Category Archives: Travel Planning

Work Exchange: Workaway, HelpX or Hippohelp?

Workaway HelpX

Want to travel but can’t afford to? Work exchange programs like Workaway and HelpX and Hippohelp may be the solution. If you want to do volunteer work abroad for free travel and accommodation, have time to offer and basic skills to swap then you, like us (Gemma and Craig), could experience travel through a local’s eyes while on a budget.

Here are the benefits, the downsides, and the process of work abroad programs such as Workaway, HelpX, Hippohelp and Volunteers Base for those who have considered work and travel.


What is Workaway, HelpX and Hippohelp?

Programmes such as WorkawayHelpX, Hippohelp allow travellers to live with and work for hosts all over the world.

Generally, the volunteer does not pay the host, financially, for the opportunity and the host does not pay the traveller a wage (salary) for the use of their time, skills, and experience. 

Workaway, HelpX and Hippohelp differ from housesitting as there is an element of work involved.

Are you at the planning stages of your trip? Don’t miss out our guide to how much long-term travel actually costs and also what to expect to pay for one month of travelling in Europe.

Workaway and HelpX | Jobs HungaryLearning new skills in a Hungarian village near Eger

Who Are Workaway Hosts?

My personal experience is with the website Workaway. Workaway hosts come in all shapes and sizes! Some are hostel/hotel owners, others are organic farmers. Families often need some help with childcare, sometimes stables need people to muck them out!

We have lived in a beach hotel in Nicaragua, with a (mostly) self-sustainable household in the Hungarian countryside, I’ve volunteered my services as an English native, and we’ve been dog walkers in Granada, Spain.

I do like the fact some of the Workaway hosts that we met also travel and work abroad for free then go home and invite the likes of us into their homes and businesses. 

Workaway does not hold the monopoly on travel exchanges, there are alternatives! HelpX has been mentioned often on the road, whereas I’ve not met anyone in person who has used Hippohelp or Volunteers Base.

Types of Jobs for Work Exchange  

The type of work you do will depend on the host and the time of year. Hostel and hotel owners may expect you to clean, cook, and interact with guests. We’ve planted potatoes, flowers, and painted fences (all of which was new to me!)

Craig has made furniture out of crates and fixed water systems (he’s a gas engineer to trade).

I’ve dabbled in social media promotion and website help. Sensible hosts will tap into your skills base and utilise them!

I have seen call outs for the likes of social media strategists on a near full-time basis – don’t do it! Personally, I think this host was abusing the point of Workaway style programmes, it’s supposed to be a voluntary position, not stealing a paid job from someone with solid industry experience!

 » Sign up for Workaway here
→ Receive three free months on top of your annual subscription

Workaway, Help X and Volunteers Base | Jobs HungaryPainting wood for the common good!

Workaway Experiences

Nicaragua

Hotel help in paradise aka Las Peñitas. I served customers, helped in the café, took photos, wrote for the website. Craig made furniture, fixed water issues, made a bathroom roof.

Workaway and HelpX | Jobs NicaraguaLife’s a beach volunteering abroad – Craig made that chair out of crates!

Hungary

After a week partying in Budapest (eating Lángos and drinking pálinka) we moved to the countryside to help a family turn their outhouse into a guest room as well as doing a spot of light farming while eating a ridiculous amount of home-cooked food!

Before the above Workaway placement I left Craig in Budapest and attended an English language programme where I spent about 12 hours a day over five days with Hungarian natives who wanted to improve their language skills. A fun experience with a very impressive and motivated group of adults! Some of the volunteers found this programme through HelpX.

  • Duration: 5 days
  • Reward: private hotel room (some people shared), 3 very big meals, use of the hotel facilities (gym), tour of Budapest before the programme kicks off

Workaway, Help X and Volunteers Base | Jobs HungarySometimes hosts feed you, a lot! Hungarian sour cherry soup – yums

Spain

The second last country on our 17-month long-term travel itinerary was Spain. During the 1.5 months in Spain, we moved in with a single parent who had four dogs!

Our main role was to walk our furry friends three times per day and make dinner. The family child was around at the weekends and I walked him to the bus stop for school sporadically but that was the extent of childcare.

This family were not very transparent in their profile, they sold themselves as a three-person family who required childcare help as the mum was sick, we were a bit miffed at not being notified of the changes before we arrived at the house.

  • Duration: 3.5 weeks
  • Reward: private room, swimming pool, 15-minute bus ride from Granada
  • Have a gander at our tips for Granada, Spain

Granda Dog Sitting I Workaway and HelpX | JobsDog – sitting in Spain, HelpX Workaway = travel for longer 

Essential Information

Hours of Work

Hours of work can vary from 2.5 to 5 hours per day / 5 days per week, anything more than that wouldn’t be worth it (unless short-term and unique to you) in my experience.

The expected hours should be stated in the advert, reconfirm on arrival! Obviously, the nature of the business might require flexibility but remember – you are a volunteer, not a paid member of staff!

The Hungarian/English language programme did take place from 8:30 to 21:30+ with 1.5 hours of free time in the afternoon but it was only for five days and the point of the programme was immersion for the participants!

Does Workaway and HelpX and Hippohelp Pay?

Workaway style programmes do not offer paid work abroad. Hosts don’t tend to pay in cash, a bed and sometimes meals are exchanged for your help.

We’ve had everything from no meals, to three meals and plus snacks (so much food)! However, if you do want to earn some cash, here are some ways to earn money and travel.

How Long Are Exchanges?

Length of stay depends on the needs of the host and the availability of the volunteer.

Our longest was five weeks and the shortest five days. We initially agreed on two weeks in Nicaragua but extended this to five. Hosts tend to be ex-backpackers too so they know how backpacking life works, tranquilo!

If you are only in a city for a short period of time it might be worth checking out Couchsurfing, where you stay with a host for a set time, for free, with no work expected.

Accommodation

There is no standard for Workaway, HelpX, Hippohelp or Volunteers Base exchange accommodation. We’ve slept in a private garden house with bathroom and kitchen, a private room with shared bathroom (and pool!) and a four-bed dorm. The latter was not really great for us as a couple but would suit others.

There are many hostels which offer a bed in their staff dorm, it all depends on their set up. Sleeping arrangements should be stated in the advert.

If you are staying in a hostel dorm bed our top tip for privacy is to take a bottom bunk and pack a large scarf or flag and tuck it into the bed frame creating a curtain. You’re going to have to live like this for a while so privacy will be required for your own sanity.

How Workaway Works

Click this link to sign up. 

Pay 36 euro per person or 48 euro per couple for an annual subscription. You’ll get three free months added on too as you signed up through me! 

Next, create a profile, add some photos / a video, tick the boxes of the work you would like to do and the countries you are interested in. Be honest!

If you don’t want to get muddy, don’t tick gardening!

A helpful host for both Workaway and HelpX advised us in the comments below that she chooses volunteers based on the detail of their profiles and level of excitement in their pitches.

She also wants to see that you are willing to put the effort in and are not just looking for a free ride! Thanks for the tips, Anke.

Are you a host that wants to help volunteers get the best chances of being chosen? Tell us your tips in the comments below.

Workaway Profile | Workaway, Help X and Volunteers Base

Workaway Profile | Workaway, Help X and Volunteers Base

Workaway Profile | Workaway, Help X and Volunteers Base

Workaway Profile

Searching for Workaway Hosts

There is a search function on the website. Select the continent and country you are interested in.

This will pull up hosts in that area. Check the calendar for availability (green means the host is looking) and read the advert. Double-check the type of work, sleeping arrangements, hours of work, and perks!

There may also be reviews at the bottom. If that programme seems suitable, use the email system to contact the host. Personalise the email, our Hungarian host says he gets lots of generic emails where the prospective volunteer hasn’t even bothered reading the profile!

Our Nicaraguan (actually Argentinian) friend told us that he was inundated with emails, so you need to stand out! Use the host’s name, tell them why you are suitable for the position, and give your availability. We also stick our availability in the email header.

Workaway Reviews - Workaway Countries | Workaway, Help X and Volunteers Base

Workaway reviews – for hosts and volunteers 

Another handy function is the ‘wish list’ button which allows you to store adverts you like the look of for later. However, the early bird catches the worm and all that! Fed up of seeing the same adverts?

