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.
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.
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.
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!
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!