If like me, you love to explore travelling on a budget and meet new people, then we have a common goal. All of us can afford to stay in a hotel, from 3 stars to 5 stars and we do need to pamper ourselves at times with goodness. But how many of us can withstand the experience and adventure of staying in a shared place with strangers from all over the world? Sounds terrifying enough? Yes, I went through that same train of thoughts as well. After the first experience on there was no worry, good friends were made, enjoyed each other's company during the leg of the travel and bonded well with one another as if we were long time friends :)

It pays off when I started off staying in hostels with friends and then over time, I started to travel solo and make friends at all these special places. Key important thing: safety, how do I ensure that? First and foremost, there is no guarantee for everything in life, but I do exercise caution and awareness when I travel, be it alone or with friends. At the end of the day, everything have been planned so live your life.

Hostels are not meant just for youths
If in the past, hostels were meant for travellers on a tight budget or young people travelling with no preference of comfort well times have changed. Hostels all over have "up" their game and seek to provide excellence and exclusive experience.
From my travels, I have seen the rising pattern where I used to meet youths in the teenage years travelling or students on a gap year. Nowadays, I get to meet solo travellers in their 30s, families with their children and even senior couples on a holiday staying in hostels. They are there importantly for the company and energy which travellers can share with one another.

Understand about community sharing
Hostels are like our second home away from home. Generally they provide us a comfy bed, chill-out area, kitchen, laundry room and dining area. Things that you can find or do at home, hostels try to fit it in somehow, with that being said if you do not like your house to be messed up then do not mess up other people's place. Basic thing like washing the dishes when we are done, cleaning up after using the dining area, putting the chairs or furniture after we have vacate the common area are simply courtesy and manners. Regardless of where you are from or what you do, when you stay in a hostels, you have to understand that it is not your house and you do not live alone.

Socialise and mingle around
Earlier on, I talked about meeting people. As much as hostels are trying to be luxurious and exude class, it is still packaged as a hostel ie 4-8 beds in a room or some places may have private rooms even. Each moment that you meet someone new, is a chance to socialise and get to know one another. You only have that period to travel and you won't get to see everything, you can read all about the country but you may not have the time to experience it all. So use this chance to understand where you should go and where you can skip or change to another day. I mean, why waste your precious time to pay for the experience when you can leverage on others?
I'd stayed in a mixed dorm and a female dorm before and to be honest, I'd prefer a female dorm hands down anytime. Remember to check on the type of dormitory/rooms when you are making the reservation.

Read reviews with a pinch of salt
Tripadvisor, agoda, expedia, hostelworld, etc. So many choices and homework to do. Seasoned travellers or newbies are very kind to share their experiences online. In this era, all we have to do is google the name of the place and all posts associated to it will pop up. I would highly suggest that you take this with a pinch of salt. If out of 5 reviews, all 5 are good then it must mean something: worth the try. Similarly if 5 out of 5 reviews are poor then find a better alternatives. But what happened if you get vague reviews like 3 out 5 or 2 out 5 negative points, then I would suggest that you find out why did you choose that vicinity first? Is is the location, price, date? What are the filters that you have selected when looking for a hostel to stay in.
Each and every individual will react differently to similar situations, so it would be unfair to just let one person pass a judgement on a place based on their time and scenario. I would still say go for it, and create your own experience there. At the end of the day, you are travelling to create your own story, do not let others dictate what you should or should not do. Just a note, if safety is of concerned then do your part to inquire directly with the accommodation, if their answers still do not meet your satisfaction then just skip the whole place totally. Never go to a place where you do not have a peace of mind.

Find unique hostels to stay in
Earlier part of this post, I talked about how hostels are now bringing their game "up", Hostels in the mountain, tree house, lake, containers, pods. You name it, they have it! Before I check on the hostel portals, I would so a simple search for "unique hostels in XXXXX". Then from there I can find details like prices, reviews and in-depth search of the hostel.
Coming from a background of staying in bed & breakfast, I was elated to find the ideas of unique hostels coming up. Staying in cottages, small quaint terrace is still a reality, as they open up their places to travellers like us. It may be bunk beds shared in a room but we get the freshness of the air, the company and place. My favourite stay so far would have to be one in Europe and Taiwan for it's naturalistic location and in Malaysia, it was a container which is usually found in construction areas cleverly designed and constructed into rooms for travellers.

Reality of Hostels pricing
This being a sensitive topic to some, the idea of staying in a hostel is still locked as a cheap alternatives in our brain. That is why when we go to certain countries with a higher standard of living, some people may not be able to accept the fact why hostel rooms can be slightly high. For example, let me compare Malaysia vs Singapore vs Europe. My cheapest stay in Malaysia cost me S$14 per night. Staying in a hostel in Singapore can rance between $14 and above. While in Europe, a decent stay will start from S$30 and above. Now when I go back to the search of unique hostels or accommodation which fits my search criteria like nearby vicinity or 24 hour frontdesk, etc. This would translate to values of services which will cause an increase in the prices. Comparatively in Singapore, hostels in prime location like near MRT or city area will fetch a higher price like S$50-S$90 per night but you are going to save a lot more in travelling time and money.

Expectations and services
"when you pay peanuts, you get monkeys" Let's not be so cruel as to apply this phrase to everything. I would say it is fair for the hostels to charge the beds accordingly with the different services that they are providing. Most places that I stayed in, when checking in they will pass the bed sheets/pillowcase/towels for me to settle in, then upon checking out, I have to remove all these myself. After using the kitchen area for breakfast or prepare my meals, I will have to clean up after myself, it is the freedom of staying in a hostel that made me come back for more. On the other hand, certain hostels need me to put a deposit for my towels or travel adaptors.
Go prepared in the sense that know what you need so you can always drop an email to the place to ask them questions like:
-any breakfast provided
-any towels or toiletries
-do they have adaptors/laptops/computer at bay, etc
When I feel like I need to get more information, chatting up the staff on duty or at the front desk will open up my eyes to a whole new reality. They are so well-equipped with knowledge that they are like the brochures coming alive right in front of me. Do not go with an expectation that they are here to be your bell-boy, your servants, your personal staff to abide to your every whims and demand. Treat others how you would want to be treated.