Select the last minute, new listing or updated listing buttons. This will filter out the older profile.

Workaway Countries | Workaway, Help X and Volunteers Base

Select continents, countries, keywords or go anywhere!

Become a Workaway Host

Unlike Wwoofing, it is free to sign up as a host on Workaway, HelpX, Hippohelp and Volunteers Base.

Complete the form online, let the company vet your information (Workaway creates a headline for your advert) then wait on the awesome volunteers to contact you!

Remember to update your calendar regarding your availability *pet hate* Adding images will also increase your likeliness of gaining attention. Our host in Hungary, Robert, is also an avid Workaway volunteer!


How HelpX Works

HelpX offers two levels of membership – free and premium.

Under free, you can create a profile and hosts can contact you.

To use the search facilities and wish list similar to Workaway, the price is €20. This will also give you access to previous reviews.


How Hippohelp Works

The new kid on the block, Hippohelp is a free service so this differs from Workaway and HelpX which there is a fee for as mentioned above.

Volunteers can sign up using their Facebook account or if you do not have a Facebook account, sign up on the site.

The first page is a world map which asks about your status – volunteer or host (we’d love to hear from you if you are a volunteer turned host in any of these programmes, I think this turnaround is very in-keeping with the ethos of volunteering and travelling!)

Like the above websites, there is a profile to complete which is always recommended to maximise your chances of being successful. It does not have to be completed initially if you just want to browse options.

Hippohelp

Searching for Hippohelp Hosts

The map indicates where there are volunteer programmes available, most of the hosts have profiles once you click on the marker and scroll down.

You can also read/write reviews, send messages to find out more information and you can save your favourite ’markers’. Hippohelp is a little bit different in the sense that you can use it as a travel buddy service too. You can use the markers to find fellow travellers, not just hosts. You can also switch between being a volunteer and being a host.


Workaway vs HelpX vs Hippohelp 

Workaway vs HelpX, HelpX vs Workaway, how do you choose?

Workaway definitely has a more polished website but is slightly more expensive.

Workaway allows you to upload a video to your profile as well as images. It also runs social activities like photo competitions.

It’s not apparent from the website how many jobs HelpX has on the site, Workaway states ‘1000s of jobs in 135 countries’.

Sonja from Migrating Miss used HelpX to find an exchange in a traditional house in Spain. Here’s her experience. 

The only way in was via Land Rover which drove over a dry riverbed! The hosts invited multiple volunteers to help clean around the house, cook, plant, etc which suited Sonja as she was a solo traveller.

Another bonus of volunteering abroad – meeting new friends!

The reason she chose HelpX over Workaway was simply down to word of mouth, a friend had completed an exchange with HelpX and recommended it.

Sonja also liked how HelpX set out adverts on a map, she said there was plenty of variation in work and that hosts were ‘so-so’ at replying (like Workaway then).

Check out her experience of the work exchange in the Spanish countryside!

Volunteers Base – Workaway Alternative

Volunteers Base sells itself as a free alternative to Workaway, HelpX, and Wwoofing. No one pays, the volunteer or the host. The site covers a variety of positions from farm work to childcare all over the world.

They also claim to check over profiles before they are published live. I’ve not tried this personally, but it does look like a legit free alternative to Workaway and HelpX. Have you used Volunteers Base? Tell me about your experience in the comments below.

Personally, I like the idea of paying because there is a level of security with a premium service and the product in question is you. Your safety is paramount. 

Las Penitas Nicaragua | Workaway Countries | Workaway, Help X and Volunteers BaseLive here for free! Las Peñitas, a hidden gem in Nicaragua 


Benefits of Work or Volunteering Abroad

  • Local experience. Many programmes give you the chance to work with local people in their own environment so you learn about their culture. We’ve tried heaps of homemade Hungarian food, this wouldn’t happen during the normal hostel hopping type of travel!
  • Hidden areas. Many programmes take you away from the gringo trail; countryside, mountains, islands, and villages that Lonely Planet misses out!
  • Saves money. Volunteering while travelling makes a small budget last longer. We saved £20k for our 18-month career break to travel the Americas and Europe but without Workaway (and this travel blog) we would have been packing our bags for home by month ten!
  • Slow travel. The one night here, two nights there, type of travel is exhausting. Believe me, we did it for the first three months and it resulted in major burn out by Cuba in June! Not only is stopping to volunteer to reduce your carbon footprint but it’s also a nice way to give back to local communities. Plus, if like me you are a fast fat, there’s more chance you’ll pound those mean streets with your sneaks or hit the gym/pool/sea, when in one place for a period of time.

Downsides of Exchange Websites

Responses. Don’t get your heart set on one advert, there is a good chance they won’t reply! Especially if you are applying for programmes in popular destinations like Costa Rica.

For every one response we received, I had applied for 10 – 15 all over Costa Rica. I imagine lots of backpackers get to Costa Rica, freak out at the cost of living/travel and scramble for volunteer work!

There are, however, extremely cool options in the land of Pura Vida so if you do get one, high five! Apply for more than one exchange your desired destinations, but remember, personalise!

Depending on the cost of living of where you are travelling around, there may be the chance that it is actually cheaper to book a hostel room when you measure how much time you work in relation to how much a stay would cost.

For example, in Hanoi in Vietnam, hostel dorms can be found for under £5 per night. If you work for 5 hours per day with only a bed in the agreement is it really worth it? Something to consider.


Grey Areas of Workaway,  HelpX and Hippohelp 

A couple of things to be cautious of while considering volunteering while travelling. Visas – technically you are working so it’s probably best to omit to immigration control that you are about to set sail in Croatia as a chef or train huskies in Canada (genuinely two opportunists!)

E.U residents – I know we can work in each other’s countries (well maybe we can’t soon) but normally you would give an employer your national insurance number, we’ve never been asked for this (a copy of our passport has been taken).

Get travel insurance. Accidents can happen when climbing ladders, washing sloths or leading a bar crawl! Double-check that your provider covers manual work (and alcohol?!)

We use True Traveller and couldn’t be happier with the service. I had to pay the GP and the physiotherapist a visit to Canada and annoyingly had to pay them! However, I was refunded speedily. Communication has been excellent from the start and I am that annoying traveller that asks questions, a lot!

Read our comparison guide of True Traveller and World Nomads here.

Las Penitas Nicaragua | Workaway Countries | Workaway and HelpX Days off are made for swinging in hammocks – Workaways = Swingaways


Work Exchange Packing List 

This will obviously be dictated by the country, time of year and how long you have been travelling for already (or what you intend to do after). I never travel without the following.

Marmot PreCip Jacket

My Marmot PreCip jacket US / UK is lightweight, folds into its own pocket so neatly into a day bag and is waterproof. I think it looks pretty sharp too, I have the electric blue version.

Hiking Boots/Trainers

My preference is trek/hike trainers/shoes over boots but Craig prefers full ankle support boots. Trek trainers are lighter and look like trainers so are a little bit more flexible if trying to match the rest of your backpacking wardrobe. I take my Salomon Eclipse US / UK which I trekked with to Machu Picchu. 

shoes everywhere. They’ve hiked up mountains, volcanoes (and sledged down it) and through rainforests.

Craig was also team Salomon, like the Quests, (for the entirety of our 5-week Southeast Asia tour and our 17-month career break to travel) but has recently moved over to Scarpa to try out leather boots.

Pacsafe

If you are travelling with expensive electronics it will be worth investing in some form of security protection for your belongings.

We travelled around 16 countries with this PacSafe net US / UK. We packed our electronics, passports, and money into one of our day bags, put the bag in the PacSafe net, closed the net over securing it against a non-movable bedpost or radiator etc and then padlocking.

I’ve not used it on a trip yet and I’m a little miffed at the new flying with electronics laws for travelling to and from the USA as it means I need to put it in hold however at least it will be securer than a normal backpack, everything crossed.

The frame has stainless steel embedded into the cloth in an attempt to make it splash-proof and the padlock which is inbuilt unlike the PacSafe net is secure (I had to get Craig to work out how to open it the first time).

