1)Say hi to everyone. Literally everyone one you cross paths with. Hostels are a melting pot of personalities and you can make some great friends. The people that you chat to will probably end up being the people you explore your destination with and get drunk with on nights out. You might even travel to other destinations with them and become lifelong friends…… who knows! If you’re travelling on your own this is a pretty essential skill to have if you want to have a fun time!
2)Invite everyone out. So it’s likely you’re hostel is going to have organised nights out which everyone is invited to, these are great! However if you’re going on a night or day out with a few people, invite others out from your hostel, you never know what great personalities you’ll meet that just need to be nudged out of their shell.
3)Buy a Padlock. Buy one and keep it with ya. Most hostels have lockers or cabinets in your rooms to store stuff in but they’ll charge you for a padlock. Get your own and you have peace of mind J
4)Get to know the staff. Some hostels you visit are made great by the staff that work there! If you get to know them they’ll help you get the most out of the city and are a great laugh on nights out! Plus, you might get free drinks from the hostel bar 😉
5)Double check if there’s a curfew. On a night out make sure you don’t get locked out! I did this once in Laos and had to scale a fence with some friends which we broke by accident. Safe to say the hostel owner wasn’t a happy chap!
6)Go on hostel nights out! Quite often these include a lot of free drink and entry into clubs. They’ll take you to places that you wouldn’t have found on your own and are a great opportunity to chat to anyone you haven’t yet had the chance to!
7)Cook your own food! Fair enough, in some countries like Thailand and Laos it’s so cheap to eat out that it’s probably not worth your time preparing your own food. However, in more expensive European cities it’s definitely worth your time and will save you money. Go to a local shop and buy anything. Most hostels have a decent kitchen and you’ll be amazed at what recipes you can come up with!
8)Sister hostels. Arrive at a hostel and there’s no space? Often one hostel is linked to many other ones that might have space! It’s usually the case that they’re just around the corner and some of these connected hostels will come together on nights out to double up on the fun!
This is the only hostel from the USA to make it into my top 5! Its a lovely little hostel in the centre of Philadelphia and within walking distance of everything you could want to see. The hostel has great little free socials every night such as wine and cheese night or movie night which gets everyone together before hitting the many bars that are literally around the corner as the hostel is just off the main strip.
4. Mojzo Inn – Nha Trang, Vietnam.
Nha Trang wasn’t my favourite place in Vietnam but damn this hostel was near the top of my list. The staff, which includes two twin sisters, are amazing! They go above and beyond and remember everyone’s names and will always use it when talking to you. The hostel itself is quirky as it is really thin but tall and has a lovely little cafe’ on the top!
If you go to this hostel I give you two pieces of advice to take with you. 1, prepare to get absolutely no sleep, and 2, take some paracetamol. This hostel knows how to party and is the king of great nights. Be sure to book on the castaway tour to Ha Long bay that the hostel organizes, two nights you will never forget; one a boat and one on a private island.
2. Mui Ne Backpacker Villlage – Mui Ne, Vietnam.
Mui Ne is a town that’s gaining popularity in the Vietnam traveler scene. It’s endless beaches and nearby sand dunes make it a good place to stay for a couple of nights. However, if you stay at the Mui Ne Backpacker village you will never want to leave. The rooms are basic but pretty cheap and the staff are very helpful. The main thing however that you will love is the pool! It’s the centre of the hostel and is where you will find everyone. You can spend all day there soaking up the rays, chatting and playing games. Nirvana.
1. Greg & Tom Beer House Hostel – Krakow, Poland. (Cover Picture)
This is simply the best hostel I’ve stayed in so far. From the moment you enter the place you know the hostel staff (who are hot hot hot!) want you to have the best time possible. The decor of the place is so lush, and the rooms are spacious and comfy. Value for money is excellent; the rooms are cheap, you get a free dinner every night which you would expect to find in a decent restaurant and you get free drinks before the hostel goes on a wild night out in Krakow. Cant speak highly enough of the place. Deffo going back.
