Saturday, September 20, 2008

Brother, can you spare a dollar?

BusinessWeek recently featured an article about discount bus operators, BoltBus, DC2NY, Vamoose, and Megabus.

The new competition in the inter-city bus travel industry is pushing prices as low as $1 for a trip to NYC. While I suspect you need sniping software to get this cheap fare, many seats are available much cheaper than you can find on Greyhound. I found some for $6 in November on MegaBus [NYC <-> BOS]. The buses even offer such amenities as power plugs and Wi-Fi for techno-travelers.

While NYC may not be at the top of your list of desired destinations, it can be a great launching point for cheap flights around the world. I have personally flown out of NYC after arriving on the bus from Boston and DC, and I saved hundreds of dollars on European flights. These bus companies are expanding, so hopefully they will start offering similar fares to international hubs like Houston, Miami, and Los Angeles.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Travel Tips: Souvenirs

Souvenirs are a great way to memorialize a location, event, or experience on your trip. I love to purchase posters of maps of the cities I visit, and also local liquers that I can drink at home while reminiscing about my travels. However hauling them around in my luggage can be ... well, simply a drag. On my last trip to Europe I decided I didn't want to carry my purchases around for 3 weeks, so I mailed them home when I came across a post office. This plan was a godsend, and left me free to roam new cities with out needing to immediately drop my stuff at the hostel or at the train station, which I would later have to return to to collect my things.

HostelBookers Hostel Videos

HostelBookers has uploaded an impressive set of hostel videos to the TripAdvisor site, including a number of hostels I have visited: Camping Village Alba d'Oro (Venice), Four Courts Hostel (Dublin), The Bulldog (Amsterdam).

Check them out here.

Hostel News: 747 Converted into Jumbo Hostel [Stockholm, Sweden]

Jumbo Hostel

The Stockholm-Arlanda Airport will soon have a new lodging option for weary travelers, but this isn't any ordinary over-priced airport hotel. The Jumbo Hostel is an 85 bed hostel contained inside a converted 747 jumbo jet, if you can believe it. With 3 bunk beds per room the jet has a total of 25 rooms inside. I've spent my fair share of nights "sleeping" in an airport lobby, and I can say this is a great option if you are flying out of Stockholm. In case you haven't tried sleeping overnight in an airport before an early morning flight, it usually involves being awaken repeatedly by security guards to verify your departing flight.

The hostel contains a cafe, and the website suggests visitors can also heat up any food they bring on. That's some real "old-world" charm circa 1976.

The one caveat I was reminded of when reading about the "de luxe" suites in the airplane cockpit is the fact that airports are just about the noisiest place in any city. Although you might have a comfortable bed, you will probably need to sleep with the super-protective headphones worn by the airplane ground crews if the hostel is anywhere near a runway.

The hostel is not open, yet, but check their website if you are heading to Sweden in the future.

Found on Tree Hugger

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Boston Hostel in The Boston Globe

There was a great article Sept. 12 in The Boston Globe about the Boston HI Hostel. Last year, 32,800 hostellers came through Boston, a 60% increase over 1995 numbers, and the hostel is expanding the number of beds from 205 to 375, an 80% increase. A visitor was even quoted as describing the hostel as "quiet, [...] clean, [and] reliable". The article also mentions one of the biggest driving forces of hostelling in the US is foreign travelers taking advantage of the weak dollar.

With the media promoting "stay-cations", hostels are a great alternative that I don't think many Americans know about, yet. This article filled with useful facts and a glowing endorsement of hostelling is great publicity for local hostels.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Website Review: is the first place I go to book hostels online. The site has a large selection of available hostels with an easy to navigate result listing that includes availability, price, and a feedback score. I have booked hostels in the US and Europe on this site, and I have always found the hostel had my booking when I arrived. While not totally comprehensive, many smaller hostels are available for reservation. One of the nicest things about HostelWorld is the lack of bogus listings for hotels that clutter up the hostel results like on other sites. If I wanted to book a cheap hotel there are plenty of other sites that can provide that service.

If I find that a hostel on this site doesn't show available beds, I have in the past called the hostel directly and booked over the phone. Additionally, I have booked beds directly through a hostel's website or over email when a hostel is not available on HostelWorld. So, there are a number of options available for making reservations besides this site. While many people have in the past (including myself) just shown up at a hostel without a reservation, I wouldn't suggest it since I have been at many hostels where people are turned away. (usually at some ridiculous hour in the morning) The peace-of-mind of a reservation can be nice especially at the beginning of a trip to Europe when you are tired from the jetlag and just want to get some sleep.

One of the most annoying problems with hostel reservations is the inability to cancel at the last minute. Like any other frequent traveler, I have been burned by the canceled reservation charge. Usually amounting to one nights stay, this can be an annoying charge, but the opposite scenario of having to stay at a hotel when no beds are available can be even more expensive. The one time I did have to cancel a reservation the reception guy offered me a free beer as a consolation, which was a kind gesture even though I was out $25. On the other hand, when I arrived in Milan with out a reservation, I ended up having to take a night train to Rome packed on fold out seats with 4 other people. I wouldn't recommend it to my worst enemy.