 » » Read next: our guide to backpacks with wheels « « 

Other Budget Tips

We cover this extensively in our long-term travel planning guide but here is a summary of budget tips to help get you on the road, or staying on the road!

Budget versus Destination

Balance your budget against the cost of travel to get to a destination and also how much money you will need when you are there. 

Countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Costa Rica and the US are more expensive than some South American countries such as Bolivia and Peru or Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam and Cambodia.

However, if you live in the States it might be more affordable for you to travel closer to home to skip out on an expensive air ticket. 

Here’s a list of the cheapest cities in the US to visit and National Parks to visit in February and March which is low season for some.

The same goes for European readers, what about an Eastern European inter-rail where you budget stretches?

Budapest is a fun city and Krakow is where you visit Auschwitz, a day trip that will never leave you.

Cheap Flights

Be cautious of red eye flights! If they arrive at 3am how will you get to your accommodation?

Once you get to your accommodation can you hang out before check in?

Kick Costly Habits 

If you smoke, have a sweet tooth or drink most days, you will find your budget depleting rapidly!

Try to give up home habits or reduce the amount you do them to save on your travel budget.


Final Words

If budget dictates or you are thinking ‘I want to volunteer but I can’t afford it’, maybe you are fed up of the booze cruise type of travel, or maybe you are looking to engage your brain again, Workaway, HelpX, Hippohelp or Volunteers Base projects are a great way to enhance your travelling experience in exchange for your time and helping hand.

If you want to gain accreditation for working abroad why not try this cheap TEFL course? Work exchange conclusion: Workaway is worth it but iron out the expectations before volunteering abroad!

 » Don’t forget to claim your three free months with Workaway here


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Travel and Work: Workaway Countries | Workaway, Help X and Volunteers Base

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This article contains a advertisement from Hippohelp however, as always, opinions are mine. If you would like to advertise at Two Scots Abroad please contact us. Readers, if you’d like more information on what this means please read our small print.

Top Christmas Trips – USA, Canada, Central + South America

Wollman Rink in Central Park with ice skaters

Cocktails by the beach or shopping splurges in cities – there is no right way to celebrate the festive holiday in the Americas. If you are looking for ideas to change up your Christmas trips in the Americas this year, look no further! We (Gemma and Craig) have asked fellow travel lovers and experts where the best places to spend Christmas in the USA, Canada, Central and South America are. If you’ve been nice, Santa will still find you even if you are by the pool, at the poker table or pulling crackers in a winter wonderland!


» Planning on a festive road trip? Here’s our all-season packing list (free)


Note: Check individual locations for updates on their proposed Christmas event plans for 2020.


USA

Chicago

Pull on some skates and spin around Millenium Park at the Mccormick Tribune Ice Skating Rink then visit the famous bean to take a Chicago selfie! Millennium Park is where many of the festive events take place in the city including the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony.

Other hotspots include the 45-foot Christmas tree in the Walnut Room at Macy’s and the European style Christmas market at Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago.

Chicago’s Magnificent Mile (Mag’s Mile) also puts on a great show with lights and Disney characters to celebrate the start of the holidays.

There are a few spots for sledding, check out Cricket Hill at Montrose Harbor, Palmisano Park in Bridgeport, the Dan Ryan Woods and Soldier Field. Lots of choice during your trip to Chicago this Christmas.

Christmas in Las Vegas

No matter what time of year you visit Las Vegas, you’ll find loads of fun things to do. But Christmas in Vegas really is one of the hottest times to holiday. Although the temperature drops to 60 degrees Farenheight, the fun does not stop. 

On the first night of your visit, grab a hot chocolate to go, and head to Lake Bellagio to catch one of the famous fountain shows. It is so much fun to see the water dance to the sounds of familiar holiday tunes! Enjoy the attractions with fewer people, Vegas is noticeably quieter during the holiday season. 

Another delightful holiday-time activity in Vegas is viewing the extravagant displays set up many of the resorts.

You definitely should not miss the lobby of the Wynn Resort and the Conservatory at the Bellagio Resort, where you will find classy depictions of winter and holiday scenes.

It wouldn’t be the holidays without seeing the Nutcracker, but reserve in advance if you want to bag the good seats.

Check out the one million annual holiday lights at the Ethel M Chocolate Factory and Cactus Garden.

Next, head to the Town Square, where man-made snow flurries create magic each night during the holidays!

Just because you are holidaying in Las Vegas, it doesn’t mean you have to miss out on a traditional Christmas meal. Book a table for a holiday meal at any one of several fine dining restaurants or enjoy a buffet but expect long lines. Almost everywhere is open on Christmas Day.

Bundle up, because average temperatures in Vegas can drop from a balmy 60 degrees Fahrenheit during the day to a near-freezing 32 degrees at night.

Dhara | It’s Not About the Miles

Las Vegas sign blue skies


Miami Christmas

One of the good things about holidaying in Miami is the weather. With an average temperature of 80 F (26.6 C) Miami definitely appeals to winter-weary travelers looking for a weather respite.

There is a lot more to the self-proclaimed “Magic City” than the weather. You know the holidays have arrived when you see the blazing, colorful holiday lights at Santa’s Village off Palmetto Highway. Every year it seems the decorations get more and more elaborate.

One of my favorite holiday activities is visiting the Christmas markets that sprout up all over the city like colorful mushrooms.

Miami being the capital of Latin America, there is definitely a heavy Latin – particularly Cuban – flavor that permeates the holidays.

Signs pop up in food stores advertising ingredients for “Noche Buena”  the holiday meal celebrated by many Latin Americans on December 24.

The traditional dishes include lechon (roast pig), moro (black beans and rice) and fried plantains all washed down with Spanish cava. And the music is non-stop! Every club, bar or restaurant with even a couple of square feet of space transforms itself into a dance extravaganza and everyone participates.  

It’s about this time that the announcements for New Year’s Eve parties start hitting the airwaves. And nobody does New Year’s Eve like Miami (well, except for NYC, of course).  On December 31st many streets close and restaurants pour onto the sidewalks festooned with balloons and streamers.

Many restaurants charge an additional 15% holiday fee on this day. The hours count down and, close to midnight, people start heading to the beach where they know the exhilarating fireworks display won’t disappoint.  And they don’t!  

Talek | Travels With Talek

Christmas in New York

Maybe I’m biased as a local, but I think one of the best places to celebrate Christmas is in New York City.

With the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree all lit up, the department store windows decked out in full holiday cheer, and the bustle of the winter markets and ice skating rink at Bryant Park and Rockefeller, you just might find yourself skipping down sparkly Fifth Avenue while humming Deck the Halls!

I love seeing the Radio City Rockettes or the Nutcracker at the New York City Ballet. A pre-theater glass of wine at the holiday wonderland, Rolf’s, is a great way to round up a festive night in the Big Apple.

Just remember, December weekends in NYC are crowded. Plan extra time to get around and, when possible, travel via the subway underground. It’s by far the quickest way to avoid NYC’s legendary holiday traffic and maximize your time.

If you’re lucky, you just might get some snowfall, which only adds to how pretty the city looks! And, a coating of white absolutely warrants a stroll through fairy tale Central Park. Just be sure to dress for the weather!

Temperatures in NYC in the winter can range from the comfortable 40s and 50s to the downright wicked in the teens and single digits. The best way to make sure you keep that holiday spirit as you walk around the city is by covering your ears, wearing a heavy winter jacket, and warm, waterproof shoes or boots.

Jackie Sills-DellegrazieThe Globetrotting Teacher


» Don’t miss | How to spend 4 days in NYC


Iceskating in New York with skyline


Vermont, New England

There is really nowhere better to spend Christmas than Vermont, USA. I may be biased, having lived here for more than half my life, but Vermont (and the New England region in general) are the ideal spots for a classic Christmas.

First of all, this state is where you want to go if you’re searching for a White Christmas.

Climate statistics point to the chance of snow on the ground in Vermont on December 25th is somewhere around 75% or more. Pretty good odds!

Vermont is like a Christmas village, with quaint main streets, charming steepled churches, and an abundance of Christmas trees.

One of the best traditions for the holidays in Vermont is to pick and cut your own Christmas tree. We recently discovered a Christmas tree farm not far from Vermont’s biggest city (Burlington) where you can ride in a horse-drawn sleigh up to find your tree.

