Category Archives: Interviews

Interview Jose, Safestay Hostel

safestay

SafeStay Hostel, London.

Today, we’re going to majestic London – the biggest and most crowded European city. Some might also say the most beautiful, but that’s a highly competitive award – so we’ll just call it one of the most beautiful. London is a dazzling mix of history, charm, and craziness – all sprinkled with a touch of whiskey, and a lot of beer. Today, we’re talking to Jose, from the SafeStay Hostel in London (Facebook). Travel Hostel: First of all, tell us a bit about yourself, the staff, how’s the hostel, the cultural mix, how’s it going?

Jose: Safestay is one of the newer hostels in London and we really pride ourselves on our high standards. There are staff at Safestay from all over the world – as far away as Columbia, New Zealand and Canada; there are staff from all over Europe – Czech Republic, Poland, Spain and Italy… We even have some Londoners! The huge mix of culture and all the different languages you will hear along the corridors really make things interesting.

TH: Well that’s nice to here – I sure love me some intercultural flavors! How would you describe a regular day of the life – what you do, the different things and situations you get in contact with,  what kinds of problems can there be, what are the advantages, what you like and what you don’t like about what you do?

J: No two days are the same which definitely makes the job a lot more enjoyable, but can also make it hard work. My job as Reception Manager is mostly customer based so it’s about greeting the guests, checking them in, answering any questions they have and generally making them feel welcome. You also have to deal with complaints, sometimes you can get guests who have a lot higher expectations than even the best hostels can offer for the amount they are paying and this can be difficult. We get all sorts of people staying at the hostel from large groups of chaos causing school children to small groups who are in London for an event or weekend away; individuals who are traveling around Europe from distant countries and those who have moved to London to find work and a place to live. You get to meet some really interesting people – both professionally and socially when you are working in the hostel. I have had the opportunity to go on some really cool tours and attend some great events which I wouldn’t have been able to if I wasn’t in the job that I’m in.

Safestay-Hostel-Elephant-and-Castle-London

SafeStay Hostel, London.

TH: Indeed, form what we’ve talked to other hostel workers, that seems to be the blessing and the curse of hostels: no two days are alike. But let’s talk about hostels in general. What makes a hostel a hostel, as opposed to say a hotel?

J: Aside from being cheaper and sharing your room with up to 7 other people, the whole atmosphere is different than a hotel. It is about being more than just a bed to sleep in – people come to hostels to meet other travellers and get advice and inspiration. The staff all love to travel and know a lot about the city so they are always able to help the guests out. The whole atmosphere is a lot more personal and a lot friendlier than a hotel. This doesn’t mean that cleanliness is compromised though – the housekeepers work hard to keep the place sparkling!

TH: People in your city – do they usually go to alternatives to hotels or hotels? And why do you think this happens?

J: There are lots and lots of hotels and hostels in London so these would definitely be the most popular types of accommodation. I do think that the number people who would consider couchsurfing or booking entire properties through sites like Airbnb is increasing though. I would say that this is mainly due to cost, value for money and convenience.

london food

There are lots of quirky delicious places to eat in London – don’t eat at chain restaurants.

TH: Whenever you go to a new city, you always find out some things only after you get there. Could you tell us your best insider tips for anyone who comes and visits the city?

J: Stay off the Underground as much as you can. Most of the main tourist attractions are within walking distance from each other and London is a great city to be ‘lost’ in – you never know what you will find around the corner. There are also really great bus routes so stay above the ground as much as you can and see the city. Avoid eating at chain restaurants that are found all over the world. London is full of quirky eating places, pop up restaurants and markets selling a huge variety of street food. You get a whole lot more for your money and the food tastes delicious!

TH: Estimate (on the spot, just estimate) an average 7 day trip to your city.

J: Day One – Go on one of the Free Walking Tours – it is a great way to help you find your way around and work out which sights you would like to go back to. Get cheap theatre tickets in Leicester Square and go to see one of the amazing shows on each night.

No trip to London will be complete without a visit to the Tower of London.

No trip to London will be complete without a visit to the Tower of London.

Day Two – Stretch your budget a bit and go to one of the main tourist attractions. Marvel at the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London; check out the views at the View from the Shard; or see what life is like for the Queen when Buckingham Palace opens its doors for the summer. Unwind with a pint of traditional ale and a plate of fish and chips in a pub near the Borough Market.

Day Three – Hit the markets. Depending on which day of the week it is you can visit Portabello Road, Borough Market, the Columbia Road Flower Market and many more.

Day Four – Soak up some history at the British Museum. Otherwise visit one of London’s many other free museums and galleries – the Tate Modern, the National Gallery, the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum are all free!

portobello road

Portobello Road is definitely a destination not to be missed.

Day Five – Take a day trip out of the city. Stonehenge, Oxford and Windsor are all great places to visit if you want to escape the rush of London.

Day Six – Take a cruise on the river from Greenwich down to the London Eye – you get a completely different view of London and there’s no traffic!

Day Seven – Relax in one of London’s green spaces – Greenwich Park, Hyde Park or Regents Park for example. Do some last minute souvenir shopping and get those postcards sent.

TH: That’s really a nice guide – and interestingly enough, I followed almost the exact trail when I visited London! I really recommend it, lots of insider tips there! Now, tell us a bit about your personal experiences at the hostel. Any positive or negative ones that stand out?

J: I am lucky to not have had too many bad experiences. It’s always horrible when a guest is upset or is having a bad time on their travels. The best experiences are when you know you have really helped someone – positive feedback after recommending them your favourite place to eat; getting them a deal they wouldn’t have found themselves or just generally making their time in London better. The people you meet in hostels are some of the best you will find anywhere – I have made lifelong friends all over the world. My advice for hostel managers is for them to travel themselves (staying in hostels) – you get a much better idea of what your guests are looking for.

