ImageEastern Europe is the most exciting destination to open up for independent travel in years.  Not only are there gingerbread houses and wedding-cake villages, but the food is delicious and the people are friendly.  The variety is breathtaking, also.  Poland and the CzechRepublic may seem like extensions of their Western neighbors, but they are extensions that were frozen in time for almost fifty years before the Iron Curtain finally fell some twenty years ago.  Communism did nothing if not stop the clock, and what you find now are perfect specimens of old Europe, the one with the stunning architecture and the bustling city centers.  Places like Russia and Romania are something else entirely, of course, and Turkey is one of the most exotic and popular destinations in the world.  Best of all, prices in general are about half that of the West. 

And if the coming out and rapid maturity of Eastern Europe as a travel destination is one of the most exciting developments in years for travelers of all stripes, then hostels are the biggest thing that has occurred in decades for budget travel.  Just when it seemed like travel was an activity becoming reserved exclusively for the wealthy, the explosion of hostels in the last few years has once again leveled the playing field and made independent international travel possible for almost anybody and everybody with the desire and the disposition.   Hostels have long been around, of course, at least in Europe, but those were youth hostels.  These are hostels for backpackers, and flashpackers, too, their more upscale urban cousins.  Best of all, they aren’t just for youth anymore.  C U in Tallinn, or Istanbul, or Krakow, or Sarajevo, or… you name it.