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Robbed in San Sebastian: Tips on Hostel Safety

When I was out with my hostelmates in San Sebastian, we met two guys who were staying at a nearby hostel. They were in a dorm room of about 6 people, and last night their entire room got robbed. Apparently their hostel security was horrible and someone must have made a copy of the keys and let themselves in. While everyone was asleep in their beds, this person (or perhaps two people) went to each guest and stole their valuables right out of their packs. One of the people in the room even woke up during this time, but they assumed that the robber was staying there since he was standing in their room and he went back to sleep. Thankfully no one was hurt, but that night at least two rooms were robbed.

I felt so bad for these guys when I heard that story. It was the first time I backpacked, and also the first time I traveled alone, and getting my stuff stolen was one of my fears. Even now I’m excited for my next backpacking trip, but I’ll admit I still get a little nervous when I think about losing my stuff. I feel blessed that nothing major went wrong when I was traveling, but what if the next time I’m not so fortunate? And I know a lot of people have these fears when thinking of backpacking and staying in hostels, especially those that are looking to travel solo. The crazy thing is that San Sebastian was one of the safest cities I’ve visited, so you really never know when you might be a victim of theft. I think its important to remember that while certain things are out of our control, there are some ways we can better prepare ourselves and minimize our risk, especially when it comes to hostel safety and keeping our stuff from getting jacked:

1) Purchase the right gear

I think this is a bit of a no brainer, but it is so important that it needs to be said again: you MUST have a good lock. No actually, you should have several good locks! Before my trip started, I went to my local REI and stocked up on a few combination locks and a cable lock, and even still I felt like I could have used more. Depending on how much stuff you have, I would have one combo lock for each bag (this includes your daypack), and the cable lock because its great for locking your bags together, or maybe to your bed (or yourself!) if necessary. My first night in Madrid, my combo lock malfunctioned and I had to cut it – not a good start, but at least I had some backups so I didn’t need to worry about buying more while traveling. And another no brainer: make sure to keep the majority of your stuff in your bag when you’re sleeping or when you go out – some of the people that got robbed had left their stuff out of their bags for easy pickings.

2) Research your hostel wisely, and know what to look for

The brilliance of hosteling nowadays is that its pretty easy to get a good feel for the type of hostel that you are looking at before you book. There are so many great websites (two bigger ones are Hostelworld and Hostelbookers) and you can skim through hundreds of reviews from people who recently stayed there. When booking my hostels, I tried to make sure that each room had a large enough locker to fit my backpack, and also that each room had its own key. Sometimes hostels don’t have room keys which I find completely bizarre (a few in Japan had this, and the one those guys in San Sebastian stayed in didn’t have a room lock either.) These two things should be first on the list of what you look for when choosing the right spot, and I would also keep an eye out to see if they have people working the lobby 24 hours a day. In addition to general cleanliness and location of the hostel, the hostels that I always picked were the ones that had top safety ratings. In an upcoming post, I plan on listing the various hostels I stayed at in Europe and whether or not I recommend staying there.

 3) Keep an eye on your stuff

Ok, here I’ll admit that I may be going a little overboard, but better safe than sorry! When my rooms had lockers (and the majority did) I would keep almost everything in there before I slept. But there were a few times when my room didn’t have lockers, or when the locker provided wasn’t big enough to fit my pack. Those were the nights that I got pretty close to my pack because we spooned in bed together. Ok, maybe not, but if I wasn’t 100% comfortable in my room I would keep my pack at the foot of my bed, or on the inside of the bed so it would be difficult to get to. Even with a lock, if on the off chance a stranger does get into your room (or you happen to have a bad apple hostelmate with no conscience) then they could just take off with your pack while you’re catching some zzz’s. You don’t have to do this, and I’m sure you can somewhat gauge the safety of your situation by seeing if the room you’re staying in has locks, if people are able to easily enter the hostel whether or not they’re a guest, etc, but I always felt better having my stuff closeby. Oh also, I used my cell phone as an alarm so I made sure to keep it under my pillow when I slept. Let me just say that my hostelmates were great, and many of them I became friends with and still keep in touch with, so this post by no means is meant to make you wary of who you share a room with. In fact, the majority of people I roomed with had great hostel etiquette and all of them respected my space and my things. The best way to meet people at your hostel is through who you room with, so I would generally suggest a multi-person room over a single anyway.

I think overall its important to have a good attitude about things should something go wrong. While these guys in San Sebastian were telling us their story, I was listening increduously at how unphased they were. When I asked them how they were able to be so OK with what happened, they responded that there was nothing they could do it about and they wouldn’t let it ruin their vacation. I think that is the key to having a successful trip. It reminded me of a story about one of my good friends – a few years ago she was backpacking in Europe and was on the last leg of her trip. During a long wait at the train station, she got her backpack stolen which was full of photos and memorabilia she had collected during her trip. However, she didn’t let that ruin the backpacking experience for her, and she went on another backpacking trip the following summer, and even traveled to Thailand alone after that. Just think of all she would have missed out on had she let that bad experience keep her from further backpacking adventures. I wish you the most incredible, stress/problem-free trip on your next getaway, but if you do encounter problems I hope you’re able to roll with the punches. After all, that’s life and it’s all part of the experience – and most likely the great experiences you have will outweigh the bad.