Once you’ve chopped it down, enjoy hot cocoa and cookies by a wood-burning fireplace.

Aside from that, in Vermont, you can enjoy tons of wintry sports and activities, including sledding, skiing, ice skating, and much more. Simply put, Vermont is the Christmas dream here in the USA.

Amy |  Two Drifters

Vermont Horses Snow Christmas

Portland’s Christmas

Portland, Oregon is one of the USA’s coolest cities and as the temperatures drop (and the rain pours), it maintains its core values: craft beer, respect of the city’s makers, and community action.

There are plenty of opportunities to see Christmas lights in Portland. Oregon Zoo puts on a big seasonal show, Pittock Manion is decked out by volunteers and there is even a ship parade where boats sail the Willamette and Columbia River all lit up. The locals at Peacock Lane also light up their houses for you to see.

All of that festive cheer works up a thirst! Don’t miss your chance to try 50 ales at the Holiday Ale Festival at Pioneer Square (image credit).

Washington DC

Often overshadowed by nearby NYC, Washington is one of the most underrated places in the US to celebrate Christmas. Having grown up just outside of the city, Christmas has always been my favorite time of year in the nation’s capital.

For one, there are two national Christmas trees. That’s right, TWO! One of them is located in front of the U.S. Capitol Building and provides one of the most picturesque DC Christmas settings. The other tree is located in front of the White House. That tree is also surrounded by 56 smaller trees, one for each US state and territory.

Speaking of the White House, it gets a makeover each holiday season. The President’s home is open to public tours all year, but Christmas is the best time to visit. The entire building is decorated with a multitude of trees, fresh pine garland, twinkling lights, and a gingerbread replica of the White House itself.

My favorite DC Christmas tradition is the performance of Handel’s Messiah at the National Cathedral. The Messiah was written to be performed in just such a venue, and the annual performance is always a highlight of the season.

Weather in DC in December is usually on the chilly side, but mild. High temperatures are typically in the 30s/40s F. Many restaurants are closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but a number of them do offer special holiday meals on those days.

Maggie McKneely | Pink Caddy Travelogue

Canada

Toronto

Excitement and preparation for Christmas in Toronto starts right after the American Thanksgiving.

For me, Christmas in Toronto starts when the Hudson Bay Company puts up its colorful window displays and Eaton Centre in the adjacent building puts up its gigantic Christmas tree which is covered in red twinkling lights. I visit every year to check them out. They instantly put me in a festive mood.

This is also around the time when the Christmas tree at Nathan Phillips Square is illuminated. The illumination ceremony includes some great fireworks display and performances by Canadian artists.

I also look forward to the Christmas market in Distillery district which opens in mid-November and lasts up to the big day. This gives people an entire month to do their shopping. This year the newlywed couple, Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin also showed up to celebrate. Tip to save money – visit during weekdays when there’s no entrance fee.

If you are looking to enjoy Christmas on a budget, then visit Toronto Waterfront. This is one of my favorite free things to do in Toronto any time of the year. However, during Christmas, the spectacular light display near Toronto’s Music Garden and the Natrel skating takes my sense of awe, for the waterfront, to a whole new level.

Other popular things to do during this season is to visit the flower display in Allan Garden conservatory, joining the festivities and having a traditional Christmas dinner at the Black Creek Pioneer village, seeing the winter wonderland display at Yonge-Dundas square just to name a few.

Pari | Traveling Pari


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Christmas tree TorontoCentral America

Mexico City

Mexico City is one of the biggest cities in the world, however, it feels homely during the winter holidays.

The population of Mexico, in general, is very religious, thus, it’s common to celebrate Christmas with the family. Also, families in Mexico are quite big, so it’s not unusual to see the gatherings of 30, 50 or even 80 people.

When we visit Mexico City (my husband is Mexican/Spanish), we always have a family gathering with a large Christmas tree and a Christmas nativity set up at home.

On Christmas Day, Mexicans usually go to their local church and later stay at home with the family.

Mexico City is a lovely destination for Christmas holidays because it gets decorated for Christmas, but at the same time, it’s very warm in winter (during the day it could easily be 75 degrees Fahrenheit, so it’s quite a unique and unusual situation especially for Europeans and Northern Americans (from Canada and the Northern states in the US).

There 3 major holidays around the Christmas time in Mexico: Christmas, NY and the last one is the 3 King’s Day on the 6th of Dec. It’s common to gather together and eat a special sweet bread called Rosca.

New Year is usually quite calm in Mexico City, however, there are fireworks in the downtown and parties around Zocalo and Angel.

Liza | Tripsget

Ometepe, Nicaragua

One of the most unusual places to spend Christmas is Balgue, the smallest village on the island of Ometepe, in Nicaragua. Famous for the presence of two volcanoes and its natural beauty, Ometepe isn’t exactly a happening destination in terms of Christmas celebrations, which in a way is what makes it completely charming and worth it.

If Ometepe keeps Christmas celebrations low key, in Balgue they almost go unnoticed. It’s all about staying in the family, sitting together playing the guitar and singing traditional tunes.

What I loved about it is that it’s not commercial at all, but it truly is about sharing the moment with people you love and care about and welcoming others into your home. 

As the smallest village in Ometepe, Balgue doesn’t have many sleeping options, most visitors stay at Finca Magdalena, a very modest hostel kind of place at about 30 minutes walk (there is no road access) through the forest. Travelers hardly venture to the village during the night, because walking back means crossing the forest in the dark.

Celebrations at Finca Magdalena are thus very similar to those in the village: a bottle of Nicaraguan rum, a guitar or two, and people gathered around the table for an impromptu jam session. It’s completely free, and a lot of fun.

Claudia Tavani | My Adventures Around The World

Maderas Volcano, Ometepe Nicaragua, Things To Do On Ometepe

South America

Christmas in Medellin, Colombia

After backpacking South America for many years, my favourite place to spend Christmas in Medellin, Colombia.

Medellin has one of the most elaborate Christmas celebrations on planet earth. Not only visible on the streets through the 26 million Christmas lights, but also there are other festive traditions that are religiously celebrated.

The most important tradition of all is spending time with the family. Families celebrate by watching the Alumbrados annual Christmas light display and during Novenas (16th – 24th December), we all get together to eat, pray and recite prayers from a book that is passed around between the family.

Why wait until Christmas day to open presents? Here in Medellin, we open presents on the 24th of December and it’s normal to do secret Santa style gifting.

For Christmas in Medellin, expect a moderate 75c temperature. The Paisas, people from the Antioquia region of Colombia, love to celebrate so you will not be disappointed by this special event. 

Daniel James | Layer Culture

Christmas in Santiago, Chile 

My favorite place to spend Christmas is Santiago de Chile. 

The best part about spending Christmas in Chile is that it is summertime so days and nights are warm which means you can wear light clothes and spend lots of time outside.

There are not huge events for Christmas in Santiago as its mostly a private celebration with family.

People who are very Catholic go to church before having dinner with the family on the 24th of December. 

Then, at midnight Santa Claus, “Viejo Pascuero” brings gifts and the family opens them around the Christmas tree.

We prepare a traditional drink for the season called “Cola de Mono” or literally Monkey’s Tale made out of milk, sugar, coffee, and alcohol, served cold with some cookies or Christmas cake.

If you are not invited to spend dinner with a local family, make sure you make reservations in your favorite restaurant, many actually close for the festive holidays so it could be hard to find a place to spontaneously have dinner.

There’s public transportation running the whole night as well as Uber so you won’t be stuck when trying to get home like in other destinations. 

If you stay until New Year’s Eve you will see beautiful firework shows in several points in the city but my suggestion would be travel to the coastal city of Valparaíso, where they throw one of the best and biggest firework shows in the world. 

Gloria Apara | Nomadic Chica

Christmas Santiago

Final Words

Whether you are looking for a white Christmas in the States or a beach trip to Central America, there are many ways to celebrate Christmas in the Americas! This guide has shared expert advice from travel bloggers on their favourite places to spend time in December.

Where will you be this Christmas?