Helsinki The capital of Finland is not the first place you think of when you think of weekend breaks. However, the city has been gaining a reputation as an awesome place to stay. The city is situated within hundreds of small islands on the countries southern coast and is surrounded by a pristine wilderness of pine forests and mountains. The city itself is vibrant with many great places to eat and drink whilst also having one of the best nightlife scenes in Northern Europe. I’ve always wanted to visit a Northern European city, particularly in winter time. Other options would include Stockholm, Copenhagen or Oslo. However, Helsinki seems like as good a place as any to start exploring Northern Europe!
Iceland Iceland has always been near the top of my list. The island is on the boundary of two tectonic plates which results in a volcanic landscape that is second to none. The scenery is full of canyons, volcanoes, hot springs and glaciers all waiting to be explored. The country also has great views of the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis to give it its technical name) in the early months of the year. There are also reasonably priced hostels doted all around the island, so a big thumbs up there! The night life in the capital Reykjavik is also meant to be pretty sweet, partying then climbing a glacier the next day would be fine right? I think I’d want to go to Iceland for at least a week and rent a car which would be a great way to see the country as it gives you so much freedom. The island is small enough to do a full circle stopping of in different towns along the way!
Summer 2016 If I can afford it I would love to go somewhere in the summer as well! Japan has always been on the list as it just has such a cool culture, amazing history and seems so technologically advanced! South Africa is also on there, the country seems so real and fresh and just has to be explored!
1) Rent a car. The USA is famous for its road trips, so why not experience the country in style by renting a car! If there’s enough of you, renting a car for a week or two can work out pretty cheap, whilst petrol (gas) is a third of the price it is over here in the UK! It’s also great driving on their huge roads and it gives you the freedom to do a lot more than if you were getting buses or trains! If you see something interesting and want to check it out you can just take a detour to it! Your UK driving licence is fine with Hertz, however, Enterprise didn’t accept mine. If you’re under 25, renting is a bit more expensive because they think you’re going to do doughnuts in the middle of an interstate.
2) Sofa surfing. Unlike us cold hearted and closed up Brits, Americans are extremely welcoming and hospitable. At camp, your American friends will offer you a place to stay if you’re going near them while travelling. You might think ‘Yeh they’re just saying it’ but they are being serious, so take them up on the offer. In 4 of my 8 destinations I stayed with friends from camp and had a blast.
3) Research hostels and book before! Honestly, the hostel scene in America isn’t great, which kind of took me by surprise. It isn’t like Asia or Europe where you can just rock up to a city on the day and have a plethora of hostels to choose from. If you do that in America, it’s likely you’re going to be staying in a dingy hotel miles out of town with stains on the sheets, or pay through the tooth to stay near the city centre. Book at least a couple of days before, if it’s a holiday or there’s an event in that town, book as far in advance as possible!
4) Airbnb. I didn’t actually use this but plenty of people I know did. People basically open up their homes and invite people to stay with them as an alternative to hotels or hostels. A lot of the accommodation looks really nice and all the hosts are reviewed so you know if they’re a crazy cat lady or not. It can be cheaper in some cities but in others it isn’t, so look around.
5) Flights. With the county being so big and hundreds of miles between some major cities it’s a blessing that Internal flights in America can be dirt cheap! I purchased a flight from Atlanta to New York for $90. Here are some airlines to look into; Frontier, Jetblue, Southwest.
6) Megabus. I literally would have spent so much more money on travel in America if it wasn’t for Megabus. It’s cheap but surprisingly comfortable. You have free Wi-Fi, decent space and the coaches are modern and clean. Don’t book with greyhound unless you want to feel like a sardine.
7) Plan. There’s an old saying that failing to plan is planning to fail. I mean you won’t necessarily fail at travelling. That’s a pretty hard thing to do. But if you don’t do at least a bit of planning you might miss out on some of the best things to do in your destinations. I’m not talking about seeing the Empire State or seeing the Grand Canyon. I’m talking about finding the coolest speak easy, the best restaurant to go to or when festivals and markets are on. These things will provide a much more enjoyable and worthwhile experience than going to the top of a tall building.
8) Budget. America is cheap in some aspects but bloody expensive in others. Accommodation, food and drink are the things that spring to mind as being the most expensive. So watch your balance because it will go down quickly without you noticing, as I found out to my horror one day in DC.
