I would never pass up the opportunity to stay in a nice hotel or resort, but travelling is expensive and if you want to make your travel dreams become a reality you have to find a way for your budget to accommodate your travel plans.
When I decided to embark on an extended travel experience of Canada and USA I wanted to do it as economically as possible, so that I could travel for as long and as far as possible. Accommodation is usually the most expensive part of travel so I did what I had to do to stretch my dollars. During the three month trip I stayed in a total of 10 hostels and only 3 hotels and 2 B&Bs .
As a traveler in the over 45 age bracket who had never stayed in a hostel before this was going to be a new experience for me. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Staying in hostels definitely wasn’t like staying at the Ritz but most were clean and tidy, the beds were relatively comfortable and most provided a basic breakfast of coffee, cereal and toast, muffins or bagels to start the day.
I must confess I am a bit of clean freak and before embarking on my journey my biggest fears were cleanliness of the hostels and bed bugs. I may have just been lucky but fortunately neither of my fears became a reality. Hostels provide you with a clean set of sheets and towels at check-in and you often have to make the bed yourself. Before making my bed I always checked under the mattresses and crevices for bed bugs using a torch. To be honest I think most of the hostels I stayed at were quite vigilant about the bed bug/cleanliness factor. Most hostels had mattress protectors on the beds that were clearly clean and changed regularly, cleaners were also observed cleaning floors and bathrooms every morning.
Apparently some hostels have a reputation of being a ‘Party Hostel’. I’m not much of a night owl these days and after a full day of sightseeing I was usually ready for bed at a decent hour, and most of the hostels I stayed in were actually relatively quiet. You can usually gauge the atmosphere of a hostel by checking reviews. The key to being satisfied with any accommodation you book is to always do some research before making the booking. Trip Advisor is one of the most popular websites that provides traveler reviews, but there are many others that can be found easily if Google the word ‘review’ with the name of the accommodation you are considering.
Other things to consider when booking a hostel are room types, facilities they offer, do they provide breakfast (if that is important to you), distance from public transport, points of interest and of course the cost. Hostels have fully equipped kitchens, so buying some basic food items and preparing at least some of your own meals is another great way to reduce costs.
Generally hostels offer rooms with either 4,6 or 8 beds set up as bunks and some also offer private rooms. You can also choose between mixed-sex dorms or male/female only dorms. Each bed usually has a personal light, power point, shelf, and locker. Some hostel rooms have dorms with en-suite bathrooms and all had additional bathrooms with showers in the hall. The largest dorm room I stayed in was at Hosteling International Philadelphia. I didn’t realise until I arrived that they only had one female dorm room with 18 beds. I arrived about lunch time and check-in was at 4 pm. During those few hours before check-in I became concerned about staying in such I large dorm and very nearly cancelled my booking and checked into a hotel, but I was only staying for two nights so decided to give it a try. The dorm was fully booked and to my surprise it was actually very quiet and everyone was very respectful of everyone else’s personal space.
The cost of staying in a hostel can vary depending on the city you are in. The hostels I stayed in varied from US$27 per night in Denali National Park, Alaska to US$71 per night in New York. Another way to reduce the cost if you are on an extended trip and plan to stay in few hostels is to purchase a Hosteling International membership. For US$28 you receive a 12 month membership which includes a minimum 10% discount at all HI hostels worldwide as well as other various offers.
Most hostels also offer activities or day tours around the local area at reasonable cost. They are usually conveniently located either centrally or near public transport and friendly staff can offer advice on how to get around a city and what to see. Because Los Angeles is quite spread out I decided to split my time between two hostels, I stayed four nights in Hollywood and three nights in Santa Monica. The Hollywood hostel provided a shuttle bus that takes guests to the beach in Santa Monica a couple of times a week (a distance of about 23 km). So I decided to take the shuttle for my transfer to the Santa Monica. I was expecting to have to walk a block or two from beach drop off point, but the shuttle bus driver from the Hollywood hostel was kind enough to drop me and my luggage at the door of the Santa Monica hostel.