Best Backpacker Insurance: True Traveller v World Nomads Insurance

Best Backpacker Travel Insurance World Nomads Insurance True Traveller

You’ve saved hard for your backpacking trip and I know you would prefer to spend money on new gear over travel insurance and vaccinations but trust me, you need to invest in both. This guide will detail what to look for in backpacker insurance and compare two leading companies: World Nomads Travel Insurance against True Traveller Insurance. We (hi, I’m Gemma, the other Scot is Craig) will discuss – cost, coverage and provide real-life examples of claiming experiences.

Do I Need Backpacker Insurance?

Easy answer, yes. If you are travelling for longer than a fortnight and are going outside of your home continent/country then it is likely that any current travel insurance that you have for free through the likes of your premium bank accounts will not cover you for a backpacking trip.

Accidents happen (mopeds in Southeast Asia), food can make you sick (Delhi belly is right of passage when backpacking!) and just because you are on the trip of the lifetime it does not make you invincible, you can still catch common flu, get rashes and if stupid, sexually transmitted diseases.

Different cultures have different laws and ways of thinking. There a lot of stray dogs in the likes of Northern Thailand and Peru in South America, these dogs can have rabies and if you get bitten you need to get to an international hospital ASAP, even if you have been vaccinated.

If you have had the rabies jag you need two doses a few days apart, if you’ve not got it, four doses over a month. How doe that fit into your dream itinerary?

A serious point I have to stress here if you do not have the correct vaccinations for the countries that you are visiting your travel insurance does not have to pay out. This means that you will be paying for your health costs yourself.

I am not scaremongering here, we write about affordable travel at Two Scots Abroad but vaccinations and insurance have to be part of your budget for travelling. If it isn’t you are not only going to be short on cash but you are also going to waste a lot of time making phone calls, sending emails and being stressed.

Case Study: Claiming in the USA

To put the price of healthcare into perspective, my friend Kaci went over her ankle at the Grand Canyon. We spent half a day waiting on treatment (we only had one full day at the Canyon), she received an x-ray and crutches. Total cost? $500 USD. Luckily she could claim this back as she had travel insurance.

As a responsible traveller, it is down to you to fork out of these important requirements for travel.

We also advise investing in a good quality medical kit US / UK which includes needles and, if like us, you like a drink, stock up on hydration tablets US / UK.

You can thank us later!

Travel insurance isn’t just about health insurance though. Plans can also include lost, delayed and stolen baggage, protection for electronics and sporting equipment and legal advice if you need it.

What Type of Travel Insurance Do I need?

You should consider the following during your research on travel insurance. The type of travel insurance you need depends on five factors:  

  1. How long are you travelling?

    Companies cater for single and multi-trips, short and long-term travel adventures – offering one-year travel insurance packages (and up).

  2. What type of activities will you be doing while travelling?

    You have to be mindful that some packages do not cover high altitude hikes, diving or winter sports. These adventure activities tend to increase the price of your insurance. This isn’t a reason to leave them off your itinerary, if you are thrill seeker like me you will regret not taking the cover when you are on the road!

  3. Do you have pre-existing conditions?

    Not quite backpacking related but my poor grandparents are doing a cruise for their diamond anniversary and their insurance is going to cost them the same as the cruise. You have youth on your side, enjoy it! Also, your age does matter, most companies will not cover travellers over a certain age point.

    Side note about conditions. If you are sh*t faced when you hurt yourself, you are probably going to get declined. If you’ve had a few glasses of wine and are in control, you might still have your claim accepted.

  4. Do you intend to work while travelling?

    Working holiday travel insurance is a different ballgame! Check out our FAQ section for information on WWOOFing and working.

  5. Are you already travelling?

    Getting travel insurance while abroad is much harder than extending a pre-existing package but it is possible at an additional cost. 

Key Terms For Travel Insurance

There are a variety of terms that you need to be aware of when shopping for backpacker insurance.

  • Excess – this is the amount of money you are responsible for if you need to claim insurance while travelling. You can often pay an excess waiver to bring the amount down (just like with car insurance).
  • Emergency Medical Expenses – the amount of money the insurer will pay towards your medical care, care above this amount must be paid by you privately.
  • Baggage and Personal Belongings – if your bags go missing, are stolen, are damaged or destroyed, this is the amount that the company will cover (add up how much your items cost you). It is likely that there is a limit to the cost of single items.
  • Personal Liability – legal expenses and liability for damage that you incurred by accident or claims made against you. It is unlikely that this will cover vehicle liability.

Companies will then offer ‘add-ons’ such as sport, adventure and extreme activities so if you want to bungee jump in New Zealand (or Scotland like we did, tandem!) you will need to add this package on to ensure you are covered. Winter sports can be added on here too and there is usually a different package depending on the duration of your ski/board trip.

Then there is usually a final tier of additional coverage such as money, individual items like electronics, sports gear, and musical instruments,   

World Nomads Travel Insurance Review

There is no denying that World Nomads insurance is the most popular backpacking insurance company used by thousands of travellers each day.

Unlike True Traveller, it offers coverage to all nationalities making it very accessible to every traveller however, it is not cheap. 

World Nomads Website

The World Nomads website initially prompts you for the following information:

  • Countries travelling to (you can add multiple or ‘worldwide’)
  • Country of residence
  • Start and end date of the proposed policy
  • Traveller’s ages

You then hit get the price button. World Nomads then throws up two pricing tiers – the ‘Standard Plan’ and the ‘Explorer Plan’.

The Standard offers less and is cheaper in comparison to the Explorer.

Side note: World Nomads automatically adds on a charity donation which it defines as a ‘footprint donation’ you can increase, decrease or remove at the bottom of the quote.

World Nomads Website

One Year Travel Insurance

For example, a worldwide policy which covers one resident from the UK aged 33 (still flirting with 30!) comes in at £462 for the Standard Plan and £571 for the Explorer Plan.

The biggest differences between the two are that the emergency medical expenses coverage is £5,000,000 for the Standard but double that for the Explorer, baggage and personal belongings is also double (Standard is £1000 – with limits to single items), personal liability is £2,000,000 for both tiers and if you have to cancel your trip before you leave, the Standard World Nomad policy would not reimburse you whereas the Explorer would offer up to £5000.

World Normas Insurance Rates

World Nomads Insurance Real Example

Getting Medical Care in Developed and Developing World Countries

When I was finishing up my four-month trip around Southeast Asia I was in my last destination, El Nido, Philippines. On an island-hopping day trip, I started to feel quite weak and tired but I blamed it on pushing so hard for the past four months of travel and shrugged it off as I was going home in a week.

The next morning I woke up with a raging fever so I decided to try and sleep it off. Three days later and the fever was only worsening (40°C/104°F), my throat was the sorest it had ever been and my ears felt blocked.

I had the front desk call me a ride and I landed myself in a dusty doctors office where I learned that I had tonsillitis and wax build-up in my ears (most likely from wearing earplugs).

I was prescribed some antibiotics for tonsillitis and some drops to help my ears which cost around $100 CAD/$77 USD/ £50 which was more expensive than I thought it would be for the Philippines.

I went back when the fever didn’t break after another two days and got stronger antibiotics and my ears were cleaned out (thank goodness because I had 24 hours of travel two days later!). All ended well and I was able to travel home healthy though tired.

A year later I found myself sick with a fever yet again but this time in Australia, attempting to enjoy the beaches with chills.

I did everything I could to get rid of it, rested in my hostel dorm for a few days and took medication to get it to go down but nothing helped.

Once in Sydney, I got myself an appointment at the closest clinic, worried because my sinuses were completely blocked and I had 5 flights within the next week.

The doctor saw me with no issues ($75 AUD/ $55/ £43 fee just to see a doctor), prescribed medication for a sinus infection and recommend a nasal spray. Luckily I was fully cleared before my flight to camp in the outback.

Claiming Through World Nomads

I’m happy nothing was more serious and though I could have easily covered the expenses myself I still claimed them through World Nomads on both occasions, including the medication I bought that wasn’t prescribed by the doctor.

I logged into the World Nomads member area on their website, clicked on ‘make a claim’ and entered all the information that was asked for including copies of the recipes that I got on both occasions. Within a month I had a cheque waiting for me in the mail with a full reimbursement.