TH:  Do you happen to have any information about fake reviews (because apparently that’s a thing)?

I haven’t had many problems with fake reviews but I have heard stories about them. I’ve seen people who have left bad reviews due to personal issues or guests that have broken hostel rules and then taken out their frustration in the form of really negative comments online. I have also heard of hostels who post fake positive reviews in order to boost their ratings. You can normally tell the fake ones though – not only are they different from the rest but they are either unbelievably bad or just too good to be true.

TH:  What do you like to do on vacation and why?

J: When I go on holiday I like to travel, get off the beaten track a bit – find the places that tourists don’t always go to. I love history and culture so I am always really interested in finding out as much as I can about the country I am in and the people who live there. And sometimes, I just want to relax 🙂

Aww yes! Thank you Jose, for one of the most enjoyable and insightful interviews I’ve ever done!

Interview with Irina from Oasis Hostel in Granada, Spain

This summer may be hot (thanks, global warming), but it’s never hot enough until you head on to sunny Spain! Granada is located in the southern part of the country, and it’s known for its warm people, Moorish influences, and delicious food. Today we’ll be talking to Irina, who came to Granada all the way from Latvia!

irina grnada hostel oasis

Travel-Hostel: Hi and thanks for chatting with us! First of all, tell us a bit about yourself, the hostel, the cultural mix and how the Oasis Hostel [Facebook] works.

Irina: Hi there! Right now Oasis staff is a great mix of people from all the world: we only have few Spanish guys,all the rest are from all over Europe, including such a secluded and lost as Latvia (myself) haha. We are so different and maybe that’s what keeps us going 🙂 There is a bit of everything.

TH: From my experience, these are the best hostels, where everything is like a fuit salad 🙂 How would you describe a regular day of the life – what you do, the different things and situations you get in contact with, what kinds of problems you run in to?

Irina: I am running the reception work so my day normally starts with a cup of coffee and a quick check of everything what has happened the night before and organizing the hostel work for the next day.

Describing it in few words it is very dynamic and crazy 😉 Anything can happen, but we always hold on to keep calm in any situation.

granada 3

TH: What makes your place different from a hotel? Is it the spirit/concept, or just because it’s cheaper? And what would be these differences?

Irina: The key word is atmosphere. I really think “Oasis” is famous for it. I have stayed in a lot of hotels and despite the fact that the rooms are more comfy and quiet, the lack of atmosphere and sympathy makes hostels look a better option to me . It is also great for a solo traveler to get to know people and have fun– no hotels would provide you this!

TH: People in your city –do they usually go to alternatives to hotels or hotels? And why do you think this happens?

Irina: I ́d say is 50/50. Elder people or couples would go to the hotels while the young people prefer hostels. Granada is an amazing city where you can find absolutely everything you need.

TH: Whenever you go to a new city, you always find out some things only after you get there. Could you tell us your best insider tips for anyone who comes and visits the city?

Irina: My tip would be : “Don ́t be afraid to come to the desk and ask for any information or tip, even if you think you questions may sound silly!” Who knows, maybe you will get to experience something you would never guessed or find on internet or in a tourist guide 😉 Let the locals share their favourite things with you!

TH: Estimate (on the spot, just estimate) an average 7 day trip to your city.

Irina: Granada is an amazing city. A lot of tourists come thinking they only going to spend one night here and end up staying 1 or even 2 weeks. First of all, the Alhambra of course – our most famous palace , the gem of Andalucia. Museums, caves, flamenco shows – this is just a short list of what you can do here.

Alhambra is the most famous castle in Spain - and one of the most famous in Europe. It's often called the Jewel of Andalucia. Image via Planetware

Alhambra is the most famous castle in Spain – and one of the most famous in Europe. It’s often called the Jewel of Andalucia. Image via Planetware

We have ski resort Sierra Nevada 40 min drive from the center and beaches less than 1 hour away. What more can you ask for? And don’t forget about FREE tapas in any restaurant (that’s also a big reason for people to stay longer hahaha).

TH: Well let me tell you – skiing is not something I’d have expected in southern Spain! 🙂 Tell us about your experiences – the people you meet, the best and worst experience. What is it that you learned, do you happen to have any advice for travelers or for other hostel managers based on your experiences?

Irina: I learned to be very patient. People all are different, we are lucky enough, most of our guests are great. For me, the worst thing is being disrespectful and having rude behaviour. Unfortunately, some people do not respect other travellers and act like if it was their house ( in a bad way). Drunks are another issue, but we try to control them and close bar at a reasonable time haha ;)) My advice for other managers would be: be patient! and for the guests: respect your fellow travellers and make the place and everyone in there happy!

TH: Do you happen to have any information about fake reviews (because apparently that’s a thing)?

Irina: Mmm… I heard that some newly opened hostels that still dont have any reviews write good ones for themselves… Well, I can only say I’m glad we do not have to do that.

TH:  Yep, it’s quite a nasty practice, and unfortunately, it seems to be spreading more and more. So, to conclude things, tell me what do you like to do on vacation and why?

Irina: Hahah obviously to travel!

Interview with Joerg from the EastSeven Berlin Hostel

It’s time to step it up and head on to the heart of Germany – we’re talking with Joerg, from the EastSeven Berlin Hostel (Facebook)

Travel-Hostel: Hello and thank you for taking the time to talk to us! Hope everything is going fine! Tell us a bit about yourself, the people you work with, the mix of cultures and what keeps it going.

berlin hostelJoerg: We are a small hostel with 60 beds. My business partner Pierre and I started 10 years ago with this project. Before we were travellers for long time until we found ourselves in a family life. The hostel is very much a mix of what we liked a lot during our travelling. Gemuetlich, clean, friendly, well equipped and maintained. A place home from home. We are relaxed with self catering kitchen, cheap beer at the reception, nice garden etc. We are not a party hostel in the sense of binge drinking wet t-shirt contest fun things – it more for adult people. Our staff we select very strict, but once we found a new member the person stays for many years. I hope it is because it is a good job (and we do regularly staff meetings with loads of beer) . Our staff comes from Australia, Poland, Netherlands, Peru, Brasil, South Africa and of course Germany. We watch very tight how they deal with the customers.

