Why Choose Between Hostels and CouchSurfing?

When I arrived in Dublin on Thursday, my plans for the summmer were very loose.  I’d used many styles of accomadation during previous travels and had great experiences with with CouchSurfing and hostels. When planning for this summer, I had a hard time choosing which to rely on. Luckily, since I have three months to travel and I can take my time wherever I go, I don’t have to choose! Before arriving, I had booked two days in Isaac’s Hostel and confirmed two days with a CouchSurfing host. The rest of the summer I would plan as I went. 



As mentioned in my previous post, it is very easy to meet fellow travelers while staying at backpacker’s hostels. KC, SC and I hung around together for the duration of our hostel stays. We explored Chester Beatty Library Museum, a place pointed out to us on our free walking tour, and enjoyed three floors of exhibitions, all containing pieces collected by Chester. Fellow backpackers understand the importance of exploring and eating on the relatively cheap. The museum was a free stop and we had a group ‘dinner’ to prepare our tummies for the night’s pub crawl. Dublin has lots of cheap convenience stores. Also, if you’re lucky enough to be a science geek, you can also unexpectedly lose five or six hours at the Trinity College science gallery. KC and I did as much, resulting in my receiving top accolades in balloon pop guessing and Texas Hold ‘Em. That place is heavily indebted to me for some serious science. I do wish we’d been playing for cash, I was that much of a shark at poker. Plus, our subsequent pub crawl with the hostels would’ve be VIP all the way. Kinder eggs for all.
The boys planned a trip to Galway, but I was set up with a CouchSurfing host so we split up the Dream Team and I went to meet up with Stijn. My luck continued with my host selection, as I ended up with a great guy that involved me in his entire weekend. With him, his CSers are his guests instead of just strangers on the couch. It turned out that Dublin had a pretty active and diverse CS community with some of the friendliest people ever. Stijn and I had both gone out late the night before so we started out with a stroll around Phoenix Park, the largest urban park in Europe. He was quite knowledgable about the area and told me all about the deer wandering about. I’d never seen such color variation in a herd of deer! Once we had some food in us we were able to perk up for a night of fun. Started out at the birthday party for fifty year old Irish twins at a back room of a sushi restaurant with free sushi and a rad DJ. Honestly, I dont know how I can top that event for the rest of my trip. I did mention the free sushi, right? Stijn introduced me to some other CSers and we kept the night going with loads of dancing. 
Depending on your style of travel, quiet days where you spend most of the time at a table eating and drinking tea can be a major advantage of hanging with a CSer over other hostel travelers. Since I have 3 months of traveling, I welcome the occasional low key day. Plus, a nice meal and tea is tops after a late night. I even splurged on what ended up being an adorable and delicious chocolate mousse dessert served in a baby Guinness glass! Seriously, look at that picture and tell me that isn’t the cure to anything that ails ya. 

Another big advantage of a local host is their knowledge of events around town. Yea you can ask the front desk at the hostel for recommendations, but often they have a select list of places/tours/events that they promote. My host knew about a FREE comedy show in the basement of a pub. One that I’d actually eaten in with KC and SC (Stag’s Head). We got there just in time to snag some of the last seats right up front, just to the side of the stage. Not only are there five acts for no charge, but they also handed out chocolate candy treats during intermission. Allegedly, they usually pass out ice creams. I highly recommend trying to hit up a show there on a Sunday or Monday evening. I had actually planning on leaving the next day, but Stijn told me about a group that was heading to Dun Laoghaire for a day by the seaside. He graciously agreed to let me stay an extra night and got me all of the information I’d need for the next day’s event. It turned out to be a fantasticly sunny day, perfect for the trip. There were a few people from the previous nights out in attendance, but loads more new faces that were eager to be friends. I was not actually brave enough to jump into the water, but a handful of the group actually went in. When there are swimmers wearing thick wetsuits to get in, thats usually my cue to simply enjoy the view. 
All in all, I think I saw most of what I wanted to see around Dublin. The two approaches both covered some really fantastic experiences and I definitely want to keep up with my trend of exploring different areas with travelers and locals. It also seems like the weekends are the best time to hit up a CSing host, as they are usually free from work to show you around and the hostels are sometimes pricier then. Next stop, Belfast!