I only had one unpleasant experience in a hostel. I was staying in a small six bed dorm room and was woken up at 7.00 am to the sound of the girl in the bunk bed above me, talking really loudly in her native tongue to her friend on the other side of the room. Seriously though most people who needed to make an early start were very respectful of others in the room by preparing themselves the night before and quietly seeing themselves out in the morning.
If your traveling alone, staying in a hostel is a great way to meet people. While staying in hostels I met and had some great conversations with people of all ages and from all over the globe. Of course most of the conversations you have with people you meet in hostels is likely to be an exchange of travel stories. It doesn’t matter how old you are because the love of travel crosses all generations and you share a common interest to explore the world. It seems that travelers inspire each other to keep travelling by sharing stories of travel, adventure and further wanderlust.
While I would never give up the opportunity to stay in a nice hotel, a hostel is a good option if you want to spend some time in a city that has a reputation for being expensive or if you want to stretch your dollar a bit further so that you can travel longer. Now that I have experienced staying in hostels I would much rather stay in a hostel than a cheap hotel.
I will finish this article with a list of the places I stayed during my travels through Canada and the USA. If you are over 45 and young at heart you should have no problem staying in any of the hostels.
HI Seattle at the American Hotel – An old building, but clean and comfortable. Breakfast was provided. The only downside was walking up three flights of stairs every time I need to go to my room.
HI Vancouver – Dorm rooms were very small, breakfast was provided.
Denali Mountain Morning Hostel – A great place to stay. The hostel & cabins are in the wildness with a creek running through the property. If you’re lucky you might see a Moose strolling by. Friendly helpful staff, a shuttle bus to and from the Wilderness Access Center twice daily. I had the best Salmon Chowder at McKinley Creekside Café just across the road.
HI Anchorage – A comfortable hostel. A breakfast (pancakes) only provided on Sundays.
USA Hostels San Francisco – Large hostel in a nice old building in the city center. I stayed in a nice 4 bed en-suite dorm which was comfortable. Breakfast was provided.
Stratosphere Las Vegas (Hotel) – Your average Vegas hotel, the rooms were clean and comfortable. Located at the North end of the strip which was a bit out of the way, you need to take a bus or a taxi if you want to visit the fancy ‘must see’ casinos/hotels.
Excalibur Las Vegas (Hotel) – Another average Vegas hotel, there was a definite whiff of stale smoke on the gaming floor but the rooms were clean and comfortable. great location walking distance other well know casinos/hotels.
USA Hollywood Hostel – This hostel was undergoing some renovations when I stayed there so there were some minor inconveniences at the time. Staff were friendly and helpful, dorms had en-suite bathrooms, breakfast was provided, I would stay there again.
HI Santa Monica – One of my favorite hostels, recently renovated with new beds and furniture, right in the town center and one street back from the beach. Breakfast was provided.
Fairchild House New Orleans – A lovely B&B in the Garden District of New Orleans (built in 1841), close to Charles Street where you can catch the Trolley to the French Quarter or Uptown area.
HI Miami Beach – This hostel was clearly a motel in a previous life so all dorm rooms had an en-suite, it was clean and comfortable, air-conditioned (it’s hot in Miami in June), lots of great restaurants nearby.
Clarion Hotel Orlando (Motel) – a basic comfortable Orlando motel with a pool and on-site restaurant.
HI Philadelphia (Apple Hostels) – Basic hostel with only one large female dorm. Located in the downtown area of Philadelphia.
HI Washington DC – Nice hostel, centrally located, within walking distance of the White House, breakfast was provided.
HI New York – located in quieter area of Manhattan and only two blocks from Central Park. Away from the hustle and bustle of Times Square, but close enough to be there in 15 minutes via the subway. Onsite coffee shop that provides simple meals. Storage lockers available (if you want to get out of town for a couple of days and store your big backpack). Another of my favorite hostels, will definitely stay again next time I visit the big apple.