TH: How would you describe a regular day of the life – what you do, the different things and situations you get in contact with,  what kinds of problems can there be, what are the advantages advantages, what you like and what you don’t like about what you do?

J: I work mostly behind the front desk line. So I am responsible for staff management, accounting, and all the little things that happen in a daily business. I can do some work from home, so sometimes in the evening I do what is left over. During the day I am around. By nature I try to work not too much, so I think I have the best possible job for me. In contact with the world, seeing my business grow … and it seems we do a lot of good things – our ratings are very good = win win situation 😉

TH: What makes your place different from a hotel? Is it the spirit/concept, or just  because it’s cheaper? And what would be these differences?

J: A hotel for me is a stiff place with lots of stupid hierarchy and not very personal. In the eastseven you can feel at home. The common rooms are made to chill without always being asked if you want to consume something. And we have this wonderful staff, who knows a lot, and also can help by looking for further information. We attract the people we want in our hostel, so we have a good atmosphere and every day we can see how people became friends overnight. And we are very clean (that for we have more female guest).

berlin2

Apparently, female guests keep the rooms more clean 🙂

TH: People in your city –do  they usually go to alternatives to hotels or hotels? And why do you think this happens?

J: In Berlin there are 130 hostels and more than 1.000 hostels. I don´t know so much about how the guest act in that environment. But I know that we have a lot of regulars and guest following personal recommendations … So we focus on doing what we think is important.

TH: Whenever you go to a new city, you always find out some things only after you get there. Could you tell us your best insider tips for anyone who comes and visits the city?

J: Bring more than 2 days, cause you need time to understand the Berlin universe. There is no center but roundabout a dozen interesting areas. Don´t miss nightlife. As you can feel safe everywhere, just start your walk and end up when you legs are burning – alternatively you can rent a bike. Try to get into the history of the last 80 years – still you can feel a lot of what happened here.

There is no center in

There is no center in Berlin, but about a dozen interesting areas.

TH: Could you estimate, on the spot, an average 7 day trip to your city:

J: 1 day main sights
3 half day with museums you like and the other half with beeing in interesting neighbourhoods
3 evenings with art events in galleries
2 evenings with life music and maybe later clubbing
One soviet day with former headquarter Karlshorst and soviet war memorial
One daytrip to Sachsenhausen concentration camp (it is heavy stuff)
One daytrip to Potsdam castles
On Sunday it is a must to visit a fleamarket (preferable Mauerpark)

berlin 4

Berlin has some of the most mind blowing museums in the world. It is also very historical, especially in the past century.

TH: Indeed, I visited Berlin for less about 6 days, and I felt like I just barely scratched the surface of what was going on! Tell us about your experiences – the people you meet, the best and worst experience. What is it that you learned, do you happen to have any advice for travelers or for other hostel managers based on your experiences?

J: Surprisingly I didn´t have any real bad experience. Sometimes you feel treated bad by an unfair rating (unfair means complaints about things we haven´t done that sometime happened in other hostels … and I´m really sick of guest complaining about a never promised elevator – we really don´t have one – if it is important please book a hostel with an elevator)
The best experience was a love story of a Taiwanese guy and a Chinese girl (forbidden love in the city of the wall … yeah)

TH: Do you happen to have any information about fake reviews (because apparently that’s a thing)?

J: We sometimes wonder how some hostels manage to not have one single bad review – I think it is impossible to make everyone happy. I don´t know more about it, I think the best is to have a good product …

TH: OK, now tell us a little bit about yourself! What do you like to do on vacation?

J: I like action like hiking, biking, walking arround, swimming … and I like to sit in a cafe for hours and see the people moving. And I like new types of food.

TH: OK great! Thanks for the time and good luck with the EastSeven Hostel !

ostello bello hostel milan

Interview with Francesco from Ostello Bello

 

Today, we’re going to Italy! Hey, and not just everywhere, but in Milan – the fashion heart of Europe. But Milan is SO much mure than just fashion – and nobody knows more about that than the guys from the Ostello Bello Hostel (Facebook).

Travel-Hostel: First of all,  thank you for taking the time to talk to us! Tell us a bit about yourself, the staff, nationality, mix of cultures, what keeps it going.

ostello bello1 hostel milan

Ostello Bello: Right now we’re a big group of people from all over the world. The owners and starter employees were born and raised in Milano.  As time passed by we’ve grown bigger and we got to work with people from everywhere. From Mexico to Bangladesh, passing through Poland and Lithuania we are getting as international as our guests are. We are pursuing a goal: to offer the typical italian hospitality in a multicultural atmosphere.

TH: How would you describe a regular day of the life – what you do, the different situations,  what kinds of problems can there be… basically, what do you like and what you don’t like about what you do?

OB: It’s not that easy to describe “a typical day in Ostello Bello”. Milano is a touristic destination itself, but also and above all a is a gateway to the whole Italy, moreover with serveal low cost companies flying here, we have mostly short staying guests. It means every day different people, different stories, different situations.

