Travel Thursday – Hostels


When I was in college, my friend was in England student teaching. When she invited me to fly over and meet her and travel the United Kingdom, I thought there was no way I could afford it. She told me we’d be staying in hostels.

I had never heard of hostels before. I had to join the association (for an annual membership) and then I could pay a small fee and spend the night in a safe, clean, dormitory. The Youth Hostel Association was for young adults, between the ages of 16 (without a parent) and 25. This is less common now. At the time, they also suggested that before you stay at a foreign hostel you should have a dry-run at a local, American run one. I did not do this, and it worked out fine for me. Of course, I haven’t gone hosteling in a couple of decades, so I can only imagine how much has changed. Part of that was because of my friend, who was the expert in my opinion, having been in England and traveled about quite a bit during her days off from teaching.

I got my passport and my YHA passport, which I still have with all of the stamps collected at the hostels I stayed at.

What is a small fee? At that time, I believe most of the places charged less than L10, which at the time would have been about $12-$15. I saw on the website that it’s about L15, not a bad price. Youth hostels, at least the ones I stayed at in 1987 were strictly for sleeping. There may have been storage for some supplies, but almost everything we carried, we carried on our backs. Hostels were also closed during the day. Unlike a hotel room, you could not come back, kick off your shoes, and rest in your cozy bed to get ready for the next excursion. You left in the morning and you stayed out until reopening in the evening. Times varied, although in two cases back then we were permitted to come in early and stay in the common room. It was January and it was freezing, and they were kind to let us in early. But not too early.

Again, my main experience was in the late 80s, and I’ve only been back twice more. All were very different experiences.

Rooms were sparse. A room slept between eight and twelve; London was big enough for twenty or thirty. If there were private rooms, I didn’t know it then. Bunk beds filled the room. Each bed had a pillow, but no linens. We carried our own. I purchased (as did many hostel guests) a sleep sack. It was a sheet, but it had an extra bit to cover the pillow. They provided blankets, but I don’t recall if there was a top sheet to the sleep sack.

There was a shared kitchen with kitchenware, plates, and utensils (except in Scotland. In Scotland, you needed your own utensils.) You brought your own food. If my friend and I stayed more than one night in a place, we would get perishables like eggs and milk. We ate lunches at the local pubs and dinner was sparse, like the rooms and based on what we could carry at one time on our persons.

When I traveled again, once twenty-two years and once thirty years later, things were different. For one thing, at forty-three and fifty-one, respectively, I was unable to stay at a youth hostel, having long ago left what hostels considered youth behind. I can understand it. What 19 year old wants to share sleeping quarters with a 50-something year old. It’s a question of comfort and safety.

In 2009, I stayed in two hostels. The first, The Totters in Caernarfon was lovely, and I’d stay there again in a heartbeat. It’s only failing was that there was no nearby parking. I had to park at the harbour and walk back. A small thing, really. This was an independent hostel and included breakfast of the toast and tea variety. There may have been cereal and milk as well. I do recall Marmite in the selections. Just enough to get going in the morning. They did have private rooms, but I stayed in the women’s dormitory. After the other girl left, I was given the key so it was like a private room for half of the time. I’d have to check but I think I paid L30 per night, which was about $45/night.

Manchester was another story, but not the hostel’s fault. A closet sized room on the second floor, no lift, no parking and driving in Manchester was the worst. Enough said.

In 2017 my family traveled and we stayed in one hostel in Dublin. I had forgotten that they wouldn’t take an online reservation for five, so I made it for four figuring that I could fix it on check in.

I had forgotten all of this when we got there. Stress took over and all we wanted to do was to lie down and rest. We’d been up for hours. Checking in came after the ferry ride from Wales, darkness enveloping us, leaving the car in an underground car park, walking to the hostel and spending more than forty-five minutes looking for the hostel, which was ironically right in front of us. In plain sight. We checked in and were sent two doors down, up a long flight of stairs, located our room, opened the door and came face-to-face with two bunk beds cornered, no room to stand, and I then realized and remembered that I booked the room for four, and not five. We were exhausted. I shared my bed, and one son switched with my daughter who I was afraid would fall out of the window. My six foot four husband twisted himself like a pretzel and we survived the night. At least breakfast was included: oatmeal, toast, butter, nutella, jam, coffee, tea, juice. All in all, It wasn’t bad, and the mistake was mine. I think we paid about E110, which converts to $115 in today’s market.

Overall, I got what I paid for and in some cases, more. It was a good experience, and I think it was good for my kids to experience something different than what they were used to in the states. My daughter, who loves Nutella was excited that it was set out on the breakfast table with the jam. She couldn’t believe this was a normal thing for breakfast; she thought it was just her thing.

The link I’m sharing gives you an overview of the writer’s experience with hostels:

Hostels: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Definitely check reviews and comparison shop. For my reservations, I believe we used Priceline in 2009 and I booked directly in 2017. In 1987, I was at the mercy of my friend’s choices, and they worked out well. I even managed to return to one of the places quite accidentally, but simply passed by rather than stayed there then. What was funny was I was in the car in the lot, and as I looked around, I knew where I was. My son confirmed it for me, and I felt a full circle moment (pictured below).

I have still never stayed in an American hostel.

Pen–y-Pass, taken 2017.
I stayed here in 1987.
It was January and the sky was actually blue, not this grey.

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