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Hostels Make Travel Memories – From the Archives

July 15, 2014

Hostels can be a great, low cost place to sleep. In working at a hostel for three years I had an extraordinary chance to meet people from around the world. There are travelers I’ll never forget – the three lads from Ireland, the young man from Chile who spent the summer in the US and didn’t speak English, the two girls from south of England and so many more.

One Thanksgiving at that hostel ranks among my most memorable ever – sharing a US traditional meal with people from Britain, New Zealand, France, South Africa, Canada and other places around the world. There was the gal from NY that carpooled to southern California with me – and the many gracious people from Australia. A couple from France eagerly spoke of their travels across Canada and the USA and were trying to explain to relatives back in France how far it was from where the pictures of Yellowstone Park was to the Grand Canyon – they couldn’t imagine traveling days and being in the same country any more than many of us can imagine going hours and being in another one.

I talked about heritage and endangered livestock with a visitor from the Highlands of Scotland; agriculture similarities with someone from a rural area of France and my border collie Gael greeted many people from around the world. There was the shy traveler from Australia who was only shy until we hit on talking Murray Grey cattle!  Common ground!  Of course there were bad times too – but the good so much outweigh the bad memories. And with that attitude in mind – give hosteling a look for your next trip.

If you’re looking for a quiet private room with room service you probably won’t like the interactions at the hostels. Some have basic rules – no alcohol, no weapons of any kind, no drugs. Most will have you do a small chore, perhaps wash the dishes or put away the dishes, or wipe down the kitchen counters. You will probably have to make your own bed and you might be in a room with other people. Normally you’ll have to pull the sheets the last day and return to the laundry.

There are some hostels that belong to an International Hostelling organization as well as many independent hostels. They vary WIDELY on space available. The Pigeon Point hostel sitting on California’s coastline is but one that is a fraction of the cost of a fancy hotel. Nearby Sanborn hostel is nestled in the trees. While most hostels are on the coasts and near major tourist points – there’s many in the center of the country also.

Safety is an issue at the hostel and while MOST hostellers are honest there are always some that unfortunately aren’t. Keep any valuables close to you or lock in your vehicle at night. Take what you need into the hostel – and keep track of personal items. Small electronic items, cameras and other goodies are best kept securely locked. Some hostels take credit cards but some are cash only. You will typically be asked for a photo identification.

Many hostels have quite nice public kitchens, outdoor grills and other necessities for cooking meals. You might find an odd partial container of milk someone else bought and couldn’t take when they left but generally speaking prepare to bring your own meals. However, if you hit it off with other hostelers it is a treat to get everyone to chip in a couple dollars and go get fixings for a big batch of spaghetti, garlic bread and salads. For the convenience of staff and other guests date any containers you put into the refrigerator and if you leave food items tell them explicitly what was left and that it’s for anyone who would like to have it. Again – of thousands of visitors who came through the hostel, and whom I’ve met at other hostels, only a handful were dishonest.

Some hostels are quiet and peaceful while others are a bit rowdier. And this may change depending on who is staying! Those interested in hiking, backpacking and other outdoor activities are less likely to be up partying while another hostel with a city night life crowd might be quite a bit more active. Basic consideration for others is important. Some hostels are small, with a dozen or so beds while others are large with nearly a hundred. Most have 20-40 – enough to have a good mix of people to chat with and yet not so much the problems come in.

It’s not unheard of if you’re traveling an hour or so up the road to ask others if they would like to chip in on gas for a ride. It’s more direct than our public transport systems and many would be happy to pay a few dollars for a faster trip. I’ve never heard or had a bad situation with this but it pays to follow your gut feeling if someone doesn’t seem like someone you wouldn’t want to sit next to for an hour it’s fine to nicely turn it down. Many travel by car but there are still many who rely on bus and backpacking.

Hosteling isn’t for everyone but for those with a little spirit of adventure, common sense, a willingness to share time with others it’s an awesome way to travel and keep costs down. At this writing (2007) I have booked two nights at one hostel for $19 and a third at a different hostel for $25 – less than one night at a hotel IF one could find one with a major festival in town. Doing a few chores and spending time with other new people traveling through is absolutely worth not paying over $100 per night! Further savings can be done with a few dollars of groceries rather than $8-10+ per meal at a restaurant.

Check into hostels for your next trip. It’s a great way to travel and you might just get tips about places to go that isn’t found in travel guides!

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