In addition, being Ostello Bello’s bar hosting different events and very popular among local youth (not just youth, to be true), from happy hour time we find ourselves in a dense and mixed crowd composed of milanesi, expats and hostel’s guests. This helps to create a varied atmosphere which is very stimulating and funny for us who are working there. And we hope to our guests as well. On problems, luckily, we never really had here, since we are close to the city centre, area is very safe, and bar people not rude nor dangerous all. So even the classical “bar problems” are really on lowest standards.

ostello bello hostel milan

TH: Wow, it’s amazing that you never have any significant problems, especially organizing events for such a diverse crowd! I guess this is what it comes down to being a good hostel. Speaking of, what makes a hostel a hostel – different from a hotel? Is it the spirit/concept, or just the smaller price range?

OB: The original idea of hostel is probably to be found in the need to save budget on sleeping. As easy as it gets backpacking became a way of travelling or even a lifestyle. What we offer is for sure a cheaper solution for those who need a bed in the centre of the city. But we all know people choose hostels because they like to meet other travellers. Here we push one step forward: we give a staff who has the same love for travelling and has the same will to communicate and share.

We are italian, hospitality is on our fingerprint.  If you come to OstelloBello you will be hosted by a big family, no more no less 🙂

TH: That’s amazing, I love that! Personally, it’s exactly what I look for when I’m traveling to a hostel, and it’s quite rare that you see a staff with actual experience in traveling. But what about your other visitors?Do people usually go to Milan hostels or hotels? And why do you think this happens?

Until a few years ago, Milano was known mostly for fashion, business and banks.

Until a few years ago, Milano was known mostly for fashion, business and banks.

OB: Until few years ago Milano was mainly known for business, fashion, and trade banks. Hence did not offer as many sleeping solutions as other European capitals do. In the last few years the city is getting more open and lively, famous as nightlife hub and touristic destination. Milano is changing its image to the world, also, offering new solutions to travellers, giving them opportunity to discover its unexpected face. And we can proudly say to be part of this process!

TH: Yes, I think especially with the development of low cost airlines, that was bound to happen – especially as Milan is an amazing city, with many touristic options. But, whenever you go to a new city, you always find out some things only after you get there. Could you tell us your best insider tips for anyone who comes and visits the city?

OB: I will give a tip which is good everywhere: Pick a local, and follow him! Avoid two decks bus and taxi, use public transport to cross the city, then simply lose yourself walking in the centre. Hanging from Sempione, to Brera ending up to navigli for a drink, you won’t regret it.

TH: Estimate (on the spot, just estimate) an average 7 day trip to your city.

duomo cathedral, milano. ostello bello.

Duomo Cathedral, Milano’s most iconic landmark.

OB: Day 1 A walk in the city centre, the Duomo cathedral, the castle Sforzesco, Ticinese and Navigli Canals where youth gathers, express arts, live the nightlife, full of unique shops, in a typical Milano postcard scenery.

Day 2 Brera the former artistic district and its Pinacoteca, Corso Garibaldi, where the brand new skyscrapers meet the old city architecture. A drink there is a must.

Day 3 Enjoy flea market in Fiera di Sinigaglia, visit Triennale art and design museum, and rest in the park swarming among sporty people, and chilled ones (only on sunny seasons).

Day 4 Pay respect to San Siro temple of football and get to find ticked to Inter’s or Milan’s game. Check with your own eyes how fun could be your hostel from happy hour all night long.

Day 5 Wake up early and visit Santa Maria delle Grazie and Leonardo’s world famous Last Supper. Then go to Università Statale, pretend to be an Erasmus Student, and hook up with boys or girls (or both, up to you).

Day 6 A shopping marathon can be more than satisfying in Corso Buenos Aires, the longest shopping street in the country. And if you are brave enough, test yourself in Via Montenapoleone. Be careful price there are in the “sky’s the limit” category.

Day 7 A sunny day at Lago di Como, is worth 40 minutes on the railway to get there. A beautiful blue lake, surrounded by mountain scenery is waiting for you there.

Lago di Como - just 40 minutes away from Milano.

Lago di Como – just 40 minutes away from Milano.

TH: OK, I’m doing that! It sounds like such a dreamy vacation, I just have to try it! Tell us about your own experiences – the people you meet, the good and the bad. What is it that you learned, do you have any advice for travelers – or for other hostel managers?

OB: Experiences bad and good can be quite personal, let’s just say someone here found love and built a family. As a bad experience we’d pick a somnambulist guy who was speaking unknown language during his sleepwalk. It’s funny to think about, but at the moment it was quite strange.

People we meet here, as I said, can be various so anyone can find someone to get well along with. In this work we basically learn to forget predjudices. Really. As well for advices everyone is different and needs his one. Travellers, workers and managers. Infact we’re in costant search of new advices. But one for all, we have been given, and we happily give back to everyone is: be open, be honest. You’ll be rewarded.

TH: Do you happen to have any information about fake reviews (because apparently that’s a thing)?

OB: We heard about it too, and some people left on purpose bad reviews for personal reasons. But we think it’s easy, for a reader, to spot a fake, its that one who says the opposite of all the others.

TH: What do you like to do on vacation and why?

OB: Might be surprising: during our vacation we love to travel!

TH:  Any other information/share/shutouts etc that you’d like us to know.

OB: Come to stay at Ostello Bello first drink is on us!

TH: Hehe, we just might take you up on that offer! Hey, and don’t worry, we’ll take our drinks to the bar 😉

ostello-bello3

Interview with Hostel Manager: Goran from Chill Out Hostel, in Zagreb, Croatia

We were now lucky enough to chat with Goran, who runs the Chill Out Hostel in Zagreb, Croatia. You can read the interview below. Previous Hostel Interviews:

Travel-Hostel: First of all, tell us a bit about yourself, the staff, nationality, mix of cultures, what keeps it going etc.

