What’s it Really Like to Stay in a U.S. Hostel?

What’s it Really Like to Stay in a U.S. Hostel?

As I planned my extended trip around Europe, I knew staying in a mix of hostels was a given. Yet for some reason, planning my trip around the U.S., hostels not once crossed my mind.

When I first met Hostelling International USA last fall at a travel blogger conference, I stupidly asked them if they had many hostels in the United States.

Were they here to represent Europe? Did the U.S. even have hostels? I had no idea.

Of course the U.S. has hostels! In fact, they have a lot of them.

Yet, most of them aren’t filled with Americans.

For some reasons hostels seem ubiquitous with travel in Europe, yet most Americans opt for low budget hotels or motels when traveling in their own country.

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Were hostels in the US similar to their European counterpart? Again, I had no idea.

So to get an idea of what hostels were like in the US, I partnered up with Hostelling International USA while in DC for the National Cherry Blossom Festival— and I also had the chance to stay at their sister property in Baltimore, HI Baltimore.

It was this trip that made me fall in love with hostels all over again.

After being on the road for almost a month straight — solo — I was ready for some human interaction. And yes, just like hostels in other parts of the world, I found HI Washington DC to be the perfect social environment.

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Within a matter of minutes I was making friends with some of the other ladies in my six person dorm.

What’s funny though, is that none of the other people staying in that dorm were American. Two of the girls were from Austria, and the other was from Thailand. Huh, how about that.

Even as I sat in the common areas I heard an array of languages being spoken around me. Most of the English I heard had a strong British or Australian accent tied to it.

So why don’t Americans stay in hostels when traveling in their home country?

I took the liberty of asking around, and well, the replies really didn’t surprise me.

I never thought about staying in a U.S. hostel simply because I didn’t associate that with our culture. I didn’t know we had them here.

This was by far the most common response. Lack of information.

Hotels are pretty cheap in the U.S. and would be much comfier than a hostel.

Yes, you can find budget hotels in the U.S., but hostels are even cheaper. Sure, they may not be $5 a night like they are in other parts of the world, but you can get a shared dorm for around $40 and a private room for around $80 (city depending).

Also, I found the HI hostels to be completely comfy. Rooms were pretty large and open with outlets aplenty next to each bed. In terms of safety, each guest is offered an over-sized locker to keep their valuables. Plus, all towels and bedding were provided free of charge unlike many other hotels– and the showers even had complimentary toiletries just as any hotel would.

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Hostels are usually in cheap or bad areas of the city.

While this can be true, it’s certainly not the case for most Hosteling International locations. In HI Washington DC I was very centrally located and could easily walk to the National Mall and all main tourist attractions. Being surrounded by upscale shopping and dining, not once did I feel unsafe.

There’s no way I could have afforded to stay in such a central location had I been looking at hotels. But of course, not all hostels in other cities may be as centrally located. It’s important to always do a little research beforehand!

I just don’t see the benefit to staying in a hostel.

Maybe if you’re traveling as a family or a couple (although I saw those at the hostel as well), but as a solo traveler I totally see the benefit!

The hostel offered daily FREE tours to get well acquainted with the area. Some of the tours were almost identical to ones I almost paid for through other travel companies.

They also offered free breakfast each morning and several nights a week they had a communal dinner for guests to join. Or if that doesn’t sound appealing they also had a fully stocked kitchen ready to be used at any time of day.

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I’ve never stayed in a hostel at home or abroad because I don’t like the idea of a party environment.

Yes, hostels can carry a reputation of being crazy party houses. And I’m sure everyone has heard horror stories before, but honestly, I’ve only ever had one bad experience (in France).

I highly doubt this would ever become an issue at a U.S. hostel, mostly because a majority of them are dry. That’s right, no alcohol is allowed at all. For some I’m sure this is a deal breaker, but for others, I think it provides a great opportunity to give hostels a chance.

I know in my future U.S. travels I’ll certainly be looking to stay at hostels whenever I’m traveling solo, and I hope that I could demystify a few stereotypes and concerns in order to encourage some of my fellow American travelers to do the same.

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My trip to Washington DC and Baltimore was in conjunction with Hosteling International USA. All opinions and love of hostels are my own regardless of who is footing the bill!