True Traveller Insurance

True Traveller travel insurance is aimed at residents in the UK so this excludes a number of travellers. However, for those in the UK, you will find that True Traveller is cheaper than World Nomads but does not scrimp on service.

My friend Karen is an over-planner. Karen will research every possible aspect of a trip before leaving and have it documented for leaving (you won’t be surprised to hear that her partner, Craig, is super laid back and does not plan a thing). Karen and Craig’s travelling pattern is pretty similar to mine and my Craig’s.

Karen and Craig were leaving for Canada before us so had all of their travel insurance nailed before us.

She passed on her notes with True Traveller coming out on top because of their affordable price and winter sports coverage.

Never one to rely solely on others advice, I spent days researching the possible insurance companies for our 18-month career break to travel the Americas and Europe, creating pages and pages of notes and tables.

Again, True Traveller was coming out on top so I called them (twice) to probe for reassurance (I’m anxious) and they were patient with me and my variety of questions each time (I am not your ideal customer).

True Traveller Website

The website asks you to complete the following criteria

  • Where you live
  • Are you already travelling?
  • Dates which you would like the insurance
  • Ages of travellers
  • Area of cover – Europe, Australia and New Zealand (duration sensitive stopovers included), Worldwide excluding USA/Canada (duration sensitive stopovers included), Worldwide (all countries)

True Traveller Homepage

The very neat site retrieves a quote which offers three price tiers.

  • ‘Traveller’ is the most popular middle of the road policy.
  • ‘True Value’ for cheap backpacker insurance, ‘no-nonsense budget policy.’
  • ‘Traveller Plus’ offers higher medical cover as well as cancellation options.

One Year Travel Insurance

If we look at the example of a one year, worldwide package for a traveller aged 33 who has not left yet the price comes in at £299.99 for True Value, £393.29 for Traveller and £490.17 for Traveller Plus. 

True Traveller Packages
The biggest differences between the three tiers are that the True Value covers less medical expenses (£2,500,000 compared to £5,000,000 for the second tier, Traveller), optional baggage (£1000 compared to £2,000,000 – with limits to single items), personal liability (£1,000,000 compared to £2,000,000) and offers less cancellation coverage if you have to cancel your trip before leaving your home country (£1000 compared to £3,000,000).

The upper tier, Traveller Plus, naturally offers more but costs more.

Companies offer three tiers to accommodate all budgets but also from a marketing angle, most shoppers choose the middle tier. Craig is a gas engineer and does the same when he is quoting for boiler changes (thrilling eh?!)


True Traveller also offers insurance add-ons for:

  • Sports/activities at differing levels from everyday football playing to extreme skydiving. This is the section you need to consider the altitude of hikes in. For example, the Extreme Pack cover altitudes over 4500 metres which were essential for us for our Peru treks.
  • Winter sports with two different options depending on how long you plan to ski/board for.
  • ‘Baggage, Money & Documents’.
  • ‘Specified Items’ such as electronics, sports equipment and musical instruments.
  • ‘Travel Disruption’ – this avoids getting fobbed off with the ‘act of god’ excuse.
  • ‘Travelling One Way’? Many companies won’t cover you if you can’t prove you have a return flight – True Traveller will – tick the box to see the cost.
  • ‘Already Travelling’? See below section.


Accessing Medical Care Abroad

While living in Vancouver I started to feel dizzy every time I moved from lying down to upright.

Being dramatic, I automatically thought the worst – pregnancy. That was ruled out so I increased my water intake to combat dehydration and cut downtime on the laptop.

When that didn’t work, my medic friend advised me to seek help. I went along to a walk-in GP (with my passport which is essential for ID) who priced the visit at $100 CAD/$77 USD/ £50.

I then bailed after my friend asked via text if I had checked my blood pressure (I really did not want to part with this cash!)

A quick trip to the blood pressure machine at the pharmacy later proved that analysis incorrect – I was healthy so it was back to the GP.

The doctor saw me promptly, asked a few questions, did some eye focus test and felt around my head and shoulders.

The diagnosis? Blogging was causing the dizziness.

Thankfully I was referred to a physiotherapist because that diagnosis was a heap of crap, I had Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BBPV) also known as ear crystals.

At $100 CAD a pop, the physio trip was worth the cash – we worked out the ear crystals (I’ve never had repeat issues) and also looked at my posture from working on the laptop all day (I now have an office at home with a desktop setup).

Claiming Through True Traveller

I retained all the receipt and claimed for the GP visit and the two physiotherapy treatments.

The claim was easy, I used the website ‘make a claim’ section, uploaded copies of the receipts to a provided email address, accepted the waiver fee of £75/$95 and was paid the remaining £74/$96 within three weeks.

You can read more about me claiming in detail here.

Booking Travel Insurance While Abroad

As mentioned above, respectable travel insurance companies will allow you to start a policy which you are already travelling but it will cost you a bit more and comes with the warning that you cannot claim for previous issues.

If we take our previous one-year trip example, ticking the box to say that you are already travelling will add on £30.

I know this does not sound a lot just now while you are looking for insurance but when you are on the road, country depending, this could be one day’s budget. Craig and I survived off £35/$45 per day each on average.


Also, if you are travelling and your policy is about to run out, True Traveller emails to ask if you would like to extend.

True Traveller Book Insurance White Abroad

Backpacker’s Insurance For Pre-Existing Conditions

If you have a condition already, it doesn’t mean you won’t get insured. If just means that you need to complete the basic search on True Traveller or World Nomads and then call the medical screening teams to discuss further.

FAQs

  1. Is cheap backpacker insurance worth it?

    Insurance is like travel gear, it is something you need to invest in. If you don’t need to claim during your travel then cheap insurance is worth it but that’s the risk you take!

  2. What is the best long-term backpacker insurance?

    ‘Best’ comes from personal experience. I can vouch for True Traveller because they paid out in a timely manner and they have 5 stars on Trustpilot. World Nomads has 3 stars but I know that lots of backpackers purchase it and you can read Taylor’s two examples of claiming above.

  3. Can I buy 2-year travel insurance?

    Sure, True Traveller’s search function allows you to search for two years, World Nomads caps at 18 months.

  4. What about travel insurance for electronics?

    Most insurers cover electronics up to a limited value amount which is usually low. For example, World Nomads will cover £100 on their basic tier but no tablet, laptop or phone for that matter is that cheap. Some insurers off additional coverage but again this will not cover a £1000 laptop. World Nomads does offer digital nomad cover package, click here to read more. I have not used it personally.

  5. Can you order travel insurance after departure?

    Yes, see the above section on Travel Insurance While Abroad.

  6. Do I need separate work insurance?

    It is not a given that you can work or volunteer with travel insurance. True Traveller does offer farm work protection through the likes of Workaway or WWOOFing if you choose their Adventure Pack. They also cover the 2-year IECC Canadian work programme which is great because one of the stipulations is that you must have insurance at border control.

  7. What happens if I am intoxicated?

    This is assessed on a case by case basis. If you need to your stomach pumped or are arrested at the time of the claim it is unlikely you will have your claim accepted. If you’ve had a few wines and are still compos mentis you might be get accepted.

  8. Can I trust backpacker insurance reviews?

    This is an important question. Most insurance companies have affiliate schemes so websites can make a small commission on sales and rightly so, no one should pour days over creating great content for readers without some form of payment but the reviews must be trustworthy.

    As mentioned above I have not used World Nomads but Taylor has (I also asked in a female travel Facebook group and out of the five respondents, only one had a denied claim and she said she agreed to an extent) and the True Traveller experience is 100% honest.

Final Thoughts On The Best Backpacker Insurance

The best travel insurance for backpackers really comes down to personal experience, budget and the reasons for needing insurance. This guide has detailed real-life examples of two of the popular insurers on the market and well as setting out the terminology to look out for when shopping. The main takeaway from this guide is not to get caught out, research and book before you go for a stress-free adventure!