Goran: My name is Goran Osredečki and along with my girlfriend (Nikolina Kuhar) we operate biggest hostel in Zagreb – just 1 minute from Zagreb’s main square [Chill Out Hostel]. We have around 20-25 people working thoughout the year, all young team of professionals in finance, sales & experience in traveling with large accent on innovations. Almost every member of our staff is from different parts of Croatia. We also get big support from our volunteers who come from all around the world. All of this makes a prefect culture mixture that is pushing the limits every day in form of fun, content & experience for our guests.

chill out hostel 2

TH: How would you describe a regular day of your life – what you do, what problems you have… what’s it like being a hostel owner?

G: Very dynamic & intensive…You never now what to expect in the morning when you wake up and come to work. Large scale of different cultures sleeping together can be challenging from time to time.

TH: What about these different cultures? How are they like?

G: Englishman do know how to drink and make clowns of themselves, Dutchmen do know how to get along with everybody and have fun at the same time, Frenchmen want to improve everything, Germans feel like at home (bilingual staff – most of them speak German), & Americans who are cool all the time.

All kinds of different people visit us so the situations (problems) are very different. Someone has a problem with a hair dryer, other ones want a tanning salon, and the others couldn’t get any sleep due to roommates that are making noise in shared dorms. Most problems are fun because you can solve them easily. On the other hand every guest thinks how only his problem is the biggest one. But real problems are within the staff relations, honoring government laws and group demands which can be really a challenge to fulfill. Disadvantages are working hours that can spread throughout hole day, and day can become a week, and then you realize that you haven’t been on vacation for more than a year. Its ease to get lost in time if you have a job that you love. Group negotiations can also be a drag, but not always.

TH: What makes a hostel a hostel – different from a hotel or any other type of traditional accommodation? Is it the spirit/concept, or just  because it’s cheaper?

chill out hostel

G: Friendly atmosphere, open minded people ready to meet new people, services and tailored made content/services/games which bring people together along with exploring our city culture. I don’t think that cheap prices really have an influence on guests that come to a hostel. Most of them can afford a hotel, but they want to spend little money on accommodation in which they will be for a few hours. They want to spend their money on exploring and experiencing some other personal interest like food, museums, national parks, clothes, booze…Even Some of the hotel guests are coming to chillout so they can meet somebody new, relax and don’t have to bother about their appearance or opinion of others.

TH: What’s it like in Zagreb? Do people generally go to hostels or hotels?

G: In Zagreb & Croatia in general most of the people go to hotels because the hostel market  is really young and not that developed – speaking in the form of marketing. The design of most hostels is on top level (higher than average if we look at most European capital cities). The number of hostels increases every year along with their share in total number of guests that visit Zagreb. Hopefully in the near future they will present a significant part of our tourism and will support some other values in life than material ones (money & luxury). I think people want attention, they want to share their stories, hear some other experiences and enjoy life on different level.

Medvedgrad, one of the recommended places to visit.

Medvedgrad, one of the recommended places to visit. Below the main tower of the castle is Oltar Domovine (Altar of the homeland) which is dedicated to the fallen Croatian soldiers in the Croatian War of Independence.

TH: Whenever you go to a new city, you always find out some things only after you get there – no matter how much you try to prepare yourself in advance. Could you tell us your best insider tips for anyone who comes and visits the city?

G: Be sure to take minimum of three days stay in Zagreb! I would definitely suggest visiting Altar of the Homeland on Medvednica hill/mountain, Jarun & Bundek lake (can take a swim or play outdoor sports), Maksimir Park & Zoo, Mirogoj Cemetery, museums (especially the museum of broken relationships), Hrelić market on Sunday and similar city  attractions.

Bundek Lake, in Zagreb, Croatia.

Bundek Lake, in Zagreb, Croatia.

People In Zagreb and Croatia are not very punctual so don’t expect that the train, plane, bus or tram will arrive on time 😀 We have all 4 weather seasons and most of the land part is during winter and spring (festivals, open cultural & sport events). During spring and fall you can really enjoy the coast line with more than 1000 islands.

TH: Tell us about your extreme experiences – the people you meet, the best and worst experience. What is it that you learned, do you happen to have any advice for travelers or for other hostel managers based on your experiences?

G: We have met the most friendly people and the most vicious ones. Best experience are with the people you can help on the personal level (ingury solutions, trip planning with our partners and discounts on services that they can use in Croatia, people bringing presents to our staff because they make their day or the whole stay…). The angry ones do put a lot of pressure on the whole team and we try to make it right, but sometimes you lose a lot of energy doing that. Sometimes they ask for something that don’t really have a right for (sometinems even use blackmail – bad review – if we don’t please their demands) like free parking space, sometimes they just run and don’t pay, rarely they horrass other guests, not respect house rules and similar. But in general 99,9% of our guests are the ones we would be more than happy to welcome again.

TH: Wow, using bad reviews as blackmail… that’s new. Personal reviews seem to be so powerful nowadays; some of our other hostel friends told us that fake reviews are also a thing, have you had any experience with that?

G: In general we don’t have bad expeirances from reviews, but in I think that they are not a genuine fact of somebody’s stay. On our example you can see that in the same day you can find reviews from 70% to 100% and sometimes people that stayed in the same room (we have 37 of them) leave them in this spread. So this is only a individual point of view that can be influenced by numerous reasons not only depending on the hostel.

Our opinion is that people can leave a review but the percentage & rating calculation is totally unnecessary and misleading. Also the total number of reviews vary form hostel to hostel so I cannot understand the whole idea that wanted to be achieved through this method of communicating with the people that haven’t yet been in the target hostel or destination. On the other hand, pictures are the most important part of decision, and yet everybody has the most beautiful pictures of the hostel on the opening day. If sites that offer booking would not be so money oriented (pushing the hostels who pay the most in front places instead of quality), for me the best way would be visiting their clients and making recommendations or hostel descriptions based on published rules or conditions without the possibility of misleading photos or reviews or higher listed places. They would keep their power on the market but they would get more quality for their guests and influence the market standards of hostels that are listed on their sites.

