In all my days of traveling I've begun a process that I find useful. Hostels are a great way to meet people. You have to use your best judgment, but often it is a most rewarding experience. Even as I'm sitting here typing I just met two women who I would call the "hot chicks" from Maine. Both in their late 20s to early 30s are on their last leg of a backpacking experience around Europe. One has been here a month and the other 2 weeks. In addition to meeting people in your dorm room, often you will meet people at breakfast or in the kitchen. Most all hostels have a kitchen area where everyone usually cooks at least one meal a day to keep on budget. Sitting down to dinner usually requires you to speak to at least a few different people, which can end up in a plan for sightseeing the following day.
Sleeping in hostels requires one to be at ease with the possibility of sleeping on the top bunk. "Beauty rest" is not likely for those backpacking from hostel to hostel unless you are willing to shell out the extra cash for a private room. Thankfully, no one who has been in and out of this 6 bed dorm snores (unless it is possibly me then I am truly sorry, but I think that only happens when I'm getting sick, and it's never loud enough to wake me up). Usually the noise is the result of a choice. The choice between air circulation (along with a possibly noisy street) or peace and quiet. Often it is agreed that circulation is necessary in a small room of 6 bodies. On a main street in Dublin; however, this is a costly choice. In my three nights here I have tossed and turned to the sound of drunken pub crawlers and techno music only to finally fall asleep much later than expected (actually only 2 nights - the first night I passed out almost immediately from jet lag).
Never have all your eggs in one basket. I have at least three bags when traveling. A pouch, a bookbag, and a suitcase or duffel. Anything of value like important documents and some of my currency are separated out into the pouch. The pouch takes the place of pound puppy curled up next to me when sleeping in a hostel (yes, I was very original when naming my favorite stuffed animal!). Copies of the important items are stored in both of the other bags. Each bag also has a lock.
Paranoia is a good thing. If it can happen, it will. Try taking preventative measures before the worst happens. It will make the trip go a lot smother.
I've never traveled with my laptop before, but I like having it and not waiting for the use of internet on a very limited number of computers. The laptop; however, does present a problem. Why anyone would ever want to steal the crappy school issued laptops handed out to UNC students I don't know, but they do. Zach had his laptop stolen yesterday. Yea, major setback! We think the insurance we are traveling under covers it though - we find out tomorrow. He had left it locked up in a metal basket under his bed. This didn't seem to be enough to deter the thief. Some how it was wiggled out of the storage place. I store mine at the front desk. So far this seems to be a safe way of dealing with it, but I've been asked for ID only once out of the 15 times I've asked for my laptop, so I'm pretty sure it's not a foolproof system.
Bring shower shoes, small towel, and a soap dish when you know you'll be in a hostel.
Other than this traveling around Europe from hostel to hostel can be a pretty cheap way to go. I have free international calling, wifi, kitchen (no food), breakfast, and laundry if I want it - all for 15 American dollars a night. That's another thing: to get the better rates book in advance. It's kind of like airfare - too early and it's the average rate, too late and they hike up the price if they are running kind of full, a few days out you can usually find a good deal. Prices can also be different on different web sites. So check around.
Girls - I want you all to remember these things when we go backpacking through Europe together after we all have our high paying jobs and plenty of time off!