An Ode to Hostels: Featuring Montenegro

There’s a reason that a lot of backpackers (including myself) start to dream about opening a hostel of their own. The magic of a good hostel transcends the destination, creating family and community. It can be a particularly beautiful setting, or a serendipitous group of people coming together. It can be the staff, or it can be a dog.

The hostel garden

Actually, that last one might just be me. But in any case, I love hostels that stick in my memory for years after, their atmosphere giving you your own little piece of paradise to look back on. And the Grove Hostel in Stari Bar, Montenegro, will always have a special place in my heart.

When we left Albania, we knew we wanted to spend just a couple days in one spot in Montenegro. We had moved around a lot, so we just wanted to stay put and didn’t really want to be in the top tourist spots during the heat of July. Some random backpacker in Saranda told us about an amazing hostel with double beds in Montenegro, so we embarked on one last exhausting Albanian bus journey to make our way there. Our first impression of Montenegrins was a bit odd: our cab driver from the bus station to the hostel kept badgering us about how old we were, what we were doing, etc – fairly normal, except then he referred to us as ‘beautiful little babies’, which was creepy and weird.Regardless, once he got us to the hostel we knew we had found something special. We were welcomed with a free beer, which is always an excellent start. We claimed our very own double beds, started chatting to everyone around us, and felt right at home. Highlights included the stunning garden, with a little plunge pool, a meandering creek, and mountain views.

One of the best things this hostel does is the family dinners. For 5 Euros, you get to eat the amazing food that the hostel volunteers whip up nightly. When I was there they did a pizza night with the traditional wood-fired pizza oven out back, they did a curry night, and…something else that I can’t remember, but I know distinctly was delectable. They accommodate dietary needs easily and happily, but it’s not just the awesome food that makes these dinners memorable. They make it so easy to bond with everyone that you don’t even need to try. The first night I was a bit nervous, as always, about sitting down and chatting to so many new people, but by the end of the night we felt like we had a new family and were participating in a rousing game of Uno!

The roomy kitchen

They don’t pack people in – they could fit tons more beds, but they specifically limit the number of guests that can stay there. By sacrificing increased revenue, they allow more of a community feel, because it’s just the right number of people so that you can get to know them all by name.

The other main draw of the hostel was the fact that every day, a volunteer runs a free day trip for guests. We were there on a Sunday, when there isn’t one, but the next day we partook in a lovely beach trip. They have a old minibus they use to shuttle you around, so we piled in and went to spend a few hours on the coast. It wasn’t the most amazing beach I’ve ever been to in my life, but it was a nice respite from the heat and hey – it was free.

This is a drone shot from the hostel – the beach was NOT this empty when we went, nor am I 100% certain it was the same beach!! It looks similar.

And….that is pretty much all I can say about Montenegro. We walked up into charming Stari Bar, the town nearby, a few times for groceries and iced coffee. I can’t say I learned a single thing about Montenegrin history or culture, so I will certainly be back to do so.

The real message of this rambling is to communicate my love for a good hostel. Sometimes it’s the people that make a place, and it’s easiest to meet those people when you’re staying at a hostel specifically designed to do that. I have two other posts on some of my favourite hostels in the world – one in Europe and one outside of Europe but here are some others that I’ve stayed at since those posts were published three years ago!

Florentine Backpackers Hostel – Tel Aviv, Israel

Honestly, I loved this one for the same reasons as above. They do family dinners, everyone hangs out on the rooftop terrace, and it’s easy to walk in and find a family.

The view from the rooftop terrace

Joey’s Hostel – Agra, India

I was in Agra for one reason – to see the Taj Mahal. I was sick of crowds and sick of heat, so I booked a stay at a hostel 400m from the World Wonder, specifically so I could get there at sunrise. The hostel was lovely – air conditioning in the rooms (very important in 47 degree heat), super helpful staff, and of course, the location. If I had been there any other time of year, I would have spent all my time on the rooftop terrace, overlooking the Taj Mahal, but with the heat I could genuinely only stay up there for five minutes at a time. Regardless, this is the view:

Tagalong Backpackers – Gangtok, India

India’s hostel scene is really just starting up, and particularly in more remote regions it is almost non-existing. In the north-east area of Sikkim, up by Bhutan and China, there is basically one hostel. Luckily, it is absolutely fantastic. It had its quirks, certainly. The food menu in the ground floor cafe is extensive and diverse, but almost everything I ordered was unavailable and it usually took about an hour to get my food. But that’s just part of Sikkim’s charm. The beds are quite comfortable, and I slept well despite having the loudest snorer of all time bunking below me.