Note that hostelworld usually charges a 10% deposit fee, so it is good to bring a copy of your receipt to the hostel so you are not charged the 10% again when you check in. I am sure I have been burned by this before, but couldn't prove it because I didn't have the booking receipt with me. Some hostels will charge a few extra dollars if you are not a member of HI/AYH, which is not usually represented in the HostelWorld bill. I have tried over the years to get a membership by collecting the membership stickers often available at European hostels, but usually end up going to several hostels that have run out or are unaffiliated before the stickers expire.

Note also that hostelworld charges a booking fee of $2 unless you are a gold member, which costs $10 for a year-long membership. I received a gold membership a few years ago, and have been booking hostels ever since. now contains many more features including social networking, frequent travel points, etc., but I haven't used many of these. However, I did notice they have a blogger named Colm who travels around the world and writes about his experiences. That's a sweet gig.

Hostel Review: The Circus Hostel [Berlin, Germany]

I arrived at The Circus Hostel late in the evening after missing my earlier flight from Madrid. I like to arrive at a hostel during the day due to some having lock-out periods and it just makes it easier to find. I wouldn't suggest wandering around a new city at night. Check-in was easy, and I grabbed some food from the chatty vendor across the street. He asked me about the Red Sox, but I had to admit I didn't pay attention to that. I bought an awesome gyro for a few euros, and ate it in the downstairs bar of the hostel. Much to my surprise the bar was dedicated to David Hasselhof. I remember it having some sort of shrine, and they were playing old episodes of Night Rider on a projector. The hostel offered a free drink at the bar (awesome!), and I headed to bed shortly after.

The hostel was very modern and clean with large rooms. There is a small lounge in the entrance with an attached cafe that offers a breakfast for a few Euros. The hostel advertised cheap (bus?) rides between cities that seemed like a great deal. I met an interesting girl at breakfast who mentioned how difficult it is to navigate in China due to the signs and maps not being in a language with recognizable characters. It sounded like quite a challenge. Another girl had a Sony UMPC that looked really handy for going online while traveling. I have since bought a Nokia N800 and iPhone, both of which have been useful companions on my travels. I can't imagine lugging around a full-size notebook.

I only had about a day before I needed to catch a train back to Cologne, so all I remember doing was having some tasty hot dogs and beers before I went to see the piece of the Berlin wall that was still intact.

I didn't take any pictures of the hostel, but this video has a great review. (albeit in german)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Website Review: Hostel Management

Hostel Management has an interesting look at the business of running a hostel. I was intrigued to read about people who had started hostels. Check out this interview with a hostel owner in Silverton, CO who turned a poorly managed hostel into a thriving business. I have only ever stayed at one hostel where I recognize the problems this guy was having. The Key West hostel had many drifters, and a guy was arrested in my dorm for drug posession one night. (I slept through it due to my ear plugs :) Keep posted for my hostel review of this dive.

They also include a great News section about new hostels, contests, and related travel news. This article suggests there is going to be a new hostel opening on the cape!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Video: AT&T Commercial, The Techno Twins: Vlad and Dieter

I always crack up when I see this commercial about being stuck in a crummy hostel.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Royal Navy Toasts

Monday: Our ships at sea
Tuesday: Our men
Wednesday: Ourselves (as no one is likely to concern themselves with our welfare)
Thursday: A bloody war and quick promotion
Friday: A willing soul and sea room
Saturday: Sweathearts and wives may they never meet
Sunday: Absent friends and those at sea

The iphone camera isn't great for close focus pictures.

British VI Rum

I picked up this cool flask of rum on the British VI. Interestingly, it is ceramic and has a cork under that metal cap.

Paradise for Pennies [St. John, USVI]

St. John is one of the most beautiful islands I have traveled to with lush vegetation, bright white beaches, and crystal clear water. Most of the island is a national park kept pristine from commercial development. The island is a quick boat ride from St. Thomas, and it offers affordable camping at Cinnamon Bay. When I visited, I wasn't able to stay overnight on the island, but I will never forget the remarkable difference from St. Thomas. While St. Thomas is where most tourists visit as a stop on a cruise ship, St. John is the real crown jewel of the US Virgin Islands. I hope to camp on the island in the not too distant future, which can run from $30/night for a bare camping site to $100/night for a cabin.

The above picture of the harbor was taken from the trail to a deserted beach. I remember it being incredibly hot, and we were anxious to cool off in the water.

After writing this post, I was reminded of the popularity of eco-tourism, and I wonder if the US National Parks are taking advantage of this trend. The park system offers some of the most affordable and easy access to our nation's natural splendor.

Website Review: Hostel Bloggers

Hostel Bloggers is a blog site (affiliated with I came across while searching for other bloggers discussing cheap travel. I was keen to read their review of Leiden, a city in the Netherlands I visited last year. The review accurately reflects the city, but it didn't persuade me to see or not see the city.

The site reviews many cities, events, travel deals, and of course hostels, but it doesn't seem to have any real character. All of the posts are unattributed, thus suggesting it is an edited mix of marketing materials and travel guides. I hope my blog can represent something about myself that is unique from this site.

I plan to bring more interesting and elaborate stories from my travels to this blog over the coming months.