TOP 10 THINGS I LEARNED FROM LIVING IN HOSTELS FOR 6 MONTHS

I tend to forget that I lived in hostels for 6 months. I’m kind of a creature of habit (in case you hadn’t realised). I do like a good routine. The barista where I go to get coffee every morning knows my name, as does the candy shop owner where I mass buy watermelon flavoured bubble-gum on the regular. I’m pretty easy to track down in daily life – which is pretty surprising in contrast to the year I spent living out of a backpack. Nonetheless, I still remember the tips and tricks I learned from hostel-hopping across the world.

  • Do your research. I wasn’t really intending to backpacking, or definitely not for quite so long when I started off. The first proper hostel I did stay in was the Arts Factory in Byron Bay. Have you seen The Inbetweeners movie? You know when they arrive at their hostel in Australia and their faces just drop? That’s the one. I probably would have loved it a lot more had I now returned to stay, but it was just a little overwhelming at the start. I chose it off Hostelworld because the pictures looked quirky. Quirky to say the least. A cockroach fell on me whilst in bed. A man with a cockatoo (big white bird) toured around the communal kitchens and played the didgeridoo. I woke up to someone passed out in the toilets. I’m not saying it wouldn’t have been fun, but a bit of background research (or rewatching The Inbetweeners) would have meant I probably wouldn’t have chosen such an intense hostel for my first stay.
  • Choose mixed dorms. They are so much more fun! Admittedly this worked well until I was semi harassed/assaulted twice whilst trying to sleep in Cairns (and reluctantly stayed in all girls for a few weeks thereafter) but mixed dorms generally have a much more upbeat and enthusiastic vibe. Everyone tends to be more keen to mingle and go out and explore (not saying all-girls are boring…).
  • Get people to add you on Facebook. Maybe you’re not as bad at names as me. Faces I can recognise, but names go completely over my head no matter how many times they’re repeated. I spent a whole week in Ho Chi Minh with this guy whose name I don’t just not know now, but really didn’t know at the time either, and became too painstakingly awkward to ask for it (this proved awkward upon multiple occasions of the week). If you meet any cool travellers, you can hunt them down to explore via social media whilst also having a sure-fire method of not forgetting their names.
  • Expensive isn’t always better. Especially if you want a good atmosphere. Some of the best hostels I stayed in were in Vietnam for between $1-$5 a night. 
  • Check the amenities. I’m not trying to sound prissy, but aircon became my best friend. I spent a week in Sydney in a hostel without aircon whilst it was 40c and the hottest week of the year, and never again. Sleeping wasn’t really sleeping, but rather profusely sweating away in my bunk all night, and having mild arguments with the girl below over which way the fan was to be turned. I also ended up sleeping outside on a mattress (with a bug net), surrounded by stray cats on Gili Air by accident after not researching properly, so I can’t stress this enough. 
  • Bed bugs! I’m now a self-declared bedbug expert after having two infestations in 6 months. I know it’s kind of irritating – when you first get into your room, you want to throw down your bags, whip out a change of clothes and head out to explore with whoever you’ve found – but a quick once over glance at the sheets prevents a horrible aftermath. Bedbugs leave small squished blood trails on the mattress. I was asked twice in Seminyak what skin condition I had after being bitten all over, and had to pay £30 (a LOT in Vietnamese money) to have my backpack and all my clothes steam pressed.
  • Facebook groups. If you haven’t met anyone to explore with in your hostel, or have particular areas you want to go with further afield, every traveller’s city tends to have a backpacker’s Facebook group. My favourite was the one in Bondi. I traded in my suitcase for a backpack. People used to post what they were about two escaped pets, two very vibrant and rainbow coloured parrots who were incredibly tame – weekly posts on the Facebook group showed that the parrots actually belonged to a known someone, and whilst they might trespass on your balcony for a bit, they always returned home (this made spotting the two parrots all the more exciting).
not one of Bondi’s infamous free parrots, but a parrot nonetheless
  • Don’t sit down in the shower. Admittedly, this one is pretty common sense, but I like a good sit down to think things over, and consequently came home with ring-worm all down the backs of my legs. (Ring-worm isn’t a living creature, as ominous as it sounds. Think more of an exotic eczema).
  • Hostels almost always have a lost and found. Benefical for when you want to save money, and nothing quite as exciting as a half-used tub of aloe vera.
outdoor mattress in bali
  • Occasional breaks from hostels are okay. After sharing a dorm with 40 people for a while, I stayed in a cheap villa by myself in Bali for a week. I was heinously excited, and it was great for a night (a double bed becomes such a luxury), but surprisingly enough, I ended up kind of lonely and missed the cacophony of 40 snorers. Nonetheless, a break here and there is still good if you need some private space.

In the end, travelling is less down to where you’re staying, and more the people you meet. Hopefully, with these few tips and tricks from what I personally learned and the mistakes I made, you can hopefully quickly learn to love life out of a backpack!

BULRUSH – BRISTOL

Bristol seemed like a big-time thing, when I lived in Exeter. It boasted of whole extensive shopping centre – even with with a Hollister! You have to understand that this is the ultimate dream, as an Abercrombie/Jack Wills drenched youth. Admittedly I was a little older when we did end up moving, and the whole Hollister novelty had slightly worn off (considering the sexual assault claims, I guess those topless models weren’t so good after all). Nonetheless, Bristol seemed a whole deal more exciting than Exeter (until I moved to London 6 months later, where there is an abundance of Hollister/Abercrombie stories, albeit very tired and you-wouldn’t-be-caught-dead). Particularly for food – voted the vegan capital of the world last year!

