Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Why Hostelling?

I have been asked a lot lately “what exactly is a hostel?” along with a slew of add on questions like, “isn’t is weird sharing a room with strangers?” “aren’t you afraid someone will steal your stuff?” and the most common, albeit not a question, “I don’t think I could stay at a hostel!” So I decided to give you all a little run down on what exactly a hostel is, how is works and explain why I prefer hosteling to other forms of accommodations. So I will return to my old format of writing you out a list of Five reasons I prefer hostels…

5. Community
Hostels provide a great place on the road to meet like minded individuals, as well as some eccentric characters. Hostels are primarily filled with other travelers and sitting around the common areas chatting about others adventures is a great way to stay inspired on the road. Long term traveling is hard (more on this is an additional article), and hearing others tell amazing stories of far off lands, and places you have yet to see is a wonderful way to stay motivated and desire to see more. 

The other type of individual you run into at a hostel (although from my experiences this is primarily a north american thing as most European hostels are sort on these type of individuals) are eccentric older people, many of whom have been on the road for decades. In Ireland I met a man who had biked across the whole of Eurasia, he gave me (and Shaun Jewell who was with me on that European backpacking adventure) Chinese currency, which I still keep as a moment of meeting that man in Cork. In Eugene, Oregon, (again with Shaun Jewell) I met a man who claimed to have grown up with Oprah and said some rather inappropriate things about her life before stardom. (if you wish to hear the young Oprah stories, I will tell you but I will not put them on the internet, because I’m not into libel, you know with being an ethical journalist and all.) 
Don't forget to put a pin on the map at the place you call home!
Those are just a couple of the dozens of stories of individuals I have met in hostels, you know how many stories I have from my numerous stays at hotels? 0! Because hotels promote seclusion where hostels promote community. In a hostel you share a dorm room, the rooms are bare consisting of only a series of bunk beds and usually have no electrical outlets forcing everyone into the common areas like the living room and…

4. Kitchen
A full well appointed kitchen awaits you at every hostel I have ever stayed at. Complete with ovens, stoves, pots and pans, refrigerators and every other thing you could possibly need in a kitchen. This means you get to cook yourself  a nice hearty meal. After days of camping living of granola bars and PB&J, a simple home cooked spaghetti dinner can feel like a Michelin Star Restaurant Entree. 
Give me a kitchen this big and I can change the world!
Sometimes you even work together with fellow hostelers and create an impromptu pot luck, where each individual cooks up there unique cuisine, and because your fellow cooks are from around the world, you can get a pleasant diversity of food. 

You are required to wash your own dishes at most hostels, but that is part of the reason that hosteling is…

3. Inexpensive
A hostel in downtown San Francisco can run as low as $25 for a night, and this isn’t somewhere on the outskirts in a sketchy neighborhood, this is prime real-estate in the center of the action, where you can upload your stuff (they provide lockers so you can lock up your things) and head out for a walk around to explore the city you’ve found yourself in. Rarely do you need a reservation more than a day in advance, obvious exceptions being holiday weekends, are plan ahead for fridays and saturdays if you can. 
This hostel in Marin Headlands is a former part of Fort Barry it's the second hostel I stayed at that was a former military hospital, built in 1907.
Many hostels even include breakfast, with organic fresh fruits, atomic teas and an offering of carbohydrates to get you up and ready to explore. The staff are all usually migrants, as I refer to them, meaning they aren’t from the city they are travelers who have chosen to settle down for a bit before moving on, many of these are “lifers” which is a tad more extreme form of long term traveling than I have been doing. 

