definitely eye opening. Basically everyone is Arusha is in need, but this is where the poorest people “live”… more like survive. It is like nothing I’ve experienced before. I want to put everything in quotations because their “houses” aren’t houses, rather a closet sized room of mud with no light where on average 8 people sleep. They live so differently, no water-dirty or clean- no place to go to the bathroom. One room had some solar power so all the kids were packed in the hut and neighboring children were peering in to watch from the outside slits in the house.

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7. What did you have to do to prepare beforehand?

Primarily, I applied for my Tanzanian visa, and then got malaria pills, a tetanus shot, and Typhoid- luckily I already had the hepatitis A and B vaccinations. I started collecting toilet paper that was halfway gone so it would fit in my bag easier. Deet spray is a must. Baby wipes are your best friend; showers are few and far between so wipes help with hygiene! I had to have buckets of water poured over my hair to wash it. I downloaded an app to learn some Swahili too!

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How you can help:

Yesaya posts pictures almost daily of the children, often with signs thanking donors and sponsors. Visit the Facebook page or make a donation

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Meet Kait, an all American girl who made the leap abroad to get her Masters Degree in London. After living in England for 4 years, she is currently residing in NYC. Kait recently founded Backpacks to Briefcases, a full service career consultancy for students and recent grads. Read about her journey abroad, and the best advice for making the move to a new country.

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1. What was the scariest part of moving abroad by yourself?

For me, it was the unknown! I originally moved to Surrey, England for an exchange program my final semester of college at the University of Central Florida. Studying abroad was the best experience I have ever had, and it opened my eyes to so many new things and opened up so many new opportunities that I never would have had otherwise.

The great thing about my study abroad program was that my school organized everything for me. When I moved abroad for my internship and later began working full time, I had to deal with everything myself; applying for visas, hiring immigration lawyers, enrolling in the National Health Service, registering with the police, etc. All complicated things you would never even think about! I also believe that it’s a common misconception that if a country speaks the same language as your native country, that the culture will be very similar to your home. We know this isn’t true even amongst different states in the US, imagine the difference of being on another continent!

I was very fortunate to always have my mom there for me during my college years, so I was able to feel very independent, but also have her on call to consult about bills, paying rent, car insurance, etc. When I moved abroad, the whole system was different, so I couldn’t rely on family to help, I had to teach myself.

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(Stonehenge)

2. What was the biggest challenge you faced living in England?

My personal biggest challenge was that my stay there always felt temporary, and I wasn’t sure how deep to let myself put down roots. It was an extremely tough decision to choose whether to stay permanently, or to leave. Although I was only supposed to be abroad for 4 months for my exchange program, I ended up staying 4.5 years! These years were filled with many ups and downs (academic, professional, legal, and personal).

It is a massive struggle to find *legal* work while abroad, because you must first obtain sponsorship from your company, and not many companies are not willing to do this, especially with entry-level positions. Sponsorship is generally reserved for hard to place, highly qualified positions in the medical, engineering, and academic fields. That being said, there are internship programs you can enroll in to make this process easier!

Choosing to uproot your life and move abroad is no easy task. Regardless of how long you plan on staying, the process is not for the fainthearted! A good way to gage if you would be well-suited to live abroad for work or school is how much you like traveling, especially abroad. If you like unfamiliar surroundings, learning as you go, and making new friends, it is definitely for you!

3. What did you miss most about home?

Chick-fil-a chicken minis, obvs! On a much more serious note, I missed the feeling of ‘being home.’ Everyone has a different definition of ‘home.’ For some, it is the house they were born in, for others, it’s their home state, still others consider it to be their college town. For me, it’s more of feeling than a physical place. That feeling of safety and acceptance, of familiarity; that’s what I missed most. While I was in the UK, I met so many amazing people, made so many new friends, fell in love, fell out of love, and had 5 different residences, but it never truly felt like home. Everything was just that much harder when abroad. I still think moving abroad was the best decision I ever made, but I can also say that I am so happy to be back in America, and am extra patriotic these days!

4. What was your favorite part of living abroad?

It’s so hard to pick just one…so I won’t! My top favorites were…

  • How easy it was to take short trips to other countries. Just as easy as I would travel from Orlando to Tampa for the weekend, I could fly to France, Italy, Greece, or Spain. For SO cheap!
  • How many different cultures and personalities I was exposed to through travel
  • Pushing myself out of my comfort zone
  • The awesome variety of food!

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(Barcelona, Spain)

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(Amalfi Coast, Italy)

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(Arctic Circle, Sweden)

5. Are British accents on guys as appealing as they seem?

To put it simply, YASSSSSSSSSS. Beware of the charm of the British chaps 😉

6. What tips would you give to people looking to make a big move?

Always remember that nothing in life if permanent. Try new things! Move to new places. The absolute worst possible thing that can happen is that you don’t like it and you go back home. As I always like to say “I’d always prefer an ‘oh well’ to a ‘what if”…

 

Backpack to Briefcases is here to help you find your dream job without breaking the bank. For more tips about studying abroad, working abroad, or tips on getting hired here in the good old U.S. of A., visit Backpack to Briefcases website, Facebook, or send them an email. Best of luck, and remember the world is your oyster!

