They used to be called Youth Hostels. But no longer. Hostels are not just for the young. They are for people of any age. Boomers, seniors, GenXers and Millennials all use and love hostels.
Now, to be certain, the majority of people at hostels will be younger than 30. After all, it fits their budget.
But I, at 61, go to hostels as well. I go for the price as I can think of better ways to spend my travel dollar than on expensive hotels. But I also love them because they are social.
I love meeting other travelers! I've never been to a hostel where I didn't meet at least one solo traveler. I almost always meet someone in my age group. But far more exciting than that, I meet young people. I love talking to them and many appear to like talking to me. I'm not their parent and I'm not acting like their parent. They see me as adventurous. They have told me that I present a different way of living as an adult than they typically see.
Yes, it's the social aspect of hostels that I love so much.
I'm sure many who haven't stayed at a hostel wonder about cleanliness. Generally, hostels are very clean. They typically don't allow people to bring their own sheets and pillows because these could compromise the hostel. Given a choice between an inexpensive hotel and a hostel, I would bet on the hostel being cleaner.
Choosing the Hostel That's Right for You
If you're over 45 you might be a tad particular about where you stay. I know I am. So here are my top tips for choosing and staying at hostels. For lots of information on what it's like to stay at hostels read Sleeping with Strangers: The Hostel Experience.
- Read the reviews. The sites I like for booking hostels are Hostelworld and Booking.com, though I prefer Booking.com. When I've done apples-to-apples comparisons they have often come in less expensive than Hostelworld and there is usually no charge for a refundable booking. Both sites have reviews by travelers made after they have had a verified stay. Read them carefully to get a good sense of the hostel.
- Ask about gender-specific dorms. I've stayed in a mixed dorm a couple of times and I have always found the men to be very respectful but I still take a women-only dorm if it's available.
- Consider a private room. I typically stay in a dorm but I have stayed in a private room at a hostel as well. They usually book up quickly as there are not many, so plan and book in advance.
- There are hostel organizations for quality control. I prefer to book with YHA in the UK and Hosteling International if possible. They give a certain degree of confidence in quality. Buy a membership and receive a discount on hostel fees and other travel needs. Independent hostels are often of very good quality as well. Again, read the reviews.
- Look for the freebies. While hotels may still charge for Wi-Fi, hostels usually include it. They may also include breakfast, walking tours, pub crawls, etc. Know before you go.
- What to bring with you. You'll want a few things with you that you do not pack for hotel stays. I always carry flip-flops, a padlock for the locker, my own shampoo and conditioner, and a towel, though many hostels will supply the latter. If you're a light sleeper you may want earplugs and an eye mask.
- Checking out. You'll have paid when you checked in so checking out is simple. After you've stripped your bed and left all linens in a specific bin, just say goodbye.
Here's What Solo Travelers 50+ Love About Hostels
Don't just take my word for it. Here's what members of the Solo Travel Society on Facebook had to say when asked whether they stay in hostels.
Elizabeth – I booked hostels in Vietnam where I had my own room and bathroom. It was more like a 3-star hotel, including a wonderful breakfast and a great location. Definitely worth checking out Hostelworld and Booking.com which also lists hostels. Great internet, staff, and price!
Mike – Some people have a dim view of hostels thanks to silly movies or the thought of communal living. I get it. But as I've traveled the past few years, the hostel experience has turned out to be not only acceptable, but in fact, beneficial. I stayed away from hostels for a long time, and if I had maintained my stubborn ignorance, I wouldn't have shared bilingual laughs with 65-year-old French couples, or offered advice to nuclear families of 4 deciding top or bottom bunk, or blushed before many charming Dutch roommates.
Travelers stay at hostels for a variety of reasons, but chiefly, to engage with their fellow travelers. The cost benefits seem secondary. I have evolved quite a bit during my 12 years of overseas travel; I am becoming a little more social, a little less dependent on privacy, and more grateful about how the world can take good care of you. I hope that people can embrace traveling in a similar fashion, no matter the cost of lodging or particular destination. Just keep an open mind, a nimble spirit, and your own coffee cup. You'll be just fine. If people have a dim view of hostels, they just haven't stayed at one.
Lucia – I'm 72 and I've just booked in Charlottetown, PEI, Canada. I've booked a private room, though, because at my age I really need some privacy. But I love the vibe and the possibility to be able to cook my vegan food.
Nicole – I love staying in hostels. They allow me to travel longer and save money. I have met so many wonderful people when staying at hostels. I've traveled with some of them for a few days when our interests are the same. They are also great local resources. I highly suggest trying them out.
Chris – I've stayed at many hostels, most have been very nice, clean, and friendly. I strongly recommend doing your research beforehand to get the kind of experience you want. Some hostels do cater more to a young party crowd or to families, etc., so decide what kind of place you want to stay at first. Also ask if there will be any groups staying when you want to book. I once arrived to a beautiful beach side hostel on Cape Cod only to find out that I got the last cot, in the middle of the women's dorm with an entire girl scout troop. Conversely, I also stayed in a renovated barn in Vermont and was the only one there. So checking ahead can help.
Kristin – I’m 49 and have done three long trips in the past 5 years. Avoiding party hostels is my specialty. I’ve found nearly all the Hostelling International spaces to be great. Most have small kitchen areas, which is so helpful. I’m also a fan of the Generator Hostels in Europe. They do have a livelier atmosphere, but are super clean and the beds are nearly as comfortable as my own.