Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Give Hosteling a Try!

Hostel.  Many years ago when I'd hear that word, it would immediately made me think of college kids, grungy backpackers, and European tourists.

Then one evening while on a California coast road trip with my husband, we became desperate for a hotel room when we couldn't find an affordable one in or around San Francisco due to several major conventions taking place. This was before I was a trip-planning control freak.  Heading down Highway 1 just south of San Francisco, we spotted a small Hosteling International sign with an arrow pointing toward the coast.

All of my negative ideas about hostels ran through my head as we made our way down the long driveway.  Aren't hostels just for "youth?"  Or people who are so tired from backpacking across the country that they don't mind sleeping in a bunk bed next to strangers?

Then we saw THIS:

Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel

We were greeted by a friendly hostel staffer who explained all the ins and outs of hosteling, including the fact they they have private rooms for couples and families.  Sold!

Since that first visit, the Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel has become one of our favorite spots to stay on the California Coast.  You get a million dollar view and a basic but decent room for around $75/night (at the time of our first stay the rate was $42/night...awesome!)  You would pay several hundred dollars for a hotel room with this view.  There is a little pocket beach with tidepools and great sand just below the hostel, and the entire place is peaceful and quiet.  The setting is beautiful, perfect for photographing (my photos really don't do it justice), and the hostel was even part of one of my favorite movies, Bandits.

After our wonderful experience at the Point Montara hostel, we decided to give hostels in other cities a try.  We've stayed in a lovely Victorian mansion hostel in Sacramento, California, a stunning hostel in the midst of the Redwood Forest (currently closed), and a fun, funky hostel in Seaside, Oregon (with an onsite espresso bar!).

Pocket beach, Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel

Some of our favorite things about staying in hostels:

  • They're relatively inexpensive. Private rooms are great for couples or families
  • Many have large, communal kitchens where you can store food and prepare meals
  • Most have free wi-fi
  • You can meet travelers from all over the world, and most hostelers are very friendly
  • Many hostels promote sustainability, recycling, and other eco-friendly practices
  • There is a cooperative nature about hostels that we enjoy

Hosteling isn't for everyone!  Here are a few notes to help your decide if a hostel is right for you:
  • Do some research!  Not all hostels are created alike, and some are real duds.  For guidance, I like the book Hostels U.S.A. by Paul Karr. Most hostels have basic info online. Make sure to book your hostel in advance since spaces sell out quickly.
  • Many hostels are part of Hosteling International, the largest global hostel network.  Membership offers you discounts on hostel stays, travel insurance, local discounts, and more.  We didn't join, so we paid a few dollars more per room on each stay.
  • Although many hostels have private rooms available, you may have to share a bathroom so always check in advance.  At Point Montara, one bathroom is shared between two private rooms.  At Sacramento and Seaside we had private, ensuite bathrooms.
  • Because hostels are cooperative in nature (and to keep expenses low), you may be asked to do a basic chore at some hostels.  We have usually had to make our bed at the beginning of our stay and remove the sheets at the end, as well as sweep out our room.  If you use the kitchen or other communal areas, make sure to clean up after yourself (wash your dishes, wipe counters, etc.)  We found the chores to be no big deal!  
  • To keep expenses low and give staff members a break, some hostels have a lock-out period during the day (e.g. 11am-3pm). This rule is slowly dying, but some hostels still use it.

Would you ever stay in a hostel?

Please visit Travel Tip Tuesday at Suitcases and Sippy Cups and Walkingon Travels for more great travel tips and stories!