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Best travel insurance World Nomads True Traveller

Hostel Rules and Regulations – Don’t Be THAT Traveller

HOSTEL DORM ETIQUETTE

What is it with a lack of hostel dorm etiquette? I (Gemma) write this annoyed after yet another sleepless night in a hostel dorm. This time a chica dragged her rucksack in at 2am, opened and closed about twenty zips, seriously how many zips on that thing? Then she shines her iPhone torch all over the joint. We get it, hostels are a cheap form of accommodation which makes a budget stretch further but they are not a replacement for home so stop treating 8-bed dorms like your bedroom back at your mum’s house. Turns out I am not alone in the hostel hustle, I reached out to fellow travellers and we’ve put together a list of hotels rules and regulations to help everyone sleep better at night. Be sure to tell us any of your stories or hostel tips and tricks in the comments below!


» We saved £20K to travel – click for tips


What is a Hostel?

Hostels are an economical form of accommodation which comes after camping and couchsurfing in the international hierarchy of budget travel sleeping arrangements.

They usually offer some form of social setting whether that be a bar, garden or rooftop seating area, or even a swimming pool in warmer climates.

Hostels are a great place to meet new travel buddies because there usually is an element of organised fun through quizzes, pub crawls, themed nights and even cultural activities like city walking tours.

What is a Hostel Like?

Contrary to belief, hostels are not just for party backpackers. They come in all shapes and sizes from dives to rooms fit for divas. Sleeping arrangements differ depending on the hostel.

Some offer private rooms with private bathrooms, others have private rooms with shared bathing facilities. I’ve even been in hostels with outdoor sleeping options (in Budapest). Most hostels have dorm rooms in common.

What is a Dorm Room?

Forget North American sorority dorms and think more Charlie and the Chocolate Factory sleeping arrangements and you are halfway there.

Jokes aside, dorm rooms are rooms with beds which are usually in bunk form (one up/one down) to save space. You can expect anything from a 2-bed bunk to 16-bed and the price of a hostel stay gets less the more beds in the room.

There should be a locker for you to place your belongings.

They sassier hostels have lockers big enough for your 60l backpacks. Hostels are cosy, which means making friends is pretty easy.

The more modern dorms have privacy curtains, alternatively, opt for the bottom bunk and hang up a large scarf or flag.

Are Hostels Safe?

Hostels are only as safe as you prepare for them to be. Just because someone carries a backpack like you it doesn’t mean they are not an opportunist.

Now I am not accusing every traveller of being a thief, just have your wits about you and be wise. Tips – don’t leave out anything you want to keep from going walkies.

Personally, I don’t even charge electronics unless I am in the room.

Alternatively, charge a capacitor battery pack like our reliable Anker US / UK and use that to charge on the go.

We swear by the PacSafe net US / UK for keeping gear safe. We travelled with it through the Americas (North, Central, South) and Europe and came home target-free. To use, pack a day bag full of your expensive kit and passport then close it.

Place the bag in the PacSafe net before closing tight, wrap the wire around something non-moveable like a bed frame and then clip the padlock (TSA approved comes recommended) closed with the bag securely attached to the frame. Now cover with a scarf.

Most hostel buildings have call features at their front door to avoid anyone walking in and out. We’ve left our larger rucksacks in cloakrooms for days while out hiking and never faced any issues to do with security.

You can read individual hostel reviews on the likes of Hostelworld which will help you also make a decision about each one.

Hostel Rules and Regulations

So now that we’ve covered the basics of backpacker accommodation lets move on with the tips for staying in a hostel. Whether you are staying in a hostel for the first time or you’ve racked up the party hostel passport stamps, there’s a takeaway for everyone.

Hostel Dorm Security

Staying in a dorm requires a few quick checks. Take two seconds to memorise the code for the door, or try your key in the lock to make sure it works – even if it’s open when you arrive.

That door is the only security you and your fellow travellers have and it’s really important that you keep it secure.

Even if valuables are in lockers inside the rooms, most locker padlocks can easily be picked. So, make sure you always, always lock the door when you go out – that’s just good hostel manners.

By Danni Lawson |  Live in 10 countries

Granted, a dorm is never going to be as quiet as a private room.

Yet, a lot can be done to ensure the peaceful coexistence of all guests. One of the unspoken yet basic rules in hostel dorms should be that of keeping the level of noise to a minimum. Those checking out in the early hours should always make sure to pack their bags the night before, while nobody is asleep and preferably before 10 or 11 pm.

By doing that, they will keep noise levels at a minimum while everyone in the dorm is asleep. It’s a simple, yet very nice gesture that doesn’t require that much effort and that goes a long way into making sure that even the most crowded of spaces becomes an oasis of peace.

By Claudia Tavani | My Adventures Across The World

Do Not Turn On The Lights Between 11pm-8am

One of the most annoying things a traveller who is staying in a dorm room can do is to be inconsiderate when they switch on the light after 11 pm, especially when someone is already asleep. Be polite, some people have an early flight and want their beauty sleep as much as possible or the ones who come home late from a party will surely not appreciate the bright light too early either.

If you need to do something, you can use the torch of your phone. It’s just a simple but nice act.

By Mary | A Mary Road


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Put Your Phone On Silent

One of the best things you can do for the people in your hostel dorm room is to silence your phone. I have shared rooms with too many travellers who believe that everyone around them needs to know when they receive a text message or phone call, but it really just makes the rest of us stir crazy.

It is understood that if you’re waiting on an important call, you turn your phone on loudly so you don’t miss it. But, if you’re casually texting, it can be done in silence (this includes turning off keyboard sounds on phones).

In addition, it is also rude to have a conversation on your phone late at night or early in the morning inside a dorm room.

Most hostels have a social space or living area where you can take care of these matters – your bed is not the place to do it.

By Megan | Meganstarr

How To Deal With Snoring in Hostels

We get it, you’ve had a hard night on the sauce and you are prone to a little open mouth, blocked nose snoring action but pal, it really is not fair on anyone else in the room.

Many of your dorm friends might be getting up a 3 am for a hike so your freight train breathing is going to ruin their paid excursion.

  • If you are the guilty party, do everyone a favour and get a private room
  • If you are the victim

1. Try moving the snorer. Reddit recommends throwing M&Ms at the perpetrator.
2. Pack and use earplugs 
3. Consider a headphone headband. Craig even sleeps with it home, I don’t snore, honest!
4. Be really rude the next day and get ready REALLY noisily next the to the snorer.
5. Complain – we had to do it in Toronto. Three of us left a four-bed dorm. Mass exodus!


Bookmark | The best carry-on backpacks for travel 


 

Invest In Headphones

Listening to music and watching movies are great ways to pass time in the evenings or on a lazy day, but not everyone in a hostel dorm will want to listen at the same time.

Especially at night when others are sleeping, hostel guests should do what they can to avoid disturbing others – including sounds from phones and laptops.

Trying to fall asleep to the sound of gunfire in an action movie or a blend of three different people’s music at the same time is annoying and will surely draw complaints from light sleepers and people who like peace and quiet. Popping in a pair of headphones is an easy way to keep dormmates from holding a grudge.

They don’t need to be expensive noise-cancelling headphones – cheap earbuds will do the trick so music or movies can be played all night if necessary.

By Kris | Nomad by Trade

Sharing Is Not Caring

Hostels can be a bit intimidating for first-timers but they are fun and inexpensive. One of the downsides of staying in a hostel is the fact that some people can be disrespectful and clueless.

Paying for a shared space doesn’t mean everyone has the right to do what they want.

Asking yourself these questions:

  • Do I enjoy the aroma of dead-rat smelling shoes wafting around with the aircon-breeze while I’m contemplating life?
  • Do I want to see a naked lady changing bloody sanitary products while I’m thinking of what food to eat next?

The answer is always no! Most hostels have shoe racks outside of dorm rooms. Use it. Girls, there is a toilet just 5 metres away from your bed, insert there. It only takes a minute to spare someone from a life of tampon trauma. Be a hero and do your ladies’ business privately.

By Christine Rogador | The Travelling Pinoys

Save Your Smells

Dorm bedrooms are usually small, thus any smell inside becomes X times stronger than outside. Moreover, in AC rooms, all the smells are stuck in the closed space.

Bedrooms are mainly meant for sleeping, so it’s best to keep neutral/fresh scent there. That means eating spicy food or any types of snacks is not appropriate. There is a kitchen in any hostel, where you are more than welcomed to eat!

It’s also time to control your favourite perfume. Some people tend to apply more perfume since it becomes lighter outside because of the weather and wind. The air is still in the room, so all the sprays from all the guests will mix and stay.