TH: That’s a very interesting point of view, I agree with it myself. I dislike the general trend we see with today’s major hostel bookers. This is kind of the reason why we have started Travel Hostel – to give a different perspective, that’s not based on the financial aspect. But enough about that – what do you like to do on vacation and why?

Relax and try out new sports depending on the destination. Surfing, diving, free climbing, paragliding…Also I like to visit local national pars or other historic cultural sights. Best is when you have a local friend to give you some genuine suggestions or advices. In general I like to meet the people in a new destination and explore they way of living. I love to travel because numerous things happen on the trip that you wouldn’t have a chance to experience at home.

OK Goran, it’s been a great experience! Thank you so much for sharing these insights with us, we hope you have a terrific Summer and… see you soon! 🙂

Hostel Interviews: Back Home Hostel, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting Malaysia, with its lovely capital, Kuala Lumpur – but it’s definitely in the top of the list. Malaysia is not one of the most popular travel destinations, but when it comes to hidden gems – it doesn’t get much better than this. Malaysia boasts a rich cultural heritage, a huge variety of activities and sights, from gorgeous beaches and tropical rainforests to vibrant cities rich in culture.

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Kuala Lumpur. Image via the Telegraph.

We believe that the best way of visiting Malaysia, and Kuala Lumpur, is through hostels – this way you get a really good feel of the city life, and you get to meet new people – all at a low cost! In order to confirm (or infirm) this, I contacted Ng Ping Ho – the owner and manager of the Back Home Hostel in Kuala Lumpur. He’s one of the best men to discuss visiting Kuala Lumpur, and what it’s like to run a hostel in this amazing city:

Q: First of all tell us a bit about yourself the hostel and yourself – whatever you think is relevant and interesting about the history of the hostel, the staff and yourself. The Guarantee thing sounds really interesting, I’ve never been to a hostel that offered that!

My name is Ng Ping Ho. I came from a TV production background. I decided to open the hostel because at that time, my family had these old heritage shophouses as a family property. At that time, it was being rented out, but a lot of the rental was going into maintaining the crumbling structure. My partner and I decided to renovate and do something long-term with it.

 

back homeWas this an idea that you had for a long time, did it just come up spontaneously? How was it like in the start?

The idea of a backpackers came up because at that time, around 2006, we saw a market for a clean, professionally run hostel.

On a personal note, around that time I made a trip to Mongolia. While I was there, my guide brought me to a lone cottage in the middle of nowhere. All around was just rocks and rolling hills. As we entered the cottage, I stepped on pine floors. Cold Play was playing off the speakers. And there was the smell of coffee and pastres. I immediately felt at home. That was the idea of BackHome – to have a place you can call home, deep in unfamiliar territory.

The staff comes from a variety of backgrounds. None of us had hospitality experience. We learnt as we go along – all of us have a passion for travel.

That’s quite awesome – hands-on learning is the best learning, if you ask me. In Kuala Lumpur, would you say that it is easy to find a good hostel, or is it more of a rarity? What kind of accommodation to people usually go to?

It’s easy to find a good hostel in KL. People mostly prefer private rooms with an en-suite bathroom. People who stay in hostels value interaction with other guests, common areas, and good customer service.

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What is it that makes you different, special, better than other hostels?

What makes us different is our guarantee. We guarantee that you get personal attention, a good night’s rest, and peace of mind. If you don’t get any of these things, you get a free night. We believe that after a few years, we might not be the most impressive hostel around, but our service will be the best on the market.

Malaysia's cuisine is one of the most spectacular in the world.

Malaysia’s cuisine is one of the most spectacular in the world. Food is cheap and good in Malaysia.

Well I’ve never visited Malaysia, and to be honest, I don’t know much about it, other than what you can find on Wikipedia. The two things that pop in my mind when thinking about the country are great food and awesome wild landscapes. Is this true, or is it just a Western misconception, and there’s much more we’re missing out on? For example, I don’t know much about the architecture or the museums or the nightlife… what are some of the biggest attractions in the area?

Actually, we love food – and we have great food 24 hours of the day. You can go to an outdoor café at 3am, and people will be eating or having coffee. Malaysians love food. We have rainforests, but the people in the cities are slowly losing touch with that. Besides that, you get to experience so many different cultures in Malaysia, especially KL – it’s a city that’s made up of immigrants.

We also have the KL Twin Towers – visitors who see that are always amazed.

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How much would you say the average 7 days trip to KL costs, with everything except the plane included?

You can get by on RM50 ($15) per day for accomodation if you’re staying in a hostel, and another RM50 ($15) a day for food and transport. Food is cheap and good in Malaysia. Transport is a little chaotic, but we have a good train system.

When I travel to a new place, I always look it up on WikiTravel, TripAdvisor and whatnot. But when I get there, there’s always some really cool things, which I only find out from locals. What are some lesser known tips what you would give to people visiting KL?

People usually come to KL to see the cultural sights, but KL is a very modern, cosmopolitan city. For the locals, we meet up over food, and drink. So my advice is get to know a local, and just hang out with them.

What kind of tourists do you usually get? Does it depend on the time of the year? Is it Malaysians or usually foreigners?

We get everyone from Europeans, Americans, Asians and Middle Eastern visitors. All different times of the year. Depends on all their holiday breaks.

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You must have some really good stories with your clients! Tell us the best/funniest and worst experience you had with a client, and what you learned from it. How often do you have unusual, unexpected events?