9) Visit a college! You CANNOT travel America without visiting a friend at college. At camp you’ll have friends who are at college and you really need to visit them if you’re passing through! American colleges are like nothing you’ve ever seen to or been to and you won’t want to leave!
10) Go to nature! America has literally every kind of environment you can think of! Deserts, mountains, endless forests, huge lakes, swamps…the list goes on. You should take some time out of your travels to see some of these! Personally my travel mates and I climbed to the top of Mount Washington (admittedly in a car) and saw some amazing natural sights along the way!
There’s a saying of burning the candle at both ends. Every night there’s likely to be something going on with other counsellors where you could stay up to the early hours. But remember, you’re also going to be getting up at around 7am every morning. A couple of nights of this is fine but if you do it every night you’ll suffer and burn out! I did lots of these nights during some weeks and absolutely suffered for it. I felt terrible and it probably came across in my day to day duties. Remember, there’s nothing better than waking up at camp after a great sleep ready for your day…… Sleep is so important!
2) Have a big breakfast.
And take food with you to your work. You’re going to need it! At my camp there was quite a big gap between breakfast and dinner (lunch) and towards the middle of the day I got pretty hungry. Absolutely stuffing my face at breakfast helped out loads with this. However, some mornings you just don’t want to eat breakfast! So a few boiled eggs in the pocket ready for later is a good idea and will keep you going through the morning!
3) If you’re international, make friends with Americans who have cars.
What would we internationals do without these Americans that are allowed to drive and have their own cars? Not much is the answer. Want to get some pizza? Go somewhere cool on your day off? Or just get away from camp for a bit? Lucky for you there’s always likely to be an American who wants to do the same! So make friends with these free people who have cars, and buy them food and beer.
4) Awkward dinner time.
This will happen, and I spoke about it in my ‘Should You Do Camp America?’ article. Every meal time you sit with a bunch of kids and the kids are rotated once a week. You’re going to get tables of kids that just don’t talk. Don’t get angry. Don’t get upset. You’re a big new adult and they’re probably a bit scared of you. Just persevere and keep asking questions. Silly things work like; what’s everyone favourite dinosaur? Or who is your favourite super hero? Another great thing to help is table games. There are countless ones that involve the whole table and other counsellors who have been there before will be more than happy to tell you how to play them
5) Take a good camera.
Some of the things you’re going to see just won’t be put to justice on an IPhone. A starry night for instance comes out 10 times better on a decent camera. There’s a lot of activity and nature at night so a good camera will come in handy.
6) And take photos!
Seriously, so much happens at camp that you’re going to need photos and videos to remember all of it. I took hundreds of photos at camp and looking back at them is great and makes me want to do it again! I’m also like; ‘oh crap I completely forgot about that!’.
7) Get some me time.
You’re going to be surrounded by other people almost 24/7. This may get a bit much for people. Remember there is nothing wrong with missing out on one trip to the shops or one night of board games in the main lodge. Don’t let the fear of missing out (FOMO) stop you from getting some much needed me time which will make you happier and chirpier when you see people next. Go for a walk, take a nap or just sit in a field and read a book.
8) Move out from your clique.
At camp you will form your group of best buds who you will hang around with most evenings when not on duty. Spend as much time as you want with these guys because they’re likely to become lifelong friends. However, don’t forget there are other people at camp! Branch out a bit and socialise with the others a bit more. I was lucky as my day off group was completely different from my main social group so I got to hang out with many different people. There are so many other great people at camp you will probably hardly ever see, but talk to them when you get the chance.
9) Pull your weight.
There’s nothing more annoying than on a group task one or two people not doing their fair share of the work or just standing by and watching. People remember this and you might get a rep as a lazy person. And at camp no one wants that rep. Pull your weight, you’re a team 🙂
10) The Little things matter.
Everybody needs a little pick me up now and then and these can be the smallest things. I got a couple of notes from campers saying ‘thanks’ and ‘you’re great’ which put me in a great mood for the rest of the day. Help out your campers or counsellors by doing little things; asking how they’re day was, giving a high 5 or a compliment. They matter and make a difference!
