When I arrived at my hostel in Warsaw (Dream Hostel – best freaking hostel ever, seriously), I was informed that there was a pierogi making class that night in the hostel’s kitchen. I’ve never been one to partake in group events at hostels, but since it was cold and getting late, I decided WTH and signed up. Fifteen zloty later, I was signed up, and after a couple of hours walking around Castle Square and the Old Town, I headed back to the hostel, put on my yoga pants, and got ready to learn how to make pierogies.
It was actually stupid easy. The most work involved is probably the preparation of the fillings (which we didn’t do). We made potato-filled pierogi and meat-filled pierogi. We rolled out the dough, cut circles using a glass jar, further rolled out the circular dough, filled the centers, and then wrapped them up.
As per usual, appearance of food isn’t my concern or forte, so mine looked a little weird, but they all still tasted good. The most fun part of the evening were my pierogi-making comrades. In the group was a mother who was traveling with her young son and daughter from France, a guy probably around my age from Brazil, and a guy who was around the same age, I believe, from Germany. I thought it was so cool that the French mother was traveling with her children in hostels instead of, you know, Grand Hyatts.
The class was totally fun and worth it. We were all stuffed and happy by the end of it. I’m planning on making pierogi on my own very soon.
I thought I should run down what I learned while traveling abroad by myself this time. It’s worth writing it down here in case anyone else here is a solo traveler or considering a solo trip. Because they’re the best and you should totally take one.
Really look at your accommodations. I can remember that after my trip to Scandinavia, I decided to really vet the hostels I was staying in, or not stay in hostels at all. I decided this time to stay in private rooms in hostels because a private room in a nice hostel is way better than a single room in a cheap, shitty hotel (probably located near the airport). I spent weeks (and I mean weeks) looking on hotels.com and hostelworld.com at different accommodations. It paid off because I stayed in a great hostel and an amazing hostel in Krakow and Warsaw, respectively. Unfortunately, my painstaking vetting fell short when it came to Gdansk. The room was very nice but the build itself was located in an area that I wasn’t really keen on. Or maybe it was just the time of day I arrived? That leads to the next thing I learned….
Arrive during the day. Don’t arrive in a new (especially foreign) city after dark. Check the time for sunset and arrive an hour before. On my walk back from the Solidarity Monument in Gdansk, I ended up walking past the hostel that I’d abandoned 30 minutes after arriving and saw that the area actually wasn’t too far from the Old Town. It was actually quite close to the old town but in the dark, it just looked scary. To my credit, there was a lot of construction around the doorway, reception only until 8pm, and little light near the doorway, hello, rapist?
Don’t schedule to the minute. I’d started planning my days out last year in Scandinavia a month before I got there based on when my travel book said things were open. These travel, regardless of when they were published, will almost always be wrong. My Poland travel book this year said Schindler’s Factory was only open on Saturdays. This was not true. At all. Don’t plan your days before you arrive. You never know what will happen and then you’ll be frustrated. Just go with the flow.
Hello and Thank You. Learn a few phrases in the native language of the country you’re going to. Don’t be a typical fucking American who expects that everyone speaks English because We’re #1 (if you’re one of those who believes that). I tried teaching myself Polish using the Duolingo app, but I retained almost none of it. I did retain the words for cat, cookie, milk, and apple, though (you know, the important words to know). Upon arriving in Poland, I was alerted to the fact that Polish is the 2nd or 3rd hardest language to learn in the world, so I didn’t make myself feel too bad about it. But while I was there, I picked up the words for hello/good morning, thank you, you’re welcome, fine, yes, and no. Not much, but I was told they always appreciate it when the Stupid Americans ™ at least try.
These are, at least, the most important things I learned while abroad in a country that is very, very different from the United States. Everyone should definitely travel by themselves, at least once in their life. You learn so much about yourself and the world in the process. Any questions?
Photo is of a picturesque street in the Old Town in Gdansk, Poland.
You know what I perfected while I was abroad and sleeping hostels? Just exactly how to do that.
Now you may be a heavy sleeper and have no trouble falling asleep after you’ve been awake since 8am and have walked 11 miles that day sightseeing, but I’m not. I’m a light sleeper and it blows.
So, I had to adapt.
Sometimes you get roommates who snore. Sometimes you get roommates who check in really late at night (like the German guy who came into CBP at around 2am and I gave him my best sleepy “bitch please” face before rolling over and attempting to go back to sleep). And if you have a room with more than 2 people in it, people are usually coming in and out, so there’s light.