Not to be side-tracked by my questionable fashion choices as a teenager (a Jack Wills onesie still lurks at the bottom of my wardrobe), I’m more here to talk about the food options. No, still not a vegan, but when pressed to decide on tasting menus at Bulrush, in Bristol, I opted for the vegan one. It’s rare that a Michelin starred restaurant offers a complete vegan alternative – and by that I mean actual, thought out dishes, as opposed to the meat option minus the meat. I’m not massive on nouveau cuisine. Sort of in the same sphere as my attitude to alcohol, I was always told that my tastebuds would mature, and that I’d start to appreciate wines and spirits (which still really hasn’t happened but doesn’t stop me shotting them straight), I was told that I would come to appreciate a fine foie gras, or gazpacho (the devil of cold soups), or pate. None of this has unfortunately taken place, and whilst vegetarian, I’m still happier with a bowl of pasta than tiny dishes of mousses and extractions and foam (imagine this all said in the deep and soulful Masterchef voice over).

white asparagus and fried nori and whatever the meat eater was having…

Still, not one to turn down a treat, I was more than happy to try all of Bulrush’s 9 courses as part of their vegan taster. As mentioned before, the menu is tailored accordingly to vegans, and not just the steak without the steak. Situated in Cotham, Bulrush prides itself on organically sourced ingredients, and high-end, well thought out and beautifully executed dishes. I remembered to snap a picture of the menu, because my memory isn’t that good. As you can see, the dreaded gazpacho was indeed present (although cleverly disguised under the name tomato consommé) but it actually wasn’t half bad. My favourite course was admittedly the bread, served with vegan cream cheese which lo and behold actually tasted like cream cheese. The only let down was personally the ‘scarlet elf cap in fermented cep broth’, but as those close to me know, I really do hate mushrooms so mushrooms floating in mushroom water was a bit overwhelming, and my distaste lies with my own mushroom-related fears rather than the dish itself. 

After 1 ‘snack’, 6 savoury courses, 2 desserts and a truffle, you are pretty full – don’t be deceived by the small portion sizes. With the wine pairing, offering 5 glasses in between courses and of course dessert wines to match, you might even lose sight of what exactly you’re eating. Not to fear, for Bulrush exceeds not only in food but also service. Aside from the menu, each dish is clearly explained upon presentation, as is the wine. All waitstaff were incredibly attentive, and you’re given the choice to eat at your decided pace, either eating and relaxing at a languid pace between courses, or having the food as quick at it comes (permanently hungry, I opted for B). The atmosphere remained relaxed, and a polite eye was turned to my mother lecturing me about my career prospects (getting paid to blog remains an unlikely dream…)


21 Cotham Road South

Bristol

BS65TZ

Lunch: Thursday – Saturday 12.30pm – 2.30pm

Dinner: Tuesday – Saturday 6.30pm – 8.30pm

Closed Sundays & Mondays.




BOSE SLEEPBUDS REVIEW

I’m going to have to backtrack a little. I got a fair few replies to a picture of Bose’s new Sleepbuds asking my opinion, but I shot them down immensely. However, after sleeping with them in for a good two weeks now I’m converted.

(At least I thinkI’m converted; I did wake up the other night, sleepwalking, and turning them off in the process. I tend only to sleepwalk when really stressed, so either deadlines are really getting to me, or my subconscious doesn’t like the sleepbuds quite as much as I think).

I have pretty bad chronic insomnia. That’s not to say that I never sleep; when managed correctly, it doesn’t get in the way of everyday life. That being said, taking one hour to fall asleep is a treat. Two hours is often average, and in cases of extreme underlying stress I don’t sleep at all. I often get asked what I do in the bleak 8hr period that I’m lying awake in bed, and honestly my thoughts can keep me very busy! I’ve been taught the sleep deprivation methods of getting out of bed after 20mins, if you haven’t fallen asleep, and gradually retraining yourself to see fall asleep within a shorter period, but in all honesty, I’m often too lazy to leap out of bed every 20mins.

I’ve been wearing earplugs to sleep since I started backpacking, as sharing a dorm with 40 strangers is enough of an experience without being woken up by a cacophony of snoring, late night snackers, and those brazen enough to dabble in other late night activities even in a room full of other nomads. Earplugs were all good and well until I went semi-deaf after Shambala, and lost 90% of my hearing in one ear for a month. I was lucky enough not to damage my ear drum permanently, but the combination of the vacuum created by earplugs, and napping in a cold, damp tent did end me up in hospital. I’m now – understandably – a little wary of over-the-counter earplugs.

at shambala, looking a little too blissfully happy considering I spent the next 12 hrs crying in a+e

I was really excited to discover the Bose Sleepbuds – there aren’t many similar products on the market. It is easy to see why. Priced at £229.95, they’re not exactly cheap. The design is pretty flawless, with a 16hr battery life, and sleek, portable charging case. They also fit comfortably in the ear, cause no pain or irritation, and never fall out overnight. They don’t however play music (nor should they perhaps, for then they wouldn’t be sleepbuds), but at the price, it would almost be better to buy a high-end but otherwise normal pair of earbuds and play static noise all night.

Noise cancellation isn’t what you’re paying for here. Instead, you get a choice of 10 different calming, ambience tracks. I personally find the crackling campfire, and moving tides too distracting to sleep, but the ‘warm static’ and ‘altitude’ settings mimic the quiet hum you hear on planes. This then blocks out most surrounding noise (I live in the middle of London and have sirens going past every hour), and the comforting sounds of my flatmates falling into the flat, slightly drunk and armed with take out, at all hours of the night.

All in all, I have no faults with the design; the earbuds are sleek and efficient. They are incredibly expensive, considering they play only the 10 select tracks, but this is after all their intention.

Not just useful for sleeping, I’m also wholly excited to be able to wear them to the library and remain blissfully unaware of quite how much racket I manage to make by eating popcorn in the study spaces.