P1411304.jpg

It’s just nice to see a place that cultivates the backpacker atmosphere in such an out of the way town, with a book exchange, espresso machines, and comfortable sofas.

North Shore Backpackers – Hawaii

I wrote a whole post about my time on the North Shore of Oahu, but this was one of those beach hostels you could very easily stay at forever. I got into bed every night with sandy feet, salty hair and couldn’t wait to get to one of the nearby beaches every morning. I had a very hard time emotionally here, but in hindsight it’s a magical place and I must go back immediately.

This beach was right across the street!

Now I want to open a hostel. Probably not the best economic climate to do so in, but Haley and I talk about everything we’d want in a hostel and who knows – maybe one day we will.

Best of 2019

Every year, I write these massive recap posts with my favorite highlights of the year, even when I have been terrible about blogging for the rest of the year. I’ve done 2016, 2017, and 2018, and now it is time to recap the best of 2019 – one of the craziest years of my life. I am never quite sure if these are interesting to anyone else, but I look back at them SO much myself, so here you go!!

In 2018, I moved home to Nova Scotia. At the very end of the year, I met a boy – and I can’t make that a highlight because it technically happened in 2018 but it was definitely one of the most important parts of my year. However, I also went on a 4.5 month trip so I have a LOT of travel highlights. I could make this a list of 50 things, but for everyone’s sake I will try to condense slightly. These are in chronological order, and a strange number of them are specifically about hostels. Also, I  made this cool map of my round the world trip so for reference – here is my route!

map

Continuing to explore Nova Scotia

100% the best part of having a boyfriend has been having someone to drag on weekend trips with me – especially someone who can drive. A side perk is that we also have a blast together on these weekend trips! In February we stayed at the most charming little farm Airbnb in rural Nova Scotia and despite the freezing temperatures it was so cozy in the cabin with a woodstove. This is where we decided we were officially dating, so it will always have such cute little memories for me 🙂

We also went to my cottage for his birthday weekend right before I left on my trip, which holds a few more mixed emotions..but I LOVE my family cottage and I loved showing it to him.

When I got back, I dragged him on another weekend trip to make sure he still liked me! We drove up to Cape Breton and stayed in a YURT which I have been wanting to do ever since I learned what a yurt was. We hiked, got hit by a car at a gas station (super fun), and I even had a few driving lessons. It was lovely and a great way to end summer.

Biking around the North Shore of Oahu

The beginning of my trip was REALLY fricking hard, and I wrote about it here, but one evening was where I remembered how much I loved travel and almost cried because I was so happy. When my friends and I biked back from an evening of drinking on Sunset Beach, it was pitch black and we kept going down the wrong path and one of our bikes didn’t work, and it was absolutely pouring down. I couldn’t stop laughing, and I knew that everything was going to be okay.

Snorkelling in the Gilis, Indonesia

During my 3 nights on Gili Trawangan, I didn’t do much except eat and drink. One day, however, I went out on a full-day snorkelling tour for the crazy good price of $10!! It certainly wasn’t the best snorkelling tour I’ve ever been on – the boat was old, lunch wasn’t included, and every single boat went to the same spots at the same time, but….$10. I jumped off the top of the boat, got stung by jellyfish, made amazing new friends and started to fall completely in love with this corner of the world and its amazingly affordable adventures.

Hearing the Dalai Lama Speak

I already wrote about this in my Best of India post. It wasn’t a perfect day, and it ended with some severe illness, BUT I saw the real life Dalai Lama in person and heard him speak and I will never forget it!

Wandering off the Beaten Path in Sikkim, India

Sikkim left the best impression of India, and made me yearn to explore the areas nearby – Bhutan, Tibet, Nepal.

