Do I Really Need Flip Flops for Hostels – Ask Alex – Travel Question Wednesdays

Ask Alex - Travel Question Wednesdays

This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here. To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.

This week’s travel question is from Jane who asks,

Q. “Alex, I have a big hostel trip coming up and am trying to pack light. Do I really need to pack an extra set of sandals for the showers? Why?”

A. – Yep! Further, I suggest you stick to a cheap pair of plastic sandals/flip flops/thongs. I’ve seen a lot of people opt for a pair of leather sandals which they use as general shoes and also use for the hostel showers as well. I’d advise against this as it is both disgusting (the leather gets wet and soaks up nastiness) and rude (you’re tracking street germs into communal showers). If you opt for sandals instead of shoes on a day-to-day basis it is still worth packing a second pairs of sandals. One thing every hostel/backpacker should have is a set pair of dedicated hostel/shower sandals.

But why? Well simply put hostel showers are semi-communal in nature. They seldom see sunlight (which can kill a lot of bacteria) and are not always the cleanest in the world. Your average hostel dorm bathroom services at least 4 people and sometimes 10-20 times that. These are people from a variety of backgrounds traveling in a wide assortment of ways and with vastly different hygienic standards. While the average hostel goes out of their way to keep their showers clean, and all showers are cleaned on a daily basis, they still got a lot of use. You also never know if the person who just finished showering before you is freshly arrived from an undeveloped nation where they decided to walk around barefoot. So, while your chances of actually catching some sort of bacteria or nastiness from a hostel shower is relatively small…it is still a healthy enough risk that it’s well worth avoiding.

Also, at the risk of being overly graphic keep in mind the wide assortment of things that people do in the shower and consider that hostel bathrooms and showers are often one of the few areas in the hostel which A) have a lock on the door and B) are not under video surveillance. Ask yourself, is that really a place where you want to walk around barefoot?

-Alex

Have a question of your own? ASK IT! Want to see previous questions? click here.

Speeding up Pre-Boarding – Ask Alex – Travel Question Wednesdays

Ask Alex - Travel Question Q and A every Wednesday

This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here. To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.

A quick introductory note – When I began authoring VirtualWayfarer in July of 2007 I never expected that I’d still be blogging on travel, adventures, study abroad and everything that goes with it nearly five years later. Over the years I’ve had a lot of questions and luckily my friends, network, and more than a few random strangers have gone well out of their way to answer those questions. While I still find myself asking questions on a regular basis I’ve found that I can also pay it forward as a resource for friends, my readers, and strangers alike. In an effort to share what I’ve learned from my various adventures I’ve launched Travel Question Wednesdays. I’ll be answering one reader-submitted question every week. You are all encouraged to submit, and all past questions will be archived and available as a resource for readers of this blog. I’m going to take a very open approach to the topics I’ll cover, so feel free to ask me just about anything , just keep it somewhat travel related.

This week’s travel question is from AJ S. he asks,

Q. “How to cut your prep time down (everything pre-boarding)?”

A. – If you review the packing videos that I’ve posted you’ll note that I tend not to change the basics much.  While it may vary slightly depending on what I have on hand, a lot of the core items such as jeans, shirts, underwear, etc. are all the same from trip to trip.  I would estimate that these stable items make up about 60% of what I pack.  The remaining 40% depend on the duration of the trip and the climate/weather I’m expecting. This consistency cuts down a lot of my prep time as I generally know exactly what I need in advance. As a result, so long as I’ve remembered to do laundry, I can throw my gear together a few hours before leaving.  I also like to make sure that I pack relatively light which means I don’t have to worry about dealing with heavy/checked baggage. Remember, in most cases if you’re not sure about taking an item I suggest you leave it behind. If it turns out you need the item, you can usually purchase it while traveling without too much added cost/trouble.

If there are items you need, consider buying them online ahead of time.  While this can create an issue if the item gets delayed or you don’t order sufficiently in advance, it can save a lot of time hunting around for things like power converters and combination locks.

To aid and speed up the boarding process I tend to avoid mailed/pre-printed paper tickets. Instead I prefer e-tickets.  Many airports allow you to check in and print your tickets through automated kiosks provided you have the credit card you used to book on hand.  These are a great option that often lets you bypass long checkin lines.  I’ve noticed that many airports have expanded these kiosks beyond carry-on-only travelers, allowing you to check in at the kiosk, note the number of bags you have, and then proceed to an expedited luggage drop off window.   This can cut a lot of stress and bypass significant airport delays.