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First day in Dublin

Day 1
Location: Isaac’s Hostel, Dublin Ireland
I don’t think it’s possible to have a smoother, jet-lag free international traveling experience. I left from Chicago O’Hare (ORD) on Wednesday around 7. About thirty minutes behind schedule, mind you, because apparently Air Force One was nearby? (Insert meme: 30 minutes less holiday time in Ireland. THANKS OBAMA.) Once in the air, my seat mate struck up conversation and I was really hoping he’d be a complete bore so I would have no choice but to sleep. He expressed similar concerns, but I sadly informed him that, unfortunately, I’m fascinating. He shared a stick of gum with me and we proceeded to shoot the shit until dinner and then snoozes. 
The entire plane, landing, customs, baggage retrieval, etc process was so painless that it doesn’t even warrant mention. Really, my bus ride to Chicago was only an hour or so less than my entire trans-Atlantic flight! My new friend, seat mate KC, had even less plans for his solo trip than I and decided to tag along with me to check out the hostel I’d booked. More smooth sailings with check in there. KC decided to stay for a night as well. Rooms weren’t ready for a few hours, but we miraculously were just in time for the FREE daily walking tour. Most hostels come equipped with rentable lockers and are a great bargain for securing your large bags while exploring the city. KC and I split a locker (they really are huge here) but I made sure I was in charge of key duties. 
Cue three hours of wandering about with our trusty Irishman tour guide, Sean, and another new friend, SC. Sean certainly earned his tips, and we had gathered some solid Irish history knowledge, as well as some ideas for where to explore further.
Dublin’s “Spire” in the middle(?) of the city. Great place to meet up if you get seperated, but really it looks like a radio antenna. 
Sean, our lovely free tour guide. 
Super cool architecture/housing in Dublin. 

The thing about traveling abroad to large European cities is to not over think them, or to put them on a pedestal, as it were. As we were finding our way back to the hostel, it dawned on me that Dublin is not really so different from any major American city. Once you check out a map well, find some solid landmarks, familiarize yourself with the transit systems, and just go out and wander about, you’ll feel just as comfortable. Yes, we did walk around in a few superfluous loops while trying to find some noms, but that was just as illuminating as any bit of the guided tour. 
The rest of the night has been a blur of hotel chilling. Sauna and tablet monopoly. If my next 89 days are this glorious, I’ll be just fine with that. 

In My Pack: (3 Month) Summer European Adventures

I’m just one sleep from waving farewell to Louisville at the bus station and starting my long journey to get to my long journey. For anyone just now tuning in, I am spending 90 days traveling around different European countries by myself. I have a very, very basic itinerary, a Euro Railpass, and whatever fits into my backpacker’s pack. During my three months traveling around Europe I’ll need a variety of clothing options. Chilly days are still a threat even in the middle of summer.

Flight between Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg.
That may or may not be ketchup wrapped in plastic for my
scared vegetarian in Africa ways. 

The closest I’ve come to needing to prepare for a trip of this magnitude was my month adventure around South Africa in 2008. I spent 4 weeks split between road tripping along the Garden Route and studying abroad with a group from my university, learning about local Wildlife Management practices.

Last summer, Rachel and I had the luxury of an entire car’s worth of space to cram in everything we could possibly hope to never need and then some. We had an entire bin full of our clothes. Another, even larger, with nearly all the food we’d eat the entire trip. Thanks, Sam’s Club! Not to mention, camping gear, computers, our letter writing box, gifts we bought along the way, etc. I honestly think at one point we just walked around my house in New Mexico grabbing whatever we wanted to toss in. SO MUCH SPACE!

Both trips, I surely over packed, but we went everywhere by rental car or vans, so I didn’t really have to lug everything around regularly. For this trip everything needs to fit onto my Gregory backpack. I’m unfortunately not sure of the model or even size. I bought it a few years ago at a local shop’s sale and did very little research (other than asking the sales man which fit me best). I’ve used it a few times and had no complaints.