So you’ve decided working at a summer camp in America is for you?! Great! Here are some tips that might help you before you travel across the pond.
1) Don’t forget other agencies. Before you start the application process, don’t forget that there are numerous other agencies other than Camp America that help with summer camp placements and may give you a better deal. I personally used Camp America which is probably the biggest and most popular. However, there is also Camp Leaders, so take a look.
2) Research Camps. There are literally thousands of camps in America and they’re all slightly different. There are ones based on football, ones based on water sports, religious camps, all boys, all girls and co-ed camps. The list goes one. Basically, do your research and you will end up with a camp that is best suited to your skills and one that you will feel most comfortable at.
3) Go to a fair. I chose the camp I wanted to go to at one of the fairs Camp America put on throughout the year. Here, representatives from hundreds of camps are packed into a conference hall and you can go and talk to them about what their camps are like and if they need people with your skills. I thought this was great as you could talk face to face with the people you would potentially be working with over the summer. It’s also highly likely you’ll be placed if you attend a fair.
4) Trust your gut. Look around. At the fair I spoke first to the camp I would ultimately work for and they offered me a place! I got a great feeling from the camp, however, as it was the first camp I spoke to at the fair I was like “Great, thanks! However, you’re the first camp I have spoken to so would you mind if I had a look at a couple of others before I make my decision?” They were fine with that. I looked at a couple of other camps, but didn’t get that same great feeling that they were just right. So I returned to the camp I spoke to first and signed on the dotted line. Trust. Your. Gut.
5) Specialist Camps. So on your form and in your interview they’ll ask you if you want to work at either religious camps or disability camps. I have no experience at these and didn’t want to work at them so I said no. However, the amount of people I met on my travels that said yes either because they weren’t bothered at the time, thought it would look good on a CV or had no idea what they were getting into was huge. These people ended up being completely overwhelmed and one chap I met hated his whole summer because he literally had to wipe ass every day. Now, if you have experience in these areas, are fully aware of what you’re getting into and want to try it out, then great, you’re doing something I couldn’t. However, if you’re saying yes for the sake of it or to look good on your CV, re-evaluate your decision. A good tip is to talk to people who’ve been there and done it.
6) Stay on top of forms. There are so many forms that you’ll have to fill out that it’s worth keeping a folder to put them all in. Your visa forms are so important to! I lost mine and searched a whole day for it until it turned up in my car glove box! Staying on top of your forms and getting them completed as soon as they’re sent to you will save you time and stress.
7) VISA Days. Ah the lovely VISA days. A trip to London and the US Embassy. You’re going to need a passport photo so get one before as the only place you’ll get one on the day is a shop that charges a small fortune. The rest is pretty easy; just make sure you have all your forms with you (refer to tip 6)
8) Qualifications. Make sure your qualifications are valid for the whole period you’re working at the summer camp. My lifeguard qualification ran out half way through summer! I had to recertify while at camp which cost me $70 and was boring as hell. If I had of realised this before I left for America I could have recertified for free through my employer in the UK.
9) Don’t book a trek. So you’ll find out about these treks Camp America organise which you pay to go on once you’ve finished camp. Yes they look great and if you’re worried about what you’re going to do after camp they seem like a great idea. However, they’re ruddy expensive, you forfeit travelling with all your mates that you met at camp and you might not meet great people on the trek. Don’t forget there is nothing wrong with travelling on your own and I personally think it is the best way to do it.
10) DIY flights. If you think you’re going to end up down south and your return flight home is from New York, don’t worry. I purchased a flight from Atlanta back to New York for $90 which was much cheaper than the £250 Camp America requested to change my return fight to leave from the south.
I hope you’ve found these tips helpful! I haven’t really seen many other places cover some of these points so I thought I’d put them up for you! It’s a lot to take in but it’ll be worth it once it’s all done and you’ll be on your way to the summer of a lifetime!
