I made a tactical error with my final backpacking list. In order to lighten my load, I ditched a few toiletry items including body lotion and liquid soap. The body lotion was a good call - I’ve never wanted it. The soap was a huge mistake. I assumed it would be available with our lodging, but we’re trying to keep costs down and have stayed in only hostels and B&Bs. The B&Bs typically provide shampoo and soap, but hostels have nothing. Nothing. And we stayed at three in a row starting in Belfast. I had wipes and shampoo to get by, but by day 5 with no soap, I was dreaming up ways to beg, borrow or steal some. Of course we had opportunities to purchase, but only in large bottles; I wasn’t desperate enough to carry that much extra weight!
When traveling on a tight budget, little things can mean everything, and relatively small upgrades in quality can seem like you’ve gone from a cardboard box to the lap of luxury.
Here’s a brief summary of the four places we stayed along the Causeway Coast Way. Each had its pros and cons, and at least one standout feature. In general, we have gotten what we paid for. After the first hostel in Belfast, we no longer opt for a shared room; a private room costs more, but we value the privacy. Without exception, our hosts have been kind, helpful, and generous. One intangible benefit of staying in hostels and B&Bs is the opportunity to interact with so many people. The thought used to make me uncomfortable, but I now look for any chance to connect. This - the people - is what I will remember and treasure most from our travels.
Ballycastle: Castle Hostel
No breakfast; no soap or shampoo
We stayed two nights in order to spend a day on Rathlin Island before starting our 3-day hike. The hostel is in a perfect location on the main road between town and the harbor, just a 5 minute walk from each. The bathroom was conveniently located right outside our room, and our room actually had a sink - great for brushing teeth, shaving, and doing laundry. Furnishings were basic. The hosts were kind, and offered free use of their tumble dryer which was much appreciated as we’d washed a huge load in our sink and it didn’t dry overnight. We had full use of a kitchen, refrigerator (with marked bins for each room), and a comfortable sitting area. Cooking was difficult since appliances and pans were older; clean-up took awhile as the pans weren’t non-stick and no scrubber was provided.
Ballintoy: Sheep Island View Hostel
No breakfast; no soap or shampoo
This hostel also has a nice location in between town and the old church/harbor; it’s a 3-minute walk to the two pubs in town. They had the cleanest and largest common areas, and obviously host large groups; I was impressed with the tidy, organized kitchen cabinets. They had a “To Share” bin in the kitchen where folks were free to leave or take food. This was the first hostel where we had a private room en suite. It’s so nice to have the bathroom and shower right in the room! Furnishings were basic. There was no hair dryer in the room, but they provided one upon request.
Bushmills: Cottesmore B&B
Full hot Irish breakfast; soap and shampoo provided
Oh Cottesmore, how I love you. I felt pampered from start to finish, but I know it’s partly due to comparison with bare-bones hostels. Still, this was a beautiful home richly decorated with dark wood accents, cream-colored carpet, and fluffy white duvets. John and Rae were perfect hosts and greeted us with hot coffee and cookies. The bathroom was across the hall; Chris and I fairly swooned at the opportunity to take a long hot bath, the perfect remedy for our aching feet. There were two hair dryers and a TV in our room. We lingered over the full hot breakfast (served in the formal dining room) while chatting with four other guests. The house was located just past the Bushmills distillery, so convenient for a tour and tasting, but a 5-10 minute walk into town for dinner depending on how far you go for food.
Portstewart: Harry’s Place
$61/nt. Note this is in dollars, not pounds, since we booked through AirBnb.
Continental breakfast; soap provided
We had a room in Harry’s duplex, about a mile from town. The location is not convenient for food or shopping, but Harry offered to drive us to town for dinner and the taxi ride back cost £4. Our bedroom and the living room were tidy and nicely decorated, but the bathroom (down the hall) and the kitchen were disheveled and could use a good deep clean. Harry couldn’t have been nicer; he was fun to talk with, offered a great recommendation for dinner at The Anchor, and even took us on a quick sightseeing jaunt on the drive to town. The biggest perk: he offered full use of his washer and dryer! We’d been traveling for a full week and washed about 80% of our clothes.