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Osaki – The ‘Best of Japan’ list

Currently reading: Life of Pi
Currently at: Shimoichi, Nara

I’m not good at goodbyes. With people or places or chapters in my life. I’ve only been in Japan for 5 weeks and yet I can feel a tinge of separation anxiety coming on. Maybe it’s because I’m only now starting to feel confident about the train systems or maybe because my body has happily adjusted to it’s new diet of fresh sushi, milk tea and various meals of noodles and rice. This last week I’ve spent a lot of time with my big sis, probably more time than we’ve spent together in years, and that’s been a real treat too. Whatever reason it may be, I have to admit that this feeling of sadness is a good thing. Before coming here I wasn’t sure what to expect. People’s typical reaction to hearing my plan was “What the heck are you going to do there for 5 weeks?” But life has a way of working itself out and this past month was fantastic. I got to spend some quality time with my parents and my sister which I do value even if I grumble about being woken up too early, I spontaneously backpacked with my best friend and met some cool new folks, and I got a decent view about life in Japan, a country that is very foreign to me with customs that are unique, beautiful and sometimes a little questionable.

Best food: Sushi from Tokyo fish market, Kobe beef from Kyoto, and unagi from Kagoshima

Nicest hostel: Guesthouse Caminaro in Osaka, even if it was in the outskirts of town.

Nicest hotel: Sheraton in Hiroshima

Biggest peeve: Drivers here don’t respect pedestrian crosswalks at all. Coming from NYC where pedestrians rule the roads, this was hard for me to deal with, and I almost became a Priya sandwich a few times.

Sketch law: Burning paper trash instead of recycling it.

Favorite place: I know it’s vague but I really liked Kyushu. Also enjoyed Kyoto, Hiroshima, Miyajima and Beppu. It’s too hard to narrow down the list!

New fashion accessory I tried for the first time: Fake eyelashes on Halloween. If only I had the fake large pupil contacts, then I’d really look like the Japanese girls here.

Thanks for the good times, Japan. Part III of my journey starts tomorrow when I head to India!

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Extreme Road Tripping

I had quite an interesting night last night. After arriving in Rimini and having a 4 person room to myself for a few hours, I wasn’t too happy when 3 Brits walked in. They’re in the Air Force and are taking a long weekend off to take part in the Scally Rally. Yeah, I’ve never heard of it before either. But they explained it to me and it sounded pretty cool: a 4-day road trip that takes you from the top of Britain all through Europe and ends up in Rimini. Talk about intense! It gets better – you have to have a banger, a run down car that you can’t spend more than 100£ on. I don’t even think my car now can make that trip! But each team has a name and a theme and you get to paint your car however you want (costumes/props optional), Throughout the road trip you have to stop and do different challenges to win points, and then they announce the winners and give out trophies at the end. So the official Scally Rally 2011 wrap party was last night, and the guys asked me if I wanted to come. I decided to join them, not knowing whether it would be a bust or not. But I ended up having a really fun night! I got to meet some of the other teams, see some pictures of their cars, and of course see many pictures of people planking all over Europe which was the big theme of the event. My roommates even won the Scally trophy which goes out to the team who never gave up and has great spirit — their car broke down halfway through and they had to spend a fortune fixing it but they didn’t let that stop them. Cru, I immediately thought of you guys and how it would be so much fun to do this with you three. They also have a US version I hear, but the Europe one sounds more fun. And you can fundraise for a charity if you want too, sounds good to me! Everyone there was in such good spirits and so fun. I got into a convo with a father/son team, the son is only a few years younger than me and the Dad wanted to do a father/son bonding trip before the son got too old. He said that his son wasn’t too excited about it in the beginning, but ended up really enjoying himself. And it looks like they all did, so maybe the Scally Rally will be in my future one day too!

Rimini roomies with their car Wilma, short for Will-my-car-start.

 

I marveled at how once again I found myself in a unique situation I never expected with a group of people I never would have met otherwise. What I really want to know is how I can live my normal life like this – keep myself open to possibilities and new experiences without the routine of everyday life holding me back. Something to think about, but I wish I could life on “vacation mode” more often.

 

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Father (of father/son team: ::points at himself and then his son:: This is what he’s going to look like in 30 years, whatdya think?!

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Barcelona

 

Hellllo Barca! Its hard to believe that I only got to Spain fri morning because I feel like I’ve done so much already! Barcelona has been a whirlwind so far. I got in yesterday evening from Madrid, and was a little nervous about staying in a room with 7 other strangers. Then I realized I was the only female in the room and I really didn’t know what I was in for! But honestly, it’s been a great experience so far. Our hostel is amazing – soo so impressed with it. The Aussies in my room are all a ton of fun, and some of us hit the town together. 12 of us wandered around the city until we found a fun club and danced until dawn. I was pretty impressed with how much we all watched out for each other, even though we had just met. So far everyone I’ve met has been so friendly and warm, hoping that this keeps up for the whole month!

This morning I rolled out of bed at 1pm (hey, I was still one of the early risers in my room!) and powered through my self induced headache by what I thought would be a low key day at Park Guell. Totally forgot that the park is on the top of a massive hill and you have to constantly hike up and down stairs to get around. 3 hours later my legs were shaking. But it was pretty great being able to wander around looking for photo opps. Similar to what Lex, Es and I do in NYC with our Canons except this time I had a whole new place to explore! Will definitely be having more days like this. Now, I’m taking a break with some tapas before heading back to the hostel. I think I might take the night off today and chill at the hostel instead, but that’s what I said last night and look how that turned out.

 

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Aussie roomie to me: You don’t dance so bad for an American.

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August 28, 2011 · 8:27 pm