I’ll have to report back at the end of my trip on the quality of my packing choices, so by no means is this current list a recommendation of any sorts. I did however check out several other travel bloggers for inspiration: Her Packing List, A Dangerous Business, Travel Fashion Girl. Luckily, since I am so used to packing for research/camping related trips, I am not disappointed by the lack of space for super cute clothes.

Without much further adieu, here is what is coming with me in my Gregory backpack for three months and an unknown number of countries across Europe!

I’ve already removed a pair of shorts from this original
selection. What else won’t make the cut?

Clothing

  • 2 bras – black/nude
  • 1 sports bra
  • 6 undies
  • 2 pairs wool socks
  • 1 pair jeans
  • 1 pair zip-off hiking pants
  • 3 shorts (1 for sleeping & hiking)
  • 5 tshirts (+3 for passing out to Gold Star Hosts)
  • 1 tanktop
  • 1 button up flannel (my token Adventure Shirt!)
  • 1 rain jacket
  • 1 handkerchief
  • 1 leggings
  • 1 sweatshirt
  • 1 monokini
  • 1 dress
  • 1 cardigan
  • 1 pair base layers – leggings and undershirt
  • 1 pair gloves and warm hat
Shoes
  • hiking shoes
  • chacos
  • I told myself that makeup was the last thing to go into my
    toiletries bag IF there was room. There was! This is all I’m taking.
    Already don’t wear makeup daily, but I like options.
  • extra shoe laces

Gear  (Bold Kept in Day Pack)

  • ipad (and keyboard)
  • camera
  • water purifier
  • chargers
  • dry sack
  • compression sacks
  • camping stove
  • mess kit (full or 1/2?)
  • pen & sharpie
  • money belt (mostly for organization)
  • wallet
  • nalgene, insert, and cover
  • travel tea things
  • sleeping bag
  • tent (backpacking style)
  • sleeping pad?
  • travel towel
  • head lamps
  • sun glasses
  • deck of cards
  • lock
  • leatherman
  • REI green day sack
  • First Aid Kit
  • Nifty Business Cards
  • Plug adapter
  • French and German phrasebooks 
  • headphones
This is slightly smaller than a TicTac box.
All my hair do-dads. Hair ties, bobby pins, and 2 clips.

Toiletries

  • toothbrush
  • Dr. Bronners
  • diva cup
  • razor? 
  • make up
  • hair things
  • wet wipes
  • mini hair brush
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Contacts and solution
  • Glasses and case

Important Papers – and copies of all!

  • passport
  • flight itinerary
  • bank statement
  • travel insurance papers
  • Railpass 
  • SCUBA cert papers
  • Kentucky for Kentucky and WHY Louisville Stickers (also for Gold Star Hosts/New Friends)
My two bags all ready to go!

The entire time I was organizing and making/moving piles around in my room it seemed like I was packing SO MUCH. But now that I’ve gotten everything in my big pack and day pack, I have extra space in both! And it’ll lighten as I use things and give away a few shirts. I consulted a few trusted friends and you’ll notice that several item did NOT make the final cut. Others I just added moments ago. 

I’m also bringing the book I’m nearly finished with, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, on the bus so I can get that finished and sent off to Rachel. We started it together last summer during our travels and I’ve been hogging it! Also an extra envelope and some paper because I owe a letter to one of my pen pals (and previous CouchSurfing host!).

Question of the Day:
What do you think of my packing job? Should I chuck anything out? Did I forget anything? You’ve got 2 days!






As a sidenote, the majority of my future blog posts will be typed/posted from my iPad. The blogging app has improved lots, but still doesn’t lend itself for much in the way of photo arrangement. I’m also not sure if there’s a spell check. I’m secretly a horrid speller. Hope you can excuse some less than perfect posts. I’ll be going back and prettying them up as I am able. I appreciate you, gentle reader!