While the word hostel can still strike fear in the heart of the uninitiated, those hoping to travel the United States of America on a budget are faced with little option but to embrace them. The good news for anyone considering taking the plunge is that, by adhering to some simple advice, not only can hostels cut costs, they can also be the making of a trip.
Why Choose a Hostel?
The obvious answer is that, by and large, they are cheaper than hotels and motels. This, however, is far from the only thing a good hostel has to offer. Most hostels, and particularly the big chains like Youth Hostelling International (YHI), boast prime city-centre locations, placing everything the traveller needs at their fingertips and cutting transport costs within a city to a minimal.
Perhaps more importantly, what hostels proffer that hotels rarely can is the chance to meet and socialise with like-minded people. Many boast impressive communal areas and large kitchen/dining spaces where travellers can cook together or just hang out and share stories of their journey.
Standard of Accommodation
This seems to be the aspect of staying in a hostel which worries people most. Obviously, the standards vary from hostel to hostel but sticking with the larger chains, like Y.H.I., you are likely to find a consistently good, if somewhat sterile, standard of accommodation and communal areas. Rooms and communal areas will be clean and security will usually be relatively good, with lockers in the room and receptions which are manned around the clock. In the U.S.A., most hostels will also offer internet access and/or free WIFI to travellers with laptops. Check out YHI Washington, which offers a fantastic location and a high standard of accomodation, for an idea of what the larger chain hostels have to offer. Green Tortoise is another highly-rated chain, with its San Fransico establishment offering the best value for money in the city.
Those taking the risk of opting for an independent hostel are often rewarded amply. Most independents adhere to the same levels of cleanliness and security of the bigger chains while offering livelier social opportunities. Many organise optional activities to bring residents together such as cinema nights, open mic nights, quizzes and bar crawls.Lucky D’s in San Diego is amongst the best independent hostels in the country, located in the heart of the city and within easy walking distance of the trendy Gaslamp district. For those heading to New Orleans, it would be a shame to miss out on a stay in India House hostel, one of the most laid back, friendly establishments you are likely to find on your travels and the perfect base for exploring the French Quarter and Bourbon Street.
Types of Accommodation
Most hostels will offer at least:
Single/Double Occupancy Rooms: Best for anyone looking for privacy or just feeling their way into the hostel scene.
Small Dorms: These will usually consist of four bunk beds and offer a cheaper alternative to the single/double occupancy rooms. Ideal for smaller groups travelling together.
Large Dorms: These can range anywhere from six beds to 24+ and are aimed at those looking to keep costs down. If you don’t mind a lack of privacy, these rooms offer superb value.
Getting the best from your hostel experience
- Do your research – There are a plethora of websites offering detailed descriptions of hostels and customer reviews. Look for sites with recent testimonials and independent descriptions.
- Book in advance – While the notion of being a free spirit may appeal, you are more likely to suffer a bad experience if you are forced to settle for what is left at the last minute as opposed to what meets your requirements.
- Be Realistic – Remember you have not booked in at the Hilton. You are unlikely to have a television with hundreds of channels, someone to plump up your pillows or a full continental breakfast for $17-$25 per night.
- Be Friendly – During your stay in a hostel, strangers will strike up a conversation with you. Embracing this can be the key to a happy stay and an invaluable research tool when it comes to finding out about things to do or places to stay in the city you are in or are planning to visit next.