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Tips and adivice for booking hostels in Europe

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I will be backpacking around Europe next summer (solo besides meeting friends in Croatia) and I want to book some of my hostels in advance. I was wondering if anyone has any good advice on where to book hostels and which hostels to book for the following cities. The cities I want to book in advance are:

Split, because I'm meeting friends and we want a set meeting hostel.

This is my first trip staying in hostels, so any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Also, I have noticed some online hostel booking sites, but I read you could only pay a 10% deposit. Is there a way to pay the full price of the hostels in advance? Where would be the best place to book on line?

I'm a little worried that I may not get a bed in some smaller cities, would it be better to book smaller cities in advance, or just see how things go as I travel? I'm just not sure when I will be in those smaller cities and which ones I'll be seeing, so I didn't want to get committed to a date I may not be able to meet.

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