Whatever. You’re paying like $50/night for these rooms, so you have to suck it up. Here’s how I coped:
Eye mask: I wear an mask on a nightly basis anyway and I think I was about to not bring it abroad but I’m so, so glad I did. I needed that thing. People used nightshift eye masks like bandanas and stuff, but I was glad I basically had a blackout eye mask.
Melatonin gummies: These things are the best. Who doesn’t love gummy bears? Have 2 or 3 of these (or 4) and pass out.
Ear plugs: Yeah, get these. You might have roommates who snore.
Ear buds + iPod with white noise: After my ear buds proved to be pretty ineffective, I went straight for my earbuds with an on-repeat rain track playing. It was sort of annoying to keep having to maneuver the iPod when I turned over but if it was between that or listening to my roommates snore, I’d choose the former.
I think these things are pretty key when you’re sleeping in a room with strangers. Some wine might be pretty effective too, but I’d definitely recommend at least an eye mask to start with. Happy hosteling!
I’d been a fan girl of hosteling since I went to Amsterdam for the first time in 2007 with my friend Emily while we were studying abroad. We stayed at the Flying Pig hostel in the Red Light District and although Amsterdam is amazing on it’s own, the hostel added that much more to the experience. I was able to convince my cousin back in 2011 to stay in a hostel when we went to Seattle for the weekend too. Again, it was great.
So when I was aiming to do things as cheaply as possible in Scandinavia, I headed straight to the hostels section of my Scandinavia Lonely Planet book and started to look. I made two bad decisions two good decisions. Here’s what they were so can make them and avoid them:
Woodah Hostel and Yoga (Copenhagen): Located in the hip and trendy Vesterbro district, I thought the concept of this hostel sounded awesome. Yoga classes at a hostel?! But it turned out to just be one yoga class at 8am if at least 3 people signed up, which they never did, because it was at 8am, probably. The breakfast served everyone morning was fresh and delicious (fresh baked muffins, yogurt with granola and preserves, meats and cheeses). The downside to this hostel was that it was small. There were two toilets, three showers (though they did provide hair dryers, which was nice), and very limited security. You had to enter a code on the door to get into the sleeping quarters but that was pretty much it. And reception went home at 10pm so you needed to get a key if you were getting in after that. The beds were also really uncomfortable. I’d give this hostel 2 out of 5 stars.
Anker Hostel (Oslo): This was located about a five minute walk up a main-ish rode from the Centralstation. The walk was crowded for the most part. The rooms were pretty basic – though every room had it’s own bathroom, which was a big plus – though the showers were super odd, at least to me, but I got used to them. I was happy that reception was always there – probably because this hostel was way bigger – and the room doors actually closed and had locks – score! The breakfast wasn’t included, so I didn’t eat it and therefore can’t give my opinion on it. The people at reception were friendly and awesome. The only downside was that there were no lockers in the rooms. There were lockers in a locked room in the lobby but you had to pay extra for them. So I kept all of my valuables with me and always made sure to put the bag with my laundry on top of all my clean shit. I’d give this hotel 3 out of 5 stars.
City Backpackers Hostel (Stockholm): After coming from two let down hostels, this was a pretty big relief. It had an awesome lobby, lots of computers, security codes on the doors that changed daily, lots of common areas to congregate, a big kitchen, private showers and bathrooms (though not located inside the rooms), and they gave free pasta to whoever wanted it to cook in aforementioned kitchen (after walking 12+ miles for two days straight, I decided making pasta and not having to walk again sounded great). The rooms were small and basic, but they had lockers and security codes and beds so it was great. Breakfast was extra so I didn’t partake but coffee and tea was always free. I met lots of cool people here and I had a great time. 4.5 or 5 out of 5 stars.
Rivoli Hotel Jardin (Helsinki): During my first night at the Anker Hostel, I’d decided I’d had it with hostels, so I switched what seemed to be a superrrrr basic hostel in Helsinki to a hotel that I found a great price on through the Ireland Hotel.com. It was located a block from the Esplanade (basically a long green grassy area with super fancy shops and restaurants along it) and about 5 blocks from the Centralstation. The breakfast was included and it was great. They offered free tea and coffee and cookies all the time. I was so happy I booked this as my last stop. The soaps in the bathroom were lingonberry – I took many. 5 out of 5 stars.
I think I may have outgrown hostels unless I book a private room – but for that price, usually, you can get a hotel room, so it doesn’t make that much of a difference. So big thumbs up to City Backpackers Hostel in Stockholm. Leave the rest behind.
(Photos, clockwise: Woodah, City Backpackers, Rivoli Hotel Jardin, and CPB)