Not only are hostels located in neighborhoods with stuff to do and things to see but many are themselves historical artifacts and…

2. Unique Locales (again this seems to be a north american phenomenon as far as I have experienced)
There are hostels that are lighthouses, old mansions, former churches and decommissioned military facilities. Just exploring the common areas of these places can be fascinating, with a rich historical legacy that is usual ell publicized in the living room. Yes, there are hotels that offer the same historic significance, but you pay for it, and they are usually all retrofitted for modern life. Most hostels leave in tack the facilities they way they were, some even still use the fireplaces for heating the common areas, it’s like stepping back in time, with WiFi! and all of this community and coziness just makes it…
It may be creepy being 130 years old, but it's beautiful! 
1. Feel Like Home
There is something so refreshing behind plopping down on a cushiony couch with a cup of warm tea and reading a book. Hostels offer that, a living room full of travelers reading, playing board games and talking, becoming a family if only for that night. Each hostel has it’s own unique quirks, some even have group outings you can tag along with to tour the city or even just hit up a couple pubs with some new friends. 
I’m not sure I have ever been to a hostel whose living area doesn’t feature a piano, and some even have guitars and ukuleles that can be played, and yes this could get annoying, but usually anyone with the balls to grab an instrument and play it in front of a group of strangers is pretty talented. The old eccentrics feel like crazy grandparents, the staff like adults and the travelers like a group of cousins who haven't seen each other since the last holiday get together. 
Just a beautiful old parlor. 
At the hostel I am writing this there was a wedding, because this is the place where the bride and groom first met, and that is not an uncommon story line. 
Instrument corner, and my favorite chair!
Now that I got through that you probable still are thinking, “Andy, you didn’t address the real concerns of hostel stays, like safety and sanitary,” so I will do that here, in the pre conclusion paragraphs. 

Yes, you share a room with strangers, this can present an security issue. Most hostels separate males and females all though from time to time you will be in a mix dorm (although there is ALWAYS a female only room option, it just may cost ~$3 extra), in order to keep your stuff secure they provide lockers, which you bring your own lock for, every hostel sells locks too, incase you forget or lose yours. I don’t lock my stuff up, which to lots of people sounds insane, but I do take precautions, I sleep with all my valuables between myself and the wall, placing them under the covers with me, this means anyone wishing to commandeer my belongings would have to reach over me and remove the covers, A. that would be extremely ballsy B. It would without a doubt wake me. I have only been stolen from once, and that was because I left my camera unattended in a dorm room. (Shaun’s camera was also stolen, but thanks to the, incredibly helpful and not at all dickish, like american cops, Irish police we got out cameras back and the perpetrator was apprehended, all in the course of about 45 minutes.)  Other than that I have no so much as had my stuff rifled through, which my math says means that hostels are +98% safe. 
It's the off season for traveling so the top bunks went unused last night. 
Are they sanitary, this question seems downright offensive as it implies for some reason a hotel would be cleaner. Most hostels give you you linens when you check-in, meaning you know they are fresh and cleaned and you make your own bed. At the end of the stay you strip your own bed and throw your linens in a hamper. If you fear the dishes may not have been properly washed by the last person to use them, you can just clean them yourself. Frequently the staff lives in the hostel, meaning they have an incentive to make sure the place in clean. I have never seen a bug in a hostel, nor have I ever felt a place was gross, other than in one hostel in Vancouver, but again that means hostels are +98% clean and sanitary. 

Side note: If the idea of rooming with strangers is just too much for you, there are always private rooms available, usually utilized by families traveling with children, they are pricery but still cheaper, and provide all the other hostel benefits, than a hotel.

And in conclusion, yes hostels are less luxurious than hotels, you must make your own bed, do your own dishes and bring your own shower supplies (oh I didn’t touch on this, yes the bathrooms are shared bathrooms like you find in colleges, but they have individual shower stalls so it’s not like a football locker room, not every time at least) but they more than make up for it with their fully equipped kitchens, community atmosphere and the homeyness of sitting in a living room by a warm fire reading a book left behind on the reading shelf. 

If that wasn't enough here is a 4 minute corny video made by Hostelling International, which I am a member of and whose hostels I try to use the most, because yes, there are shitty hostels, but HI has been amazing to me. 

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