 

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10 Comments

  1. June 15, 2015 / 1:06 pm

    Great post! I’ll admit, I’ve never stayed in a hostel, but I live only a block away from the one you visited in DC. It’s in a great neighborhood that’s only getting better, and I’ve always been curious as to what that property was like. It looks pretty nice from your post! The beds are what I would have expected, but the public areas look quite comfortable and it all appears very well maintained. And, as you said, the location really can’t be beat – easy walk to everything, and not far from public transit and tons of restaurants.

    • Beth Williams
      July 10, 2015 / 2:08 pm

      Yeah, hostel beds in the US still seem to all be the standard bunk beds (NOT the case in many other countries) … but it was surprisingly comfortable! Your neighborhood seemed nice — went to a couple really nice restaurants just a block or so away on… K..?… Street.

  2. Maria Edi
    May 28, 2015 / 8:29 am

    I’m a Brazilian lady (haha) and been to the US for four times, I’ve always favoured hostels, in NYC, Washington DC & Philadelphia. Though I’m not a party person, I just love to get in touch with other people from other parts of the world. Like the tours, the surroundings, and … “party-crazy”? DC Hostel looks like a monastery (hehe), which is pretty good for someone like me, who walks the whole day & use the nights to … well … SLEEP! Planning a 5th trip, maybe to Europe, & Hostels are in my choice of staying places.

    • Beth Williams
      July 10, 2015 / 2:07 pm

      That’s one of the reasons I love them so much! I’m not much of a partier per se, but I do enjoy meeting other travelers and talking. :)

  3. May 23, 2015 / 4:51 pm

    My worst experience of hostels is in the US. For me not a good area and overpriced. The $40 a night you can also get a motel!

    • Beth Williams
      July 10, 2015 / 2:06 pm

      Yeah, it really just depends where! Most major downtown areas (like Chicago, NYC, etc.) don’t have motels, so you’re stuck with overly expensive hotels. But yes, often hostels are in not the greatest areas :\

  4. May 20, 2015 / 6:09 pm

    I think the issue with hostels in the US (and in Canada where I’m from) is that there just isn’t as good of a selection as you would find for hostels in other parts of the world, like Europe .Aside from maybe New York most places only seem to have a couple hostel options (if that). You could luck out and stay at a fantastic hostel (like my experience in Houston), or you could end up in a not so great hostel (like my experience in Denver, nothing horrible happened, but the hostel wasn’t in a great area and made me feel a bit uneasy). The other factor is the price, which is usually higher than you’d in other areas of the world (maybe on par with some countries in Western Europe). I’ll look at hostels but often I’ll find myself using couchsurfing, or booking a guesthouse instead. That being said I often travel solo, and I understand the benefit staying at hostels, and I wish there were more hostels across North America. If there were more hostels, with more people using them, then there might be some competition for the rates to be a little lower than they currently are.

    • Beth Williams
      July 10, 2015 / 1:55 pm

      Yeah, the selection is a bit less, but they’re starting to grow their presence (at least in major US cities). The only thing I’ve found about hostels is that they tend to be in cheaper, seedier areas of cities. This certainly isn’t always the case but it is important to do your research beforehand– as you learned in Denver!

  5. May 20, 2015 / 12:02 am

    Two weeks ago we started our USA road trip, and hostels were the first form of accommodation we looked at. But…. the prices!! How can anyone legitimately charge that much for a simple bed in a dormitory?? And for solo travellers it’s one thing, but with two of us we’d often end up paying far more for two beds in a dorm than a double room in a hotel.

    We’ve travelled all over Europe and Asia and much prefer the vibe of hostels, but until we find something with a price more befitting a single bed in a room full of strangers, we’ll stick with Airbnb and Couchsurfing—both of which are abundant in the USA and offer many of the same benefits as hostelling.

    • Beth Williams
      July 10, 2015 / 1:54 pm

      Yeah, the prices are a bit steep! Especially when compared to Europe and Asia.

      You really have to know the going rate for the cities you’re visiting. I feel like, if I were visiting smaller B cities like Denver, Dallas, Portland… places that are a bit cheaper in nature, I probably wouldn’t consider a hostel because a hotel would be about the same price. (Unless I’m going alone and am looking for the social element.)

      But for cities notoriously expensive like NYC, LA, San Francisco, Chicago, where your typical sloppy hotel room starts at $200++, I would look into a hostel in a heartbeat in order to be centrally located!