We have lots of stories, but it’s too many to tell! Probably what stands out is when a family booked a dorm for 8, but turned up with 20 people, including an elderly grandma in a wheelchair, and kids running around.

What’s it like being a hostel manager (I’m not exactly sure who it is I’m talking to, if you’re not the manager… then what’s it like doing what you do)? Is it a good job, rewarding, tiring? Tell us a bit about the insides of the job.

A hostel manager needs to be patient, calm and always smile. Backpackers love to hang out at the front desk and just chat – but sometimes that’s hard for a manager who has a lot of other behind-the-scenes work to handle.

Thank you very much for the valuable insight! Really looking forward to seeing all these in person in Kuala Lumpur!

Interview with Hostel manager: Luis from Gracia City Hostel, Barcelona

Barcelona is the first city I’ve ever visited outside of my country, so going back there is always a special event for me. Everytime I’ve went there I’ve met vibrant, fascinating people, and this time was no exception. I was fortunate enough to have the chance to sit down for a cup of nice warm tea and a good chat with Luis – the manager at the Gracia City Hostel.

Luis is a Rastaman from Mexico. He’s also worked in several other places in Spain before he settled down in Barcelona, falling in love with the city’s artistic character. He plays in his own band (he promised to send us a CD, but still hasn’t, ntz ntz), he’s a vegan, and all around a very cool, interesting guy. Here are the most interesting parts of the chat I had with him.

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How did you settle down in Barcelona?

I came to Barcelona because life brought me to Barcelona. I started traveling in Switzerland, and then London, and then I went to Mallorca. I worked in a club, raised some money, and then travelled to Barcelona – I loved it the first time I came here. The parties, the artists in the streets… I just wanted to come and live here!

Clearly you made a good decision! I love this artsy city as well – it’s just fantastic! What about the hostel – how did you come to manage it?

It’s been 5 years since I came here – and I’ve worked in clubs, in a Mexican restaurant, as a waiter, in construction, many things… and finally I came to work in the hostel, initially like a worker, and then I was promoted. It’s not a big hostel, but it’s a big responsibility, lots of things to take care of, but I like it. I wanted a challenge, because I was a little bored.

This is definitely not your average job… what’s a work day like in your life?

Now I am still living in the hostel, but I will move out in a few days. First thing I check to see if everything is alright, and then I go to the reception, talk to our guests, see if they are happy, if they slept well, if there’s anything wrong.

Is it hard sometimes, like if you have a bad day or you’re tired, to take care of everything and have a positive impact?

No, not really. When you are in the reception, you are the face and the customer doesn’t want to hear the full of your problems – and he’s right. It’s not hard for me because I don’t stress, and I try to learn from everything, and separate the good things from the bad. It’s more difficult for me because sometimes I am tired, and the people, they see this right away.

So tell us a bit about your staff – I noticed they’re international.

Yes, now we have 2 Russian girls, one from Slovenia, the cleaning man is Catalan, because we need one local… so there’s a big difference in culture.

Is it full time, part time employees, how do you manage the staff?

Most of them are students, some doing internships. Sometimes they don’t want this responsibility, but hey, I put this responsibility on them, especially when I have to leave, because hey – I have my life too. We work together and help each other. You make mistakes, it’s not a problem, everyone makes mistakes. It’s important not to repeat them.

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The living room of the Gracia City Hostel. Quite a neat place – loved the bean bags.

Hey, that’s a really good story. I think this is what separates the hostel from other forms of accomodation, right? This kind of getting along on common sense… I don’t think it would ever happen in a hotel.

Yeah, that’s right.

So what do you think makes hostels different than hotels or resorts ?

The people working there [hotels]… they are soldiers. Hello, bam-bam-bam, goodbye. There’s not a lot of interaction. When the people go to a hostel, they want to have a home in the room. Some hostels are also big, and they don’t have this atmosphere. But here [Gracia City Hostel] and other small hostels, we try to have a very friendly family hostel. When the people come here, they meet each other and us, and I really like this thing. The people get happy, they talk and they have fun. This is what we try to do here, create that atmosphere.

Well, I think you managed to do that.

Thanks! It’s not always like this. I notice that every month, for a few days, the atmosphere is strange. The vibes are strange, there are some people who don’t like to talk too much, or they complain a lot… strange day, different vibes. Some people just want to have a place to sleep, and that’s perfectly fine too.

What clients are the most difficult for you?

The Russians [laughs a lot]. Usually, the people who want other type of accommodations. They usually go to the hotel, they see the cheaper price for the hostel, and they come here. But they don’t read what the hostel is – when you book a hostel, you should read: usually, shared bathroom, mixed dorms, all this.

So usually people coming to a hostel for the first time?

Yes, exactly. People come and say “There’s not a shower in my room”. Well, what did you book, man? But most of the time, people who are coming for the first time have a great experience, they’re always saying “Wow, what a great thing, I loved this experience, and blabla” [laughs again].

Is it a lot of Spanish people, or just international tourists that come to you?

Mmm, recently, for 1-2 years, it’s a lot more people from Spain. Before, they didn’t travel a lot, and if they did, they stayed at a hotel or something, but now, they start to come here more and more.

Is it younger or older people?

Usually young, but we also get older people. Like one time, we had a group of 7 old women. Old, old women, man, 60-70 maybe 80 years; and they don’t want to sleep in a mixed dorm. They come to me saying “There’s a man in my room!” – so I told them “But you booked a mixed dorm!”, “But I don’t want to sleep with a man in my room!”. [laughs]

It’s not about the age – the hostel is a place for people with young spirits. It doesn’t matter if you’re old, if your spirit is young! We had some old Polish people, traveling all of Spain on bikes – not speaking Spanish, not speaking English.