I felt like a really intrepid explorer, wandering through a place that had very little written about it on the internet, and entering a province where you needed a permit. This was a bit of a hindrance, because as a solo traveler you need other foreigners to travel the most beautiful areas with, but it was still worth every long Jeep ride and I met a few really amazing people.

Exploring Athens with my parents

Athens is one of my favorite cities in the world, and I LOVE when I get to meet up with my parents on my travels. I flew to Athens, so thrilled to be leaving India, and so excited to be reunited with my parents in the beautiful Airbnb they booked. We had a great time exploring in the heat, eating yummy food and I’m sure they were glad to see me alive!!

My precious backpacker parents!!!!!

Exploring the Greek Islands by Yacht (again)

Honestly, the best thing in the world is living on a yacht. My hair is always full of salt, the beers are never cold, and trying to sleep in a tiny unventilated cabin is a challenge, but man, it is blissful. Add that to the fact that I was reunited with my best little travel buddy Haley, and I get a bit teary when I think about this week.

The islands and sea caves that we moored at were breathtaking and I really couldn’t process that I was there – but that might have been the hangover. Time seemed to slow down and speed up simultaneously, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Hiking in Albania from Theth to Valbona

In the remote northern mountains of Albania, we took one of the most scenic ferry rides in the world and then stayed at a warm and cozy homestay where meals were served lovingly by the matriarch, teaching our new friends cribbage and falling asleep to the sound of pounding rain on the peaks. The next day, we hiked for almost 12 hours through a mountain pass, the views getting more beautiful every second. We passed locals who waved gleefully, including one particular character who was dressed in a full suit and seemingly just doing this hike with no effort while we panted up every incline. The summit was freezing cold and the patches of sun were burning hot, and we snapped at eachother as we got more and more tired, but even our crankiness couldn’t mar our awe. At the end of the hike, we sat at the first restaurant we saw and ordered beers and french fries, and both of them were the most amazing things we had ever tasted. We managed to lug ourselves to a guesthouse, checked into the first room they showed us, and slept for hours and hours after a delectable 7 course dinner. In the morning, a worker introduced us to FOUR PUPPIES and bought us coffee before we headed off back to the nearest city, blissful and relaxed despite our aching muscles.

Really, just all of Albania

The above anecdote pretty accurately sums up our time in Albania. It was one of the most amazing places I have ever been. Every single local we met went out of their way to befriend us and help us and give us countless free beers and shots of raki. The hostels were never more than 10 Euros a night and they were some of the most beautiful boutique hostels I have ever seen. The food is incredible, the beer is less than a Euro, the scenery changes as you travel the country from top to bottom but it is unfailingly beautiful. I can’t wait to share more about my new favourite country, but go now, before everyone else discovers it – as long as you are comfortable with a little bit of chaos any time you try to get anywhere!

I was this happy the whole time I was in Albania

Paradise at the Grove Hostel in Montenegro

There are some hostels that just feel like home. When we arrived at the Grove, we knew this was going to be one of them. We had just endured a very long journey from northern Albania on a very intense hangover, and it was a million degrees. We arrived to a family dinner and a free beer, before we were each given our OWN DOUBLE BED in a dorm. For 10 Euros, you get this bed, you get access to family dinners (5 Eur a night for absolutely incredible food), 1 Eur beers, and get this – the hostel staff rounds up a group to drive off for an activity every day. We went to a beautiful local beach, and I wish we had stayed longer to experience more of the surroundings. As it was, we didn’t need to leave except to walk up to nearby Stari Bar for an iced coffee or groceries. If I ever open a hostel, I want it to be just like this one.

I have three photos from Montenegro. Here is one.

Celebrating my Best Friend’s Birthday in Serbia

Haley and I had been travelling together for about a month before we got to Belgrade, arriving just in time for her 25th birthday. Basically I can sum up our time in Belgrade with the following:

  1. We got tattoos from a guy who….didn’t speak very good English
  2. We bought the cheapest bottle of vodka in the store, which we literally had to open with a knife because it didn’t have a CAP
  3. There was no cap, so we drank all of the vodka (sharing some, of course, with our new friends) and had a truly ridiculous night out.

