Decisions, Decisions: Booking Flights and Hostels

Overlooking Interlaken, Switzerland and our hostel in the tower building to the left. (Photo by Lauren Klamm)
Overlooking Interlaken, Switzerland and Funny Farm Backpackers Hostel to the left . (Photo by Lauren Klamm)

Choosing flights and finding hostels can be a virtual nightmare. As a student it can be especially difficult to find a good deal that is not too good to be true.  There are countless travel sites and endless places to find the perfect accommodations for you, but how do you make your way through all the clutter?

For my trip to Europe I chose to book my flights before my accommodations. This is because often time I could not get a flight to the exact destination I wanted to visit, or because there would be a 20 hour layover between flights forcing me to find a bed to crash in.

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When searching for flights I prefer to use Kayak.com because it is the simplest airfare search engine. It offers minimal graphics, no vacation ads and it searches just about every other site out there. My favorite feature about Kayak is that it includes taxes and fees in its pricing. So many airlines have hidden fees now a day- don’t let them sneak up on you. You can also select a window for your departure and arrival times, and where you hope to avoid layovers. For example, the Chicago O’Hare airport is extremely crowded and chaotic so I chose to avoid it. No offense, Chicago.

After you book all of your flights, you should also think about other modes of transportation including the bus and train. Although I did not buy bus or train tickets in advance, it is useful to know how long a train ride is and how expensive they can be (you do not want to leave train tickets out of your budget!). To calculate extra travel times and expenses I used RometoRio.com. This site is wonderful! Simply enter your beginning location and your final destination then RometoRio will provide you with travel options, times, pricing, and any closures for upcoming holidays etc.

Travel plans set in stone? Great, now it’s time to assess your accommodations. I used HostelWorld.com and Hostels.com. Both sites include ratings provided by previous guests including atmosphere, security, location, facility, staff, cleanliness and value. They also list the different types of rooms and pricing available. While the sites are very similar, I preferred Hostels.com because of the simple layout and (in my experience) more detailed rating descriptions.

Don’t be surprised if the photos provided of your hostel are 20 years old, or from a completely different hostel. Be sure to read recent evaluations of where you hope to stay, but keep in mind a lot of people who comment online like to rant! Searching Google maps for the exact location of your hostel is another helpful way of choosing where you want to stay, and where you want to avoid.

HELPFUL HINT: Choosing to stay at a Bed and Breakfast with a friend does not mean you are required to have a romantic honeymoon experience. Sometimes getting away from a dorm style hostel room can be a nice opportunity to relax, and be on your own sleep schedule!