If you are a smoker, hang-out outside for a while till the strong smell of cigarettes will reduce to the minimum. Many non-smokers are susceptible to cigarette scent and, most probably, they would not like it spread in the bedroom.

By Natalia |Mytriphack

Dorm Rooms Are Not Laundromats

Long-term travel can’t be non-stop awesome travel experiences. At some point, everyone needs to do their laundry. Many hostels have washing machines that travellers can pay to use.

Unfortunately, some travellers decide to save money and hang their wet clothes around the dorm to dry. Some string a line from one bed to another. Others merely drape their wet clothes and towel over their bed and sometimes over other bunks.

This is not OK; having to navigate around someone else’s laundry is unpleasant. Rather than hanging or draping their wet laundry around the dorm to dry, people staying in hostels should always use the dryer or hang their clothes outside on a washing line if there is one provided. Hostel staff can always advise what laundry facilities they have available.

By James Ian | Travel Collecting

Don’t Leave Your Sh*t In Communal Bathrooms

Hostels are normally associated with youth, freedom and a laid-back life, but that is not to be confused with lack of respect and common sense.

On the contrary, sharing space with others implies, or should imply, respecting one another and following unwritten rules of a certain kind of common sense which, unfortunately, not for everybody is “common”.

One of those rules concerns shared bathroom space. “Shared bathrooms” means that the bathroom is shared among many people and therefore it’s not wise nor respectful to leave one’s toiletries in the little space available, be it a chair, a shelf or whatever that is available.

That space is temporary for the person using the facilities at that time. Your toiletry bag is your storage, not the communal bathroom space. It’s easy to understand, there is simply no room for everybody’s stuff.

By Isabella Biava | Boundless Roads


Don’t Steal My Sh*t

Don’t steal other people’s stuff. You might think that this is obvious, but the amount of times things go missing in hostels it is ridiculous.

From mobile phones and other valuables to dirty clothes, shoes and food from the fridge, why do some people think its ok to take other people’s stuff? It is never OK to take things that don’t belong to you. Even if you’re drunk, eating someone else’s pizza is not cool.

Backpackers usually have a tight budget, which certainly won’t stretch to providing someone they don’t know with free food or anything else which takes their fancy! Buy your own stuff, or just go without.

By Claire Sturzaker | Tales of a Backpacker

You Can’t Sit With Us, Well Me (Name That Film)

For many travellers, staying at a hostel provides a built-in community on the road and potential new friends, which can be great – if you want that from your travel experience.

However, for travellers who are a bit more introverted or shy (or simply prefer solitude and travelling alone), hostels can quickly become overwhelming environments when others approach them constantly to try and make plans together.

When you’re staying at a hostel, be mindful of people’s personal space and aware of the cues they may be giving you. If you sense that someone is enjoying being alone and isn’t looking for a new travel companion, respect their wishes. Don’t insist that you eat together, hang out constantly, or travel together to the next destination.

Travelling is an inherently overstimulating and often overwhelming experience, and lots of people are seeking solitude and reflection time (or need to work while travelling), not necessarily looking for a crew of new pals to hang out with on the road.

That being said, there are plenty of hostellers who are happy to make new friends and pick up a travel buddy – look out for them and don’t hesitate to reach out when people seem receptive.

By Sierra Dehmler | Passport Voyager

Get A Room

I get it. You’re on holiday.

You’ve found THE ONE. Or maybe it’s the beer talking. Anyway. Things get heavy. It’s time to take this somewhere… more intimate. That towel you’ve put up hanging from the bunk above will act as the perfect sound and light barrier, right? Surely no-one will hear you?

The answer, I’m sad to say, is no. Everyone will hear you. No-one wants to. Please, do everyone a favour and don’t have sex in a hostel dorm.
Unless you are:

a) The only person in the hostel dorm or
b)… to be honest, there is no B.

Just don’t do it. If sex is something you find yourself doing, get a private room, or find a private place that doesn’t have a bunch of other strangers lying in the dark listening to your magnificent sounds. However quiet you think you are being, and however fluffy that towel… they can definitely hear you. And no-one wants that.

This also applies to tents incidentally.

By Laurence Norah | Finding the Universe

Final Words

Over 10+ tips later from angry travellers, I think we can all agree on this hostel etiquette advice and move forward in our quest to travel carefree and happily into the sun.

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Tips on how to survive hostels | Hostel dorms | Backpacking | Hostel dorm tips | Budget travel

What really grinds your gears in hostels?

Keep in Touch with Friends: 6 Free Communications Apps

How to stay in contact with friends

Travel insurance is researched, the currency is ordered, your waterproof coat is packed – gearing up for a long-term travel trip is exciting yet exhausting! You never really understand the negative impact of life on the road until you are sleeping in the tenth different bed in two weeks or hunting for a quick turnaround dry cleaners and it’s during those lows that you wish you could have a hug from a parent or a moan with a familiar face. Fear not, although physical touch can’t be made, yet, there are apps to help you keep in touch with friends while touring and here’s the lowdown on our (Gemma and Craig) six favourites.

How to Keep in Touch with Friends

1. WhatsApp

Everyone has WhatsApp or Telegram on their mobile phones now which is great for sending free images of you swinging on a hammock to the folks back home and keeping up to date with stories and gossip. One of the neatest aspects of the best wifi texting app, WhatsApp, is the group function.

I have a series of group chats such as one with my friends from university called ‘Put On The Red Light’ (named after The Police song, Roxanne, as we used to do the drinking game to that tune at the student union) and countless country-specific groups to help arrange our trips. Craig has ‘Therapy’ with his pals from the home area, you are best not knowing what is said that group.

Understated functions of WhatsApp includes GIFs (found in the emoji section) and the option to edit and type/draw on pictures. WhatsApp also allows calls and video calls for one to one chats.

2. Facebook Messanger

Like WhatsApp, the Facebook Messanger app gives travellers the opportunity to chat with people in other countries via typing, call or video. It also has the option of group chats. Facebook Messenger is where I conduct most of my business chats with other digital content creators. As you can see in the image below, we discuss very important business details.

Since I’ve only ever met a few in the flesh (internet friends!) we’ve not exchanged numbers so don’t use WhatsApp.

FB Messenger has a great selection of GIFs too and digital icons like floating hearts and confetti!

I like how you can search chats for topics discussed in groups via Messenger on FB desktop and also mute chats that you don’t want notifications for.

These free group communication apps, WhatsApp and Messenger, have a recording function which is lovely if you want to hear someone’s voice. Our Colombian friends actually use voice record more than text! 

You will need to be connected to 4G or WiFi to use both apps. If your phone provider does not cover this in foreign countries check out an international WiFi hotspot.  

→ Note – why don’t you just use Facetime? Well, my friends, I moved away from Apple phone last summer and I don’t think I’ll be going back. 

 

3. Skype

Since the creation of WhatsApp and Facebook video, Skype has become pretty much redundant however Skype Credit for mobile is still useful if you are passing through a country fleetingly and it doesn’t make sense to invest in a new sim package. 

4. Spotify

So obviously we all know that Spotify is a music streaming app which I love and mention frequently in gift guides but how can this app help communicate with people back home? Playlists!

You can create a ‘collaborative’ playlist which allows another Spotify user to contribute. Why not create a theme challenge for the week? An alternative way to stay connected.

5. Send a Postcard

In this digital age, how often do we print our holiday snaps?

Go one better and make family back home envious as they go about the 9-5 grind by posting pics of your hiking, surfing and skiing! Stay in the good books and never miss an event again.

These apps let you send a card online for less than $2 which is cheaper than buying a card on Etsy.

Photos can be put into themed templates, ‘framed’, text font adapted and envelopes added for an additional charge. Another plus? Dates can be stored in the app diary so you will never forget a birthday or anniversary again.

6. Words With Friends

An oldy but a goody! This app is essentially Scrabble with a different name but you don’t need to be around the same board to play it. Users can play all over the world so not only are you checking in with friends, you are also exercising the brain. You’ll miss that, believe me!

Whether you are touching base at home or keeping in contact with new travel friends these recommendations will get you chatting and keep you ‘appy.

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Travel apps - communication apps

How do you stay connected?