Another easily overlooked time delay is what you wear to the airport.  It always amazes me when I see people, women especially, wearing a number of bracelets, jewelry, and other metallic items.   If you are going to wear these types of items, a belt, or have a lot of coins on you make sure you put them in a jacket coat pocket or your carry on bag before getting in line for the metal detectors.  You’ll find yourself significantly less stressed if you slide through security without any major delays.

An additional airport hack is to try and schedule your flights at times that are less popular.  Think about when people prefer to fly and keep in mind that those times will often have significantly longer check in times, and long lines at security.

One of my biggest time savers tends to be how much pre-trip research I (don’t) do.  I’m pretty comfortable taking a by-the-seat-of-the-pants approach, so planning out every little detail and researching every item I’ll be visiting in advance isn’t something I spend time on.  That frees up a lot of time while preparing for the trip, and gives me a lot of added flexibility.  Instead of doing a wealth of pre-trip research I usually glance through the wikipedia page for the destinations I’m considering, then look at wikitravel. From there it’s mostly done through word of mouth, or on-the-ground research a few days in advance.  This approach won’t work for all travelers, especially those interested in traveling at a quick pace – but there’s a good balance which is just right for everyone.  I always encourage friends to remember: a key part of travel is adventure and a cornerstone to finding adventure is having enough flexibility to explore opportunities as they arise.

For additional tips head on over to the more-in-depth resource list I’ve created at The Ultimate Packing List.

Have a question of your own? ASK IT! Want to see previous questions? click here.

One Must Have Item – Ask Alex – Travel Question Wednesdays

Ask Alex - Travel Question Q and A every Wednesday

This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here. To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.

A quick introductory note – When I began authoring VirtualWayfarer in July of 2007 I never expected that I’d still be blogging on travel, adventures, study abroad and everything that goes with it nearly five years later. Over the years I’ve had a lot of questions and luckily my friends, network, and more than a few random strangers have gone well out of their way to answer those questions. While I still find myself asking questions on a regular basis I’ve found that I can also pay it forward as a resource for friends, my readers, and strangers alike. In an effort to share what I’ve learned from my various adventures I’ve launched Travel Question Wednesdays. I’ll be answering one reader-submitted question every week. You are all encouraged to submit, and all past questions will be archived and available as a resource for readers of this blog. I’m going to take a very open approach to the topics I’ll cover, so feel free to ask me just about anything , just keep it somewhat travel related.

This week’s travel question is from Pernille N. she asks,

Q. “When you are short-term travelling, is there one item you will never go without?”

A. – There are a few items that always find their way into my bag. Power adapters, a small luggage combination lock for hostel lockers, my cameras and a pair of jeans are all items that I won’t leave home without. However, the one that best answers your question is likely a microfiber towel. While many hostels (and most hotels) offer a towel as part of your room, or for a small additional fee, I find having a microfiber towel on hand as a backup is always a welcome travel tool. For the last few years I’ve used a small MSR Packtowl. As a funny side story, I actually accidently ordered a hand towel (about 9×20 inches) in place of a regular small travel towel. It arrived right before a trip, and I didn’t have time to swap it out. I decided to go with it anyhow, and I’m glad I did. Despite it’s size (it’s too small to wrap around me), it takes up virtually zero space, dries quickly, and is so absorbent that it is sufficient to dry me off completely.

I find that I use the towel about 70% of the time during hostel stays. It’s flexible, incredibly durable and can double as a small table cloth in a pinch. The more I use it, the softer it gets while retaining its super absorbent nature. They really are fantastic travel accessories, and as an added bonus you don’t have to worry about a large, bulky traditional towel which is prone to mold, takes forever to dry and can be extremely heavy. My mini-towel weighs less than a dollar in quarters, and rolls up into a ball about the size of a roll of pennies. Microfiber towels are made by a variety of vendors and are relatively cheap. I highly recommend them for people who want a useful backup or who are considering a bit of camping or hosteling.

Pernille, thanks for a great question! To my readers – have a question of your own? ASK IT! Want to see previous questions? click here.