Booking trips abroad is stressful. Beyond stressful…especially when you’re attempting to work around multiple people’s schedules and preferences. Thankfully, I lucked out with my group of travel buddies, and so far, we’ve had pretty good luck with our European adventures.

Our biggest trip of the term is going to a 10-day long adventure in Spain and Italy during York St. John’s reading week, which is essentially their version of Thanksgiving break considering they don’t celebrate that holiday. Such a long break involves an extensive amount of planning, however, and I reached out to many friends who went on the York program last year to find out how they spent their reading week vacation. It’s a good thing I did, because a friend (thanks, Ceec!) opened my eyes to the beauty that is STA Travel. I was already familiar with this travel agency as I had booked my flight to England through them back in June, but I really had not looked into taking full advantage of all that it has to offer. I also definitely did not take advantage of the fact that they have an office right here in York! My friend informed me that when she was in York, her and the others used STA to book all of their hostels in other countries, as well as to find deals on day trips and flights.

The beauty of STA is that when you make an appointment with one of their travel agents like we did, they find you not only the best deals on hostels in the city you’re traveling to, but also the best hostels in terms of quality. They have partnered specifically with particular hostels that have been vetted and reviewed well enough to warrant the recommendation to young travelers like myself, and you avoid mistakenly booking a room in a hostel that isn’t exactly forthcoming on their website about their facilites; case in point: Hostel Annemarie in Amsterdam. Yikes. Plus, the travel agents are well versed in the location of the hostel itself, and whether or not it will put you in a good place to see the sights of the city. Although we may know the cities we want to visit, we certainly do not yet know how to navigate them and how to get to the different attractions, which is why letting someone do all the heavy lifting for us to find out that information was amazing.

Even better about STA is the fact that they don’t charge you any sort of fee for their service! Furthermore, when we booked hostels with them, we were guaranteed to all be in the same room together without having one person put the entire purchase on his or her credit card. We could all pay separately, cash or credit, and we are guaranteed to all be placed in the same room. Pretty awesome if I do say so myself.

Hostel living is definitely something to get used to. You sacrifice the luxuries of staying in a hotel for the dirt-cheap price you pay for an uncomfortable bed, shared room and common bathroom. Not exactly ideal, but when you’re traveling in a European city, if you spend time in your room beyond sleeping, you’re doing it wrong. Another super important part of hostel life is booking far in advance – we missed the boat on that one when booking Amsterdam, and it definitely cost us. The prices had skyrocketed because it was so last minute, and prices for a bed during the weekend are more expensive as it is. Definitely not making that mistake again. Plus, our hostel in Amsterdam was pretty terrible, and there was even a mouse in our room. Not fun. Thankfully, the group of people who shared our room each night was pretty great! Hostels take some getting used to, but if you’re travling Europe on a student’s budget, they’re really the only way to go.