So I arrived back home in the UK a few weeks ago and am settling back into the swing of things, i.e. leaving the student life behind and working! I’ve had so many people ask questions since I’ve been back and say that they’re thinking of doing Camp America that I thought I’d help ya’ll decide whether it’s for you or not. I’ll break it down into its pros and cons in order to help you weigh it up, discuss if I think you should do it then see whether I’d do it again! We’ll start with the pros…
1)You basically get to go to America for free. With Camp America I paid about £650 which included my flights, visa, and some goodies (that I never received:(). When I left camp I was paid $1200 dollars which is about £800 so you get paid slightly more than you put in.
2) You meet great people. I honestly met some of the coolest people at camp. Every type of person you can think of is at camp and they all have their own little story. I made friends that I’m still in contact with and it would be great to see them again.
3) Experiencing a new culture. We share the same language but that’s about where the similarities stop. The people are different, the way they fill up petrol confused the hell out of me, tipping, taxes, different words, not getting my sarcasm, the list can go on. American culture is very different indeed.
4) The Family feel. Obviously I can only speak for my camp but you really feel like the admin staff and oldest counsellors are either your part time parents or older brothers/sisters whilst the kids are your part time younger brothers or sisters.
5) Learning about yourself. I think everyone questions themselves through camp and their abilities to teach or do activities. However, you soon get over that and come out stronger and better for it. You also learn what your strengths and weaknesses are, you learn that you can do things you didn’t know you could and you will surprise yourself at how much you didn’t know about yourself.
6) The kids. Yes some days they annoy you to the point where you want to get the next flight home. But then the moments where you see them succeed, improve, come out of their shell or when they write you a really nice note far outweigh the annoying moments so much that they become irrelevant. The kids at my camp were great and I honestly miss them.
7) You try new things. I personally tried sailing, canoeing and paddle boarding for the first time whilst at camp. I also learnt how to make a fire, make smores, tie knots and chop wood. There’s also a lot of public speaking as well which you get used to.
8) Never experienced anything like it before. Before camp and since I left camp I have never experienced anything else like it. There’s not really any other comparison apart from other summer camps obviously.
9) Travelling after. A lot of people apply to Camp America purely as a way to travel around the country. Your visa allows you to stay in the USA for a month after camp. I stayed for 3 weeks and went down the east coast. It was qualityyyyy.
1) You get paid peanuts. We counsellors worked out our hourly pay rate and it turned out to be 63 cents. Now that’s depressing. Don’t forget though, your accommodation and food is all paid for. But still, that figure depresses me.
2) Overworked. So as I was at an all-girls camp I didn’t live with and look after the kids 24/7, but even I felt drained the whole time. It was a 7.30am wake up every morning and duties finished at roughly 8pm. But then of course people hung out and you stayed up till like 12. Managing your sleep is so important. I don’t know how the female counsellors stayed alive.
3) Awkward dinner time. This is a bit of a random one. However one of my clearest memories is meal times in the canteen. You’ll sit with kids and every week you’ll get a new table of kids. A couple of those weeks you’ll have a table that will just not talk. You’ll ask them a million questions and they’ll either make a head movement or give you a one word answer. It was kind of demoralising, but you have to remember kids are shy and they’ve just met a big new adult so it’s kind of understandable.
4) On top of people the whole time. Living with and seeing the same people day in day out can get a bit much. There were fallings out and arguments. It’s part of camp life.
5) It’s a long time. Personally I was fine with being away from home for so long but other people really missed home and it affected their daily lives. You will talk about home sickness in the campers but don’t forget it could affect you. I guess you find out if this thing is for you or not. Towards the end of summer the time starts to drag as you just want to get travelling.
Should you do it?
Yes absolutely. I think it is such a unique experience working at a summer camp that if your heart is in it then you should try it. You will learn so much about life, yourself and other people that it’s such a valuable experience and will genuinely build your character and improve your skills. I personally think the positives far outweigh the negatives.
Would I do it again?
Now this is tricky. I loved it but I’m still undecided whether I would do it again. I’m swaying to the yes side. I’m definitely not doing it this year but in a couple of years, potentially yes. If I was to do it I’d go back to my camp. The worry I have is that it will not live up to what my first experience was like. But then again it will be a different experience and could be awesome. As a returner you also get paid a considerable amount more money and get fancier accommodation. Looking over photos and talking to camp friends makes you nostalgic and want to do it again. So I think we shall see in a couple of years.