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Wow, that’s really amazing!

Yes, they really knew how to enjoy life; sometimes the communication is just with the hands.

Would you say that Barcelona is a hostel friendly city?

Phew, now, yes it is, my friend. But one year ago, there were only few hostels. Now, people see that a lot of tourists come, so many hostels open – and many fake hostels too.

Fake hostels, what do you mean?

They trick people to book something, they look for it, but the place doesn’t exist. Or they book one thing, and they go to an apartment with some bunk beds, there is no reception, you go to another apartment to find the people, it’s not like it says on the website… it’s very strange.

Wow, I didn’t really know about that! It sounds like a really big problem; how can people protect themselves from such scams – how do you know if it’s a phantom hostel?

I think it’s pretty difficult to know in advance.

Maybe look on some reviews on the internet?

The thing is, these places, they have reviews.

Fake reviews?

Yep. Barcelona is a fake review city! A lot of people do this – hostels, hotels. There are people who work especially in this [writing fake reviews].

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Gee, that’s definitely not something I was expecting to hear. But this is part of why we developed Travel Hostel – we want to write good, accurate reviews. We’re not the best, and we don’t have so much experience as other travel writers who’ve been doing this for 20 years or something, but we write honest reviews [and information], which people can rely on – so thank you for this opportunity [to review Gracia City Hostel].

No man, thank you! It’s really good you’re doing this.

[Ok, I’ll admit, we had a hi-five moment after this one]

The good news is, that many hostels in Barcelona are going to close – only the good ones are going to stay. The hostels which have all the things good, and prepared, they gonna stay. The other hostels, they gonna be closed – a big inspection is coming. We had lots of problems passing the initial inspections, we had to work for 2 years to get the license! Just in February [2 months before] we finished the work, but it’s worth it. Now there’s a big difference, and everything is falling into place.

I know there’s a lot of work behind the scenes at a hostel – and most people don’t see this, they just see the end result. Do you sometimes feel like they’re not appreciating the work enough?

Maybe a little bit. As I said, we try to make a real home thing. This means that if you use something from our kitchen, you have to clean it. If you make a mess, you have to clean it. Some people are not used to this, they want to be tourists and see as much as possible without working but… help us a little bit man! This is how it works, just clean the things you use – it’s only 2 minutes!

Ok, what were your best and worst experiences as a hostel manager?

My favorite experience is when people are happy – when they take a part of the hostel back home, and when they leave something from themselves in the hostel.

Oh, one week ago, a group of 40 (!) children stayed with us. They were very nice, it was their first time at a hostel – and when they left, they were crying! This was the best feeling for me.

The worst experience is when people steal things. When I hear that… I’m like “Ooooohh maaaan” 🙁 I give the report and the camera footage to the police, but that is the best I can do. But thanks to our videos, we caught 3 thieves out of 4.

That really sucks. Do people really do this? Like the guests, do they steal sometimes?

Very rarely… but sometimes they do. I advise people to use the locker at all times. But these people who steal, they don’t have souls – they’re like rats. They’re never gonna be happy, even if they have lots of things – they don’t really have nothing.

That’s a really interesting way of looking at it – and a really positive one I think.

Yep. When you are at a hostel, you are like a psychologist. You ensure the people have a good time, you try to help them when they have a bad time, you need to always be with them and listen to them.

When I travel to some place, I always try to look it up as much as possible and see what I can do and see… but when I get there, there are always things which pop up, things which I only find out after I’m there. Like in Barcelona, nobody told me about horchata [a drink from a palm tree]. It’s only in Spain (at least I haven’t seen it anywhere else), and nobody told me about it. What are some things like this in Barcelona, some hidden gems?

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Spanish churros – something you really have to try out.

In Barcelona there are so many local concerts – and it’s not very touristic, even though it’s really good. For example, every Tuesday there’s a reggae jam session – locals love it, but the tourists, they don’t know about it. Also, the beaches; the best beaches are outside the city! Barceloneta is full of tourists, the sand is not real (it’s from construction rock), but the beaches outside the Barcelona are much better – my favorite is Waikiki beach. For the food, it’s the churros [a sausage-like Spanish doughnut]. Oh, and the typical streets – the small streets, the typical neighborhoods… I think this is pretty much it.

But how can you find about the concerts? They’re not in touristic guides.

You have to ask the locals. The locals know these things, you ask them – you can find lots of cool stuff like this.

That’s really good insight, man. If I knew this the first time I visited … phew! So, how much would you estimate the average 7 day trip to Barcelona?

Hmm… almost 300 euros ($400) if you don’t want to party. If you want to party… it’s expensive here. But you can get a beer here even for 1 euro, from the men in the streets.

What about you, where do you like to go on vacation?

Uhm, wherever life takes me. I go where I feel that I can go, you know? Last time, I went to Morocco in February… and I don’t know where I’ll go next time. I just decide in the last minute, and this is good for me. The desert, the dunes… was fantastic for me. I am a simple man, I don’t need much.

That’s the hostel way of life, in a way.

Yep, that’s all you need. A good bed to sleep, a bathroom, a safe place for your things, now WiFi, and if you have a kitchen, that’s all you need. For the other things, you do the rest.

Anything else you’d like to share with us?

Mmm, just one thing: people in the hostel business are passionate people, usually with a very good heart. We are psychologists, and we try to help people – if you travel a lot, you need somebody to talk and share experience, good or bad. You need to open your heart, and we are here to help you do that – sometimes we do it good, sometimes maybe not so good, but we always try.

I love this idea! Awesome approach!

Just chillin' out with Luis!

Just chillin’ out with Luis!

Again, many thanks to Luis and the rest of the staff at Gracia City Hostel, which were really awesome while we stayed there. Stay tuned for a hostel review soon!