Did you know that the United States even had hostels? It seems a lot of people do not. Hostels are just not that popular with most Americans (probably due in part to a smear campaign by the Movie that Must Not be Named).
I would be that most Americans backpackers who happily stay at hostels abroad never even think to look for ones when traveling in the US. The ones that exist are few and far between, and the default cheap accommodation in the US is probably a motel or cheap hotel.
So, even though I had visited the Hostelling International facility in Washington DC for events before, I was still a little nervous about working with HI Hostels on this San Diego project. I’ve had mostly fantastic experiences with HI abroad everywhere from Beijing to Helsinki, but what if the US hostels didn’t live up to the standard?
I was actually pretty surprised and relieved! We had a great time at the HI Downtown in San Diego (and even paid a visit to the HI Point Loma Hostel as well). In fact, we enjoyed it so much we’re planning to stay with HI again when we go to San Francisco next week.
So why would you choose to stay in a hostel over a cheap hotel? Here are some good reasons:
They Are Really Nice
I’ve stayed in some really sketchy hostels, guest houses and hotels in my time. The San Diego HI was spacious and airy, covered with art pieces from local artists (all available for sale). It had a huge spacious kitchen, multiple common rooms and our room itself was big (for a hostel) and comfortable. The Point Loma hostel looked even prettier with bright rooms, big outdoor hammocks and community guitars.
I’ve found this to be true of HI hostels all over the world: they are big, pretty and full of shared spaces.
While we were in San Diego we got the chance to participate in a variety of free or very cheap events offered by the hostel. The two hostels actually share a community organizer who has the sole job of organizing events and activities for hostel guests, so there was quite a lot going on.
Out first night in town we dragged out jetlagged butts out on the town for a free pub crawl which had us out dancing until I finally called it quits at 1 am. San Diego has tons of interesting beer pubs and craft cocktail bars that we never would have found on our own, so it was nice to be show around by a local. The next morning we took a free walking tour also offered by hostel volunteers.
One of the coolest things I noticed about the hostels in San Diego is their effort to be involved with the local community. Several nights a week a local volunteer cooks a communal dinner that hostel guests can join for a mere $5. We were present for spaghetti night and spent awhile chatting about teaching opportunities in China with the local chef.
The Point Loma hostel is even more ambitious with their weekly Saturday community market featuring local musicians, craft-sellers and grilling. It’s still in it’s infancy, but I think it’s so cool that the hostel strives to be an active member of the community, not just a hotel.
US hostels aren’t quite the bargain that they are in other countries around the world. A private room may run you $90 at the Downtown Hostel, and a dorm around $35. You could probably stay in a dingy cheap motel for $100, but you might not necessarily be downtown and you definitely wouldn’t have access to the same amenities.
Unlike most hotels the hostel offers free breakfast (a pretty decent one too), free walking tours and events, kitchen use, advice and support. Not to mention the all important free wifi.
As you can tell I was pretty impressed, although I did see a couple of drawbacks:
Most US Hostels are Dry
I’m sure this is for liability reasons, or maybe just to keep the peace. It certainly is nice not to have loud party people outside your door at 3 AM, however having a drink in the common room is a great way to facilitate mingling and socialization. In a city full of amazing microbreweries, it would have been nice to have picked up a sampler and enjoyed a couple in the comforts of our “home.” Not a big issue, but something to be aware of.
Hostel Culture Hasn’t Yet Arrived
Partially related to the point above, but I think it’s really a separate issue: people here weren’t as social as I’ve experienced in hostels abroad. I’m used to arriving at a hostel, pulling up a chair and immediately having someone ask me where I’m from, where I’ve been or how long I’ve been traveling. The travelers here weren’t so social. Even during group events like breakfast of the market, people seemed to keep mainly to themselves.
I don’t really think this is the fault of the hostels themselves, the more likely culprit is that the friendly open traveler culture isn’t really a thing here yet. That’s part of why I would encourage more people to stay in hostels- to make the US a more social, traveler friendly country.
Have you stayed in a US Hostel? What was your opinion?
I was in San Diego as a guest of HI USA. All opinions are my own.