 

When staying in a hostel, you gain a richer travel experience by meeting like-minded travelers from around the world. Additionally, when traveling on a budget, it’s your best option.  Americans can be a bit hesitant to explore the world of hostels since they aren’t popular (or even an option) in the USA. Have no fear, hostels are safe and a fun way to immerse yourself in a new city.

Be sure to read this essential list before booking your first hostel!

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Choosing a Hostel

Hostelworld.com is the best resource for finding hostels. When you type in your dates and location, it’ll take you to the list of hostels there. Each hostel has a number score, which is the overall ranking of: value for money, security, location, staff, atmosphere, cleanliness and facilities. Read the reviews for some tips and reviews from past travels.

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Rooms

In hostels there are two types of rooms – privates and dorm rooms. Privates are private rooms, which are  basic hotel rooms inside the hostel. Privates are a more expensive option, but offer more privacy. Dorm rooms are filled with bunk beds to house anywhere between 4-40 people. For the dorms, you rent the bed, so you share the room, and obviously privacy is limited. For dorm options, there is typically a co-ed and female only dorm. As a female solo traveler, I feel more comfortable in female only dorms. The higher the amount of bunks in the room, the cheaper the nightly cost will be. You’ll meet more likeminded travelers, but will be sacrificing some privacy.

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Who

A wide range of people stay in hostels. Some hostels have age limits (usually between age 18-34) and others don’t, I have seen families with young kids stay at hostels.

Price

A bed in a hostel will cost anywhere from $6 a night (South East Asia) to $30-40 a night (Western Europe).

Exploring the city

A majority of hostels have organized activities around the city, and if not you’ll meet people who also want to explore the city and see similar sites that you do. The people at the front desk usually have the best idea about what’s going on in the city, so ask them whatever questions you have. A hostel with a good location can make a big impact if it’s convenient to public transportation/grocery stores/sights etc.

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(Bikes for rent at Kinlay Hostel in Cork, Ireland)

 Bathrooms

Imagine communal college dorm room bathrooms, not glamorous by any means. Private rooms will have connected bathrooms (just for you, or shared with another room), while dorm room bathrooms are typically down the hall. This is a good time to have a large Ziplock bag or toiletries bag to bring all essential toiletries(toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, etc) with you when you wake up and go to bed.

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(Bathroom from a private room in Wulingyuan, China)

Hostels’ policies

Be sure to read these online before you go, because some hostels only accept cash, some have a curfew (although, I’ve personally never experienced this).  Some receptions are NOT open 24 hours, this is very important if you’re checking in late, and need to make sure beforehand you arrange on how you’ll get in.

Kitchens

A hostel with a nice kitchen is amazing; you can save so much money by cooking your own meals. Even getting meals to-go from the local grocery store is cheaper than a restaurant meal out.

Meals

Many hostels offer free breakfast, but don’t get too excited, it’s usually a slim collection – generic cereal, some breads and jams. I’ve been to some hostels that offer free dinner, or dinner for a small fee. It’s usually family style – so a great way to meet a group of people from all over the world. Also, some hostels have small cafes or sell/make food of some sort.

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(Hostel lunch in Zhangjiajie, China)

Hostel bar

For a hostel with a lively scene, find one with a bar. Drinks are affordable, and it usually leads to a big group going out to some other bars near by. But to forewarn you, hostels with bars can be a bit nosier.

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Internet

Free wifi is becoming a standard for all hostels; most have a few computers and printers as well. Tip: Print your boarding passes here for your next flight here.

Walking Tours

Many hostels offer free walking tours, which usually are 3-4 hours, and start in the morning. These are great for meeting people, and seeing the key sights. Be sure to ask the front desk of any activities the hostel offers. The guides work off tips, so throw them around $10.

Washing Machines

One amenity your hostels may offer is  washing machines where you can wash your clothes yourself, or they’ll have a service to get it done. Usually very inexpensive. If there are no washing machine (dryers aren’t popular in Europe) you can go to a local laundromat as a budget option.

Safety

Be sure to always note the address of where you’re staying. It’s best to take the business card of the hostel to always have the address of the hostel. To remember the location, look for a main monument or store in the area. All hostels will have a place by your bunk to lock up your stuff.

 Tips

Pick the bottom bunk, it’s much easier to get in and out of. As well as better for charging all of your electronic devices.

Pack rubber flip flops, you’ll need them for the showers (last thing you want while you travel is bacteria).

Don’t be shy, strike up a conversation and introduce yourself. Talk about your itinerary for the day and see what sites and activities everyone else is up to.

Map out exactly where you’re going before you arrive to the hostel. Hostels are often hidden, and not clearly marked.

Bring ear plugs and a eye mask with you. People can be in and out of the dorm room at night, so these make sleeping a little more soundly.

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(Leaving Hostel One Sevilla Centro in Seville, Spain)

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