….this is the only photo I have from Belgrade. And possibly the worst photo of myself ever. So I am putting it on the internet.

10/10, Serbia rocks.

Returning to Cheers Hostel

I stayed at Cheers Hostel in Istanbul four years ago and I literally have not shut up about it since. I dragged Haley here and she was immediately sold when she heard about the golden retriever. The hostel owner remembered me and my sister, asked how she was doing, and was thrilled to hear she was getting married in the fall. The view from the bar upstairs was even more stunning than I remembered, and the rooms just as cozy. And of course, Zaman the dog is still a sweet pure angel from heaven.

I did have a very different time here – we went out a LOT. It was our last 3 nights together and again, we immediately made some amazing friends.

Pretending I Lived in Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv was my first intro to the real Middle East, after a few days in Istanbul. I stayed at Hostel Florentine, and I had a few nights before my friends arrived to join me for our Middle Eastern leg. I was exhausted from our last night in Istanbul, where I literally went from a nightclub to the airport (that’s another story) and I really thought I was going to get a good night’s sleep in Tel Aviv. However, I forced myself to socialize so I headed up to the communal rooftop. I inserted myself into a group of chatting travelers, we started playing drinking games, and the next thing I knew we had a little family. This hostel was another place where you immediately feel at home, and if Israel wasn’t so expensive I would have loved indulging in all of the nearby restaurants and bars – I mean I still loved it, but I also had a pang every time I handed over my shekels.

Tel Aviv’s beach is amazing, and I love how open Israelis are – random groups of friends would come over us to chat, and not in a weird hitting-on-us way, they literally just wanted to chat. I knew I would like Tel Aviv, and what do you know – I was right.

A New Best Friend in Egypt

On my G Adventures tour in Egypt, I got paired with a roommate who I immediately disliked. I have no idea why, because 5 minutes into the next day we were giggling in the souks and buying eachother friendship necklaces. We had an absolute blast ditching our tour to do activities on our own to save money, finding the nearest pool and grabbing a beer, gossiping on the overnight train from Cairo to Luxor (I love overnight trains SO MUCH), jumping off the top of our traditional felucca boat into the Nile, and having Instagram photoshoots at every temple we visited. Andrea was so there for me during a week that I was very emotionally overwrought, and I am so thankful that we were roomed together!

One Last Hurrah in Dublin

I arrived in Dublin sick, tired from several long layovers and redeye flights, and to be honest, I was excited to get home. I had one last night at a hostel before I went back to my family, my dog, my home and the boy I was pretty sure I was in love with. I could have just slept for 16 hours, but I decided I needed to have one last big night: and thus I did. As had become so natural to me after 4.5 months, I met a friend in the common area and Hannah and I teamed up for the hostel pub crawl and headed over as it started to rain. We drank many Guinnesses (I don’t even like Guinnesses), did many free shots, and stumbled home around 5AM – I had to be up at 8AM for a VERY important flight. I made it, passed out for the duration, and disembarked in Halifax to power-walk through the airport and cry in my parents’ arms.

The one photo I took in Dublin. LOL.

My Sister’s Wedding

My older sister Anna got married in October!!!! She lives in Winnipeg, but the wedding was at a beautiful oceanside resort near Halifax. It was literally the perfect day, and I cried a LOT, especially at my parents’ speeches. It was amazing to meet my new brother-in-law’s entire family and we had a lovely few days of celebrations.

My wonderful family!!!

Coming Home

I never would have thought that moving back to Nova Scotia would feel like this much of a highlight, but I am so happy to be back. I returned to a promotion, so I now run my very own travel agency. I also returned to the previously discussed boy, and at the beginning of December I moved into his house. We have a Christmas tree, a chore schedule, and I have never felt so domestic, or so happy.

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

I felt ALL the feelings this year, saw some of the most iconic places in the world and literally circumnavigated the globe. But the biggest lesson that I learned is how to be happy in one place. However, that doesn’t mean I’ll stop travelling…very much the opposite! In the next 6 months I have a work trip to Southeast Asia, and I’m introducing my boyfriend to the backpacker life with 2 weeks in Peru. I can’t wait to see what 2020 holds.