Youth hostels aren’t just for youth after all, and they’re easy on the wallet
Many years ago, Marion and I were staying at a youth hostel in Hanoi, enjoying our breakfast and observing an older European woman taking care of her under-10-year-old charge.
A few minutes later, the rest of the family joined them, two thirty-somethings and the grandpa. For me, that scene became an indelible memory, illustrating that people of all ages—entire families—are travelling the globe via youth hostels!
Marion and I are middle-class kind of people over 55, almost retired and whose thirst for travel exceeds our financial means.
We like to travel longer than 10 days at a time and that can get really expensive. Since there are few financial compromises we can make on getting to our destination—airfare being what it is—the only options are to economize once we’ve arrived.
Opportunities to keep our expenditures modest open up to us thanks to the hostel movement. Instead of spending $150 or $200 a night at a hotel, a $55-a-night private hostel room with breakfast suffices.
First, a little background into the hostelling movement and its ethically questionable beginning: In 1912, the German Youth Movement initiated an experiment to promote physical fitness and character building among its urban, alienated youth by sending them into the countryside.
Fortunately, today, the idea has evolved to become an inclusive phenomenon advancing global relationships and environmental sustainability. With more than 4,000 hostels worldwide, the largest organization is Hostelling International, which comprises more than 87 associations around the globe. Most importantly, its membership is not limited to youth.
This “chain” establishes standards to which all hostels must conform. Some places have their own idiosyncrasies, like no private rooms and curfews that those over 55 would balk over.
The idea has morphed to include a wide range of facilities offering a variety of comfort and expense levels in almost every city in the world where there is running water.
But let’s be clear, as a senior traveler, my comfort level does not include a dormitory of eight snoring men, nor is my wife accustomed to sleeping with eight chatty Cathies. On our travels, we do not compromise on our need for a private room and clean private bathroom with towels that have the absorbency of shoe leather.
Over more than 20 years of traveling, we were rarely disappointed with our hostel lodgings.
But when unpleasant circumstances did occur, we moved to another facility without hesitation. There are plenty of hostels and we always carry a guidebook and iPhone apps for quick decisions.
Here’s why our success rate is so high. Four years ago, we used Hostelworld.com to choose our accommodation in the downtown area of Buenos Aires, within walking distances of tourist sights and famed neighbourhoods. We settled on Portal del Sur, a few minutes walk from the world-famous Café Tortoni, a tango café-restaurant. We relied on reviews and ratings placed on Hostelworld by other travelers.
To me, performing due diligence on one’s accommodations is the key to a successful travel experience. Being greeted in the morning by a cockroach gallivanting across the floor does not a good day make. When more than one negative comment pops up we take a serious read of the comments by our fellow travelers—a notoriously candid lot.
Portal del Sur achieved a reliable rating of 84 per cent from 123 customers. Their webpage lists a description of their facilities and all the features the hostel affords, such as continental breakfast buffet, free Wi-Fi and such.
Security is also an important issue and this hostel provided it around the clock with a buzzer system at night. There are pictures of the hostel and the rooms on their website.
Their breakfast was more than ample and except for an air-conditioner problem (we moved to a another room), our stay was perfect. The cost per night, in today’s dollars, was $66.78 U.S. for a private ensuite room (with bathroom) for the two of us.
The next leg of our journey was to Iguazu Falls, a breathtaking panorama of rushing water that sits at the border of Argentina and Brazil. With the same due diligence that we undertake with every accommodation, we chose The Hostel-Inn, with a large pool and clubhouse that resembled a Club Med.
We remember the place for its friendly staff, its incredible all-you can-eat BBQ supper and many good beer chats with a well-known sports journalist from Australia (also over 55). The cost for this little slice of luxury near Iguazu Falls is $66.40 U.S.
More than likely, a hostel’s bulletin board will offer travelers cultural activities that are rare to find in hotels. You can find reasonably priced, dance lessons, language classes, off-the-beaten-track day trips, walking tours and visits to unusual spectacles.
In Mexico City, for example, we attended a wrestling match that kept us in stitches for days after and a tour of the best pulque (local beer) bars available in the city.
Another reason we seek out hostels is because they accommodate a great class of people.
If you like to gab, hostels provide a rare glimpse into the angst of today’s youthful travelers. You can bet your bottom dollar that the world will be a better place to live in during their watch.
Finding your perfect hostel
Portal del sur 5411 4342-8788 http://www.portaldelsurba.com.ar/index_e.html
Hostelling International http://www.hihostels.com/
Cafe Tortoni http://www.cafetortoni.com.ar/