Personally, I am a fan of using booking.com and hostelworld.com to check hostel prices and make my reservation. This is because they merged well into my favourite Shopback platform to give me rebates for my booking. If you have not signed up for Shopback, then you can click here to get up to S10 Bonus on your first purchase on Shopback. What are you waiting for?

Do remember to follow me on my social media:
Twitter: @ zsiti
Instagram: @ zsiti_
Facebook: @ sitishyuhaila
Till we meet again, this has been zsiti.
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If Taiwan have been on your list of places to go but you have yet to go, my question to you is: What ARE YOU waiting for?

The place to shop, eat, shop and oh did I mention eat? Yes, everything fancy and nice at good affordable prices, Taiwan have all that to offer and more. Especially in Taipei, where it is a city similar to Singapore aside from all the big and normal brands of shops to visit they are also full of their own local brands and style.
Indulge in the plethora of night markets and wholesale shopping areas, it is never-ending. This time around however, I made a trip outwards to the eastern beach of Taiwan namely Hualien.

Enough of all the fancy lights and high rise building, it is time to go back to nature and bond with the natural elements.

Oh wait, please do not expect any major exciting activities! These are safe for group and family travelling together with kids aged 6 years and above.

Staying in an inn called Railway Homemade Homestay located at Xiulin Township, Hualien. The house is just beside the railway tracks. I have always seen it on Taiwan dramas with the scene of the children running around and farmers working the field, this is my second time staying beside the mountains and surrounded by green fields and train tracks.

The period when we were there is sort of after spring, so it is windy and cool to be out! Our hosts, a family who stays in the inn as well, provide abundance of services which made our stay comfortable and conducive.

Firstly, they have a pick-up service from the nearby train station, Xincheng train station. From our booking, they were responsive with every question that we have and they left no single details out. We coordinated the time of arrival and where we were from so that they came over to pick us up.

The whole layout of the inn is actually made by the husband himself, I am guessing that is why the name of the Inn is Railway homemade homestay? oh well...

We had a room for 4 of us together which is a quaint, simple, cottage style room with a bathroom ensuite. With mattresses placed side by side on the floor, we all slept like how the Japanese would call it "River Style".

Our stay included breakfast every morning which our hosts will prepare food using ingredients which are grown in her backyard. From berries to leaves to brew into soothing warm tea, every part of the course is a wonderful process.

As part of the exploration in Hualien, we planned to visit Taroko Gorge as well. So we did some homework on how we can take the public bus and travel within to trek and explore. How surprised were we when we found out that the hosts also conduct personal tour of the Taroko Gorge and will bring us around to see the recommended places (plus some special places with less tourist) at a small fee. On a whole, it was a total package to sign up for as we do not only get transport to all the best places in Taroko but we got our own local guide as well to explain and educate us during each part of the journey. Our guide of course is none other than our host's husband, so he is a native of hualien who have a rich culture of different tribes in Taiwan. With his vast knowledge of the history of the tribes and the story behind each place, we definitely have gained a lot of wisdom and story to tell when we come home.

Though we stay away from the main town area and nightfall means peace and quiet, we joined in the BBQ session for our first evening held by the hosts. A simple food fare of bbq meat, sotong, and snacks were passed around as we all huddled in the shack around the fire. We get to mingle and talk with other guests who were there. Coming from Malaysia, China and Singapore, we talked and shared about where we come from, what we have seen and tips being in Taiwan.

Another evening, we also made our way to their town to visit the night market and shopping. This has got to be one of the biggest that I have been to outside of Taipei, or wait! were they all these huge? hmmmm....things I ponder upon. Nonetheless, I love visiting all the night markets, like for instance, the main focus of the night market here will be on the tribal culture and stuff. Apart from the food that they are selling, there was a stage where I got to catch some authentic tribal performances. Everyone young and old were clapping and cheering as the youngsters danced and jumped around on stage. The merry feel and energy does not seem to stop even as the night gets darker.

Apart from the mountainous view that we have every morning, the place is also beside the coastal area. Just 5 mins by bicycle (which you can just borrow from the homestay) or you can walk over to the beach in about less than 10 mins, you can see the black sand beach. The waves were huge and we know that the water are not safe to play as underneath the seabed is a sudden drop into the deeper end. If you are into beaches, then I would recommend the southern part of Taiwan, such as Kenting!

The thing that I love about holidays is that, even when I am walking on the streets strangely it feel liberating, the mind does not bother with problems or worries. All I can tell myself is, I am away and solutions will always be there for any problems.

As I travel, I get to meet people from all walks of life. Curiosity will lead me to ask them questions like what do they do, why are they travelling to the same place that I am and what do they seek to derive from the place. This to me brings a whole new meaning of knowledge and education. Textbooks that I have studied cannot beat the information that I can learn from Google and it cannot further top the life experiences that I garnered when I travel.

As part of my travels, I always favoured AirBNB just for one simple reason, it is safe to book and make payment online thus lesser hassle while on the road. In order to encourage you guys to try using it, here is a free credit of S$30 for your first use of AIRBNB, click my link: www.airbnb.com/siti to register for free and get S$30.

Do remember to follow me on my social media:
Twitter: @ zsiti
Instagram: @ zsiti_
Facebook: @ sitishyuhaila
Till we meet again, this has been zsiti.

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