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December 9, 2008

Not just for youths

Lately, when talking to friends about the hostels I’ve stayed in during my recent travels, they seem to have the idea that hostels are some sort of homeless shelters in the bad part of town, or just for school children, or for the dying or recently paroled.  So, I wanted to set the record straight and preach the word, so to speak.

Also known as youth hostels or backpacker’s hostels, they are not flop houses or short term hospice care or halfway houses.   Quite simply, hostels are clean and safe lodging for the family, group, solo, or w/ friends budget traveler.

banf-roomsIt’s dorm living.  90% of the time, there are men’s dorms and women’s dorms, but occasionally, you’ll find co-ed dorms.  Typically, there are four to eight bunks or beds per room and the hostel provides comfortable indoor and outdoor common areas, bathrooms and showers, laundry, dinning area, etc.; everything you need really.

Many hostels even have private or family rooms available.  Other services provided by hostels include self service kitchens, TV rooms, bike and boat rentals, tourist help and planning, organized activities and tours, internet and wi-fi, luggage storage, in-room lockers, cafe’s and bars, meals, pools, rec rooms, games, free breakfast, etc.

pigeon-point1Hostels can be found in brand new modern buildings, historic buildings and homes, ships, old jail houses, convents, castles, lighthouses, farms, WW I & II army barracks, and other interesting places.  They’re found in the big cities around the world as well as resort areas and picturesque remote sites on mountains, coasts, rivers, deserts, islands, world heritage sites, and national and state parks.


Over the past 30+ years, I’ve stayed in hostels in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and several European countries and have been happy with every one.  They’re clean, comfortable and safe.  Many of them could be resort hotels, they’re that nice with extraordinary facilities, fantastic views and proximity to places if interest.  I’ve never had anything stolen, except once recently, someone swiped some of my food.  Oh well.

Back in the day, at some hostels, we were assigned a chore to do, though I haven’t seen that practice for years now.  Prices vary from country to country, but these days $15 – $30 USD per night will get you a bed in a hostel.  Even in places like Venice Italy, Paris France, Sydney Australia, or in Santa Monica California or New York City, right in the middle of it all.

The biggest drawback to hostels, according to many, is the lack of privacy.  True, you will be sharing a room with others, but for many travelers, especially solo travelers, that’s the whole point.  groupsIt’s a great way to meet others, you can’t not meet people.  Even if you’re a recluse by nature, it’s easy to meet people from all over the world at hostels.

Meeting and sharing with others has been the most memorable part of my hosteling experience.  It’s great to swap travel stories and tips and tricks or share a meal or spend some time chatting with new friends about your respective homelands and culture and yes, sometimes even politics.

Once, while I was staying at a hostel in the south of France, several of us girls and guys rendezvoused in the common area one night after we each had our day of seeing the city and other sites and we all pooled our bits and pieces of food and wine or whatever we had collected during the day from various markets.  We put it all on the table and shared a casual group meal and fine conversation for hours.  We were from England, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Japan, and the US.  We had just met and we simply enjoyed the company of each other.

I recently stayed at a hostel in Santa Monica, California, one block from the beach and the famous Santa Monica Pier.  It’s large with approximately 40 rooms and in the six nights that I was there, not one of my roommates was from America.  I felt like I was back in Europe.  My roomies were from Japan, Australia, France, Switzerland, and a couple of others I can’t remember.  It was nice.

To be fair though, there is a chance you’ll get annoying roomies.  Perhaps I’ve been lucky.  In all my years I’ve only had a couple of these types.  The most memorable was in Venice and Bella was her name.  Coming in late at night, she’d talk loud, throw her stuff around and complain about everything.  She dressed like a slut and swore like a drunken sailor and had to carry two extra suitcases for her jewelry and makeup.  But, it gave the rest of us something to make fun of and bond over and it made for great stories.

private-roomIf you’re traveling as a group, you’ll share your room with others of your own group, and many hostels have family rooms with a double bed for mom and dad and some bunks for the kids.  Many also have private rooms available if you do want some privacy.

Some hostels are open 24 hours, while others may close during the day, so you get kicked out for the day.  Generally, you’re going to be site seeing during the day anyway, but occasionally you’ll need a down day to relax or catch up on laundry or sleep, so know before you book.

Regarding bedding, the hostel usually provides everything.  In Europe, they usually give you the sheets when you check in and you make your own bed.  Pillows and blankets are already on the bed.  Just drop the sheets in a hamper when you check out.  In the US, the bed is usually already made.  I have not run into this yet, but a small number of hostels require you to provide your own sleep sack, they’ll provide pillows and blankets though.  I used to carry my own sleep sack, but to this day, it’s never been opened, I’ve never needed it.

Granted, the majority of people staying at hostels are young; late teens to mid twenties.  But, you don’t have to look very hard to find thirty somethings, forty and fifty year olds and even retirees.  We know a good thing when we see it.  Some of those retirees I’ve met have been staying in hostels all their lives.

Some would say that hostels must be full of those liberal tree hugging, granola eat’n, birkenstock wear’n, hippie freaks; well, there’s plenty of them.  But, I try to keep an open mind and I know a good deal and a fun time when I see it.  There’s a few of us right wing, bible preach’n, gun tote’n, oil drill’n, red necks there too and plenty of in betweens as well.  Who cares?

dscn6665Many hostels belong to a network of hostels while others are independent.  My favorite is the largest of them, Hostelling International.  All hostels belonging to this network meet a certain standard of cleanliness, service and efficiency.  They are easy to book right on line and the HI website, has detailed information and pictures of each hostel, so research and trip planning is a snap.  The hostels are part of the International Booking Network (IBN), so the staff at each hostel can book your next stop for you if you like.  You buy an annual or lifetime membership in your home country and carry your card with you.  In the US, membership is free to under 18 year olds, $28 per year for adults, $18 per year for seniors (age 55+) and $250 for a one time life time membership.  Gobs of discounts on travel related products and services come with membership as well.


  • Pack light
  • Bring your own pad lock for the lockers
  • Bring ear plugs in case your roommates snore, or for your roommates in case you snore
  • Bring flip flops for the shower
  • Confirm the facilities and policies before booking so you can plan accordingly


  • Be courteous and respect the space and property of others
  • Clean up after yourself
  • If you will be turning in late, make your bed and lay your toiletries and jammies out ready for sleep so you don’t make noise and wake others that may be sleeping.
  • Carry a tiny flashlight so you don’t have to turn the light on late at night.
  • Turn off your cell phones at night

Hostelling International:

Other hostel networks:

You can read about my hostel experiences on my European Road Trip blog and my Winter US west coast Road Trip blog.  Let me hear your hostel experiences, comments and questions.



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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Marcia Drouin permalink
    April 7, 2009 7:07 am

    Wow. This was really informative and useful info. I thought hostels were more like YMCA’s. Defininately will consider as an alternative to traditional hotels in the future.
    Great site. Thanks.

  2. April 6, 2009 8:45 pm

    The last few times I’ve been hostelling I’ve been surprised by how many older folks are traveling solo and staying at hostels. One of our volunteers told me her 80-year old godmother did it around Ireland! Makes sense ’cause it’s great for the single traveler or anyone on a budget.

  3. April 6, 2009 6:03 am

    Great story on hostelling. I have to admit, until recently I too thought of hotels as “some sort of homeless shelters in the bad part of town” or something exclusively for students. I think many people my age (late 50s) think of them that way. Keep up the good work!


  1. the lowdown on hostelling here and abroad « Hostelling International-OR Postcards Blog

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