Staying in a Hostel in Europe - the basics
As a traveler, you'll need to catch some shut eye eventually. For the everyday backpacker on a budget, I highly recommend staying in a hostel while backpacking Europe. What is a hostel you ask? It's a form of budget accommodation found across the world, even in the USA. Hostels differ from hotels and guest houses in that you often share a room (not a bed) with other people and few amenities are included. But for the low-maintenance traveler (as you must often be), hostels are FANTASTIC, especially in Europe where they have taken the quality of hostel accommodations to a new level of service and amenities.
A typical room consists of dormitory-style sleeping arrangements (think back to your university or summer camp days). Numbers can range anywhere between 2 - 12 beds per room, depending on how much you want to spend. Double rooms are available, but singles are rare - even if you opt for the former, you will be charged a two-person fee.
Be prepared to put your privacy on hold for a couple of days. Bathrooms are typically shared throughout the building, with separate toilet and shower facilities. Some hostels offer single-sex dorms, others are mixed. Make sure you book the right one, if this is an issue.
For those traveling solo, hostels are great place to meet people and socialize. Conversation is easy to make when you are sharing sleeping quarters with eight other excited travel fans.
Hostels are typically run by young people and the young at heart. Staff are courteous and knowledgeable, and if you're lucky, will even show you around the city!
It is possible to pop into a hostel last minute and book a bed, but I highly recommend booking in advance using Bakpak's hostel directory and booking directly with the hostel(s) of your choice.
If you require anything special, don't hesitate to contact the hostel to see if they have it. Internet, laundry rooms, lounges, movies, self-catering kitchens etc. are usually provided, but not always.
When booking a hostel:
Security is your first option: Look for places with "security lockers" and "luggage storage" and better yet, "key-card entry." These items will keep all of your belongings safe and sound. Note: bring a small padlock - not all security lockers are inclusive of locks. Some hostels will ask for a deposit on a lock, others will charge a small fee.
Location is key: Spend the night in hostels close to public transport and in safe parts of town. Find the location on a map-generating website, which will show you how close your pad is to local attractions. Most people are bad with directions, but knowing your hostel is close to the London Eye or the Eiffel Tower helps alleviate stress.
Most places include linens, but double check just to make sure. On the flip side, most hostels DO NOT include towels, so pack your own or rent one.
-If possible, find a place that has FREE breakfast. Likely, it won't be extravagent, but it's still a free meal. Hostel breakfasts are inclusive of toast, cereal, fruit, coffee and tea, in the very least. Eat your free fill and save your money for the delicacies of the local culture.
Most travelers only require a place to sleep, anyway - bite your pride, save the cash you'd be spending on a hotel room and spend it on something you really want. At the end of the day, you're going to be so tuckered out from sightseeing that you won't care where you sleep.