I was telling a friend about Ann, an interesting woman who had just joined my “Valley Fans of Rick Steves Travel Meetup”. I mentioned that this brave person, though no longer in her youth, traveled all the way to South America staying in hostels!
My friend said, “Well, that’s really interesting, because in the book Tales of a Female Nomad, the author is traveling alone, and she finds out that when she stays in hostels instead of hotels, the people in the hostels were much friendlier and much more likely to start up conversations with her.” This really piqued my interest!
I had always thought that hostels were only for the young backpacking type of traveler, but I decided to ask Ann what she prefers about staying in hostels. One of our other members also was interested, so we spent most of one of our Meetups plying Ann with questions about this “hostel topic” (no pun intended).
Ann has stayed in hostels in her travels for more than thirty years, starting with the many travels she made with her husband. They stayed in hostels in Mongolia, Beijing, among other places. Now, a widow, she travels mostly on her own, and she has continued to stay in hostels.
We asked her what she likes about them, besides the cost. She said that she feels much more connected to the other people. Some of the hostels have social activities, some even have a bar on the premises. She remembers one evening when the conversation (Ann’s husband was Irish, so she calls good conversation “craic” as the Irish do) was so good that no one even thought of going out!
“Can you have your own room?” we asked.
“Well,” said Ann, “In some of them you can have your own room, some have rooms for families, some have rooms for couples and in some they only have dorms. You can call ahead and ask.
“But one thing I can assure you,” she paused and looked around at all of us, “Is that maybe they will have what they say, and maybe they won’t!” She said that over and over she has found that you can’t really expect everything to be just as predicted in a hostel.One has to be prepared to “go with the flow”.
We asked if she wasn’t afraid of theft, in a dorm sleeping situation. Ann said that sometimes they have lockers, and more and more of them have safes that you can program. But like everything else about hostels, one can’t depend that these things will actually be available or actually function. Ann said she always carried everything right on her, even when she sleeps, her passport and cards are right on her person under whatever clothes she is sleeping in. She doesn’t carry a camera, or a computer.
“Oh no,” I thought, because I always carry a camera and my little Acer laptop. But I realized that all I would have to do is to plug the camera card into my computer nightly, and then transfer everything to a jump drive. The jump drive would be small enough to wear on my person.
Ann went on to say that you do often have to share a bathroom. There is usually a kitchen where you can cook. You don’t have to bring a sleeping bag, but sometimes you do have to pay extra for sheets.
Making a reservation for a hostel is the same as reserving a hotel room. They often ask ten percent down for the first night, and you risk losing that much if you don’t show up. To find hostels, just go to Google and type in “hostels in ________” (whatever city).
She said that you can ask “is this a party hostel” because some of them are, and they will tell you.
Ann prefers not to stay in the American Youth Hostels because they have a curfew. however, she points out that the AYH are good, clean dependable places to stay.
Apparently people of all ages stay in hostels, but the predominant age is young. But Ann’s voice filled with warmth as she told us how over and over, all over the world, young people had included her, had invited her to share their company, and sometimes to share their excursions.
One step beyond hostels is “couch-surfing”. The following information was obtained by talking to a young man who is a member of “couchsurfing.com” and often participates in the program. He said that when you register, you can stipulate that you will only stay with women, only with men, or with couples. If you are not ready to have strangers in your house, you can say that you only wish to meet people for coffee.
When couch-surfers have people stay with them, those people leave reviews on the site. This builds “cred” (short for credibility).
Well, I’m not ready for couch-surfing yet, though I am considering joining the website and volunteering to meet people for coffee and give them advice about my town.
And I am definitely considering staying in hostels!