Staying in hostels when you are not 18 anymore

November 27, 2014 3:28 pm

My student years have taught me I am certainly not 18 anymore. An all-night party makes me tired the day after and I don’t deal with hangovers as easily as I used to. I am 23, sometimes  feeling a little older. It’s ok, being 23 is not too old, but still, backpacking and sleeping on someone’s sofa for a week is no longer my kind of travel.

Being 23 also means I don’t have the means to spend a fortune on hotels. Especially travelling alone – which I cherish – the price of a hotel room significantly increases the travel budget needed. I see friends staying in resorts and the MGM in Las Vegas, I don’t know how they can afford. Well, I do know: It’s their one big vacation every year, maybe two years. I like to travel lots and am willing to pay to go up both the Empire State Building AND the Top of the Rock when I visit New York, as well as go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and and the American Museum of Natural History. So I need to save somewhere if not on costs of tourist attractions.

hostel

I stay in hostels. And I don’t feel like I am missing out on much. Did I enjoy falling into a paid-for hotel bed after a long trip from Miami to Vancouver with my own bathroom and a double bed all made up and with four fluffy pillows? Yes. Would I want it every day? If I could, yes? Would I prefer if that double bed with fluffy pillows was in a hostel? Oh yes!

Here are my five reasons why I hope to still be a hostel guest for a very long time:

1. They are cheap and clean!

Some hostels were cleaner and more modern than quite a few hotels I have seen. Because something is labelled as hotel does not mean it is five-star quality. And this is the difference between a hostel and a backpackers: I would stay in one, but avoid the latter. With hostels, there is the option of chains, of YHAs, which have a certain standard, or Hostelling International if you are in America.
They are clean, usually modern, wheelchair accessible and have a central location. They are not the cheapest of all hostels, but a lot cheaper than a hotel with the same level of service.

2. Kitchens!

A breakfast buffet at a hotel is great, but so is being able to just make whatever you like! I buy my cereal and milk, or toast and spread and am set for the days I am staying. I save money which in my opinion is better spent on attractions and more travel, and it saves time I can spend exploring.
When I am out and about, sometimes in a city but often somewhere without shops and restaurants: a park, a hiking trail, a hidden beach, a less known area of the city. There is nowhere to go and eat a five-course meal. And I wouldn’t want to spend time and money on it when I am at this beautiful park/hike/beach/part of town. So the best solution is: The lunch I packed in the morning, made in the kitchen where you store the bread and some cheese or bread. Not just breakfast, but also lunch or snacks are sorted. One less thing to worry about while I am out and about.
And if I don’t fancy going out for dinner, then I can make myself something quick, cheap and easy at the hostel, after giving my feet a little rest.

3. There’s a time to work and a time to play

Travelling can be exhilarating and tiring. And in my case, it doesn’t mean I don’t have work to do. There is some writing to do on most evenings, or I might just want some quiet time to read or be an old woman in my twenties and go to sleep early. That’s what you need a hotel room, you might say. Truth is, in good hostels, you can do all that in your room, too.
If people want to be loud, watch TV, talk and play and do all the things you expect from hostel life, it is done in common areas. Larger hostels will have enough common areas to have a quiet area to work, too, but mainly it is to socialise. Which means, once I am done with my reading or writing for the night, I can get some human contact just by wandering into the lounge or the games room. In a hotel, that’s what I miss after one night: The option to meet people who are obviously like-minded people. Why else would they be in a hostel if not because they were travelling? (It turns out people are there for other reasons, too. Some people just don’t like renting and find a cheap hostel to live in, but you will only learn about those odd lifestyle choices when you interact with others.)

4. I have 62 years years of hostel stay ahead of me

I might say I am old and sometimes I feel it. Really, in hostel guest years, I am not that old. I have met people who were much older than me and still staying there, for aforementioned reasons.
My last stay in Miami, I befriended two people in their thirties. When my mother visited me in Australia, we stayed in hostels; she was 50 and she communicated as well as she could with her broken English with people of similar age. I would sleep in (a little) while she was – along with other middle-ages early risers – in the kitchen making breakfast, in the pool or watching morning TV.
In Cairns, I saw a group of women play a game I remembered from my childhood. We got talking and they were on their annual trip together. They had met in school and for the past 20 years had taken a trip together every year, slowly exploring Australia. They would stay in a four bed ensuite or two two twin rooms, be out during the day, eat out for lunch, each night one would cook and then they played cards together. This game was a present from a grandson who had moved to Germany. I remembered playing it with my grandmother and joined in while they told me about their past trips.
The oldest fellow traveller I met was a 95 year old man in Adelaide who was finally living his dream of travelling all around the coast of Australia.
If these people aren’t too old to stay in “youth” hostels, then neither am I!

5. The extras

Hostels are all about communal living – even if short-termed. Therefore they are often better equipped than hostels. Pools, in hot countries open on the roof and view of the city, games, book swaps, sometimes breakfast together. Last time in Seattle I was there for film night, Dawn of the Dead was playing and we had a Halloween party.

I am a planning freak, but if I don’t have every minute of every day planned, hostels are a great place to find activities and often get discounts as well. The best thing is: they are already filtered and are only attractions that will suits your age group and travelling type and often include hostel pick up.

As a reader, I love the book swaps! Anyone who is opposed to e-readers will know how much weight books take up when travelling. I will start with one book which I can bear to leave behind at the end. Once I am done, I trade it for another one at the hostel and have a new book to read. By the end, I might have read ten but only ever carried one (or two if I couldn’t help but buy one).

My favourite part of hostel life however, are the freebie meals, as I call them. I usually eat cheap with a bag of pasta and some tinned tomatoes, sometimes cheese depending on how long I am staying in one place. But some people – especially if they are not travelling alone – go all out when they cook. And at the end of the trip, there is lots left. That’s why most hostels have a shelf in the cupboard and the fridge labelled “free food”. With a note of a use by date or when it was opened, all unwanted foods ends there. Unwanted for its previous owner that is, because a lot of hungry travellers very much want just that item!
I don’t mind my simple dinners, but after a while, you can imagine the pure joy when rummaging through the shelf and finding milk and flour, opening up the option of a white or cheese sauce. And there are vegetables and dip! Someone left fresh herbs – you’ve got yourself a feast right there!
When I introduced my mother to the freebie shelf during her first hostel experience in Sydney, she was less than impressed, saying we could easily buy all that. She was willing to pay. She was tired from the flight and just ate whatever I served and went to bed. By the next night, I had walked a lot and was ready to fall asleep when we got back. And so I did. An hour later I was woken up by my mother excitedly asking me to come to the kitchen: dinner was served. She had discovered the joy of finding things in the pantry you didn’t even know you fancied for dinner and the fun of putting together a meal with random produce that is handed to you. Some people go on cooking shows to do just that, but I do that in a hostel.
Dinner that night was pasta (that is often the case, rice is just too difficult to measure in small portions, but if someone leaves it, I will have it) and an assortment of eight sauces, to try some of each. The starter was vegetables and dip and some Mediterranean tomato spread on sliced baguette. There was a fresh lettuce and watercress salad with home made French vinaigrette and my mother found fruit and some chocolate for a fondue for desert and we had Guava Apple juice to drink.

Dinner was indeed served; hostel-style!

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