Not Your Grandma’s Hostel

In my teens, a family member mentioned to me a great, cheap way to travel was to stay at hostels. This sounded like an incredibly daring concept; something I was certain never to pursue.

This was pre-internet. Hostel information was typically found through Frommer’s publications. Although entries for hostels in these widely known travel guidebooks were well-written, they lacked the depth that today’s hostel websites now provide. Because of the detailed websites, I felt more daring to take the plunge into hostelling adventures.

Activity boards are common in hostels

Activity boards are common in hostels

Hostels are ideal for several reasons. Most are a fraction of what it would cost to rent a hotel room. Hostels oftentimes position you right in the heart of the travel destination, (not by the airport), so you are more inclined to soak up the culture and get the inside scoop on the best educational opportunities, eateries, night-life, and what to avoid. For example: I have signed up for ghost tours in three different tourists destinations and have yet to experience anything even remotely ghost-ish. Hostellers will be straight with you about this from the get go. Not to bag on ghosts specifically. I also never spotted any wee men on the Leprechaun Tour when in Ireland.

I will admit there are some downsides to hostels. You might die.

I joke. When friends and co-workers discovered I had been staying in hostels they expressed concern. Apparently, there is a movie out there where everyone at the hostel gets killed. Someone gets their nose chopped off? I don’t know. I have never seen such a movie, (although we did watch Texas Chainsaw Massacre on movie night at one of the hostels), but I’m sure it’s unrelated. I have never felt truly unsafe at one.

Community Fridge

Community Fridge

In all seriousness, the downside to hostels has mostly to do with sharing. Do you like to share, or do you avoid it like the plague? Hostels I’ve stayed in provide you a bunk, (in either a co-ed or gender specific dorm), and a locker for your personal property. Everything else is shared: bathroom, kitchen privileges, common areas. Hostellers are generally the sharing type and may often share their food with you, and reciprocity is always appreciated.

There is always a weirdo in the bunch and, at times, someone may eat your food which you properly labeled and placed in the community fridge. Perhaps they have left something unexplainable in the bathroom garbage can? These things happen.

Ear plugs are a must if you are assigned a large dorm, (typically 8-12 bunks). People can be noisy sleepers in ways I never imagined!

bunks and lockers

bunks and lockers

HI Hostels are a great way to start out. They are very safe, and adhere to higher standards.  They generally do not allow alcohol, sometimes have curfews, lock-out times. They are generally never a party environment.  I’m not a fan of lock-out times, but the hostel listings will be upfront about this.  Depending on when lock-outs occur, it might never apply to you.

Hostels are “Yelped” just like other businesses/destinations. Plenty of photos are provided.

I have met so many great people traveling this way. I think it is ideal for the solo traveler because you can meet so many like-minded people, and have instant companions for exploring a new place. I have found that most foreign travelers staying in US hostels have great English skills and are willing to communicate with other hostellers. Every so often I meet a hosteller whose English is spotty and I suspect him to be a fugitive.

My first was India House Hostel in New Orleans, LA. It was very hippie-inspired. It was a great experience!

Panoramic of Ballroom Area - Green Tortoise

Panoramic of Ballroom Area – Green Tortoise

My favorite hostel, to date, is Green Tortoise in San Francisco. It is more of a party environment, (if that suits you), but if doesn’t, that is why ear-plugs were invented. They have community meals three nights a week, and the cook will let you help with the preparation of these meals, which I have found is a great way to meet people right away, (chopping veggies and drinking beers).

The dude who makes dinner

The dude who makes dinner – Yes, Frank Zappa look-alike

Along with community meals, many of the hostels I have visited have movie nights, game nights, live music…ice cream socials.

Hosteling is a great way to meet “real travelers”. I have traveled and stayed in often very nice hotels, but have gotten so much more out of the experience staying in a hostel environment. A hotel offers a very sterile perspective no matter where you travel. What you give up in privacy you make up for in a rich, behind-the-scenes, experience.


Heading Home – Hawaii

I’ve had my emotional ups and downs on this trip. There’s a generally scuzzy atmosphere just beneath the tourist feel. Customer service is either really great or your waiter is begging to get slapped.  

You’ve probably noticed travelers that do this…not engaged in conversation with others, bury their heads in their laptops and iPhones. However, when Internet reception is spotty, it can sometimes be torture, for all of us. Reception here is spotty on a good day…even in Starbucks.

View from Diamond Head

Met some good peeps here and had some funny adventures. One of the realities of solo travel is, even in this age of social media that keeps us connected, once you leave a place and the trip is over, your paths will most likely not cross again…even with a little Facebook stalking.  Good byes are bittersweet-but not so much though that you aren’t already planning adventures at the next destination.  Don’t put your travel bag away so quickly, Q! We’ll be heading out again in a couple weeks

Polynesian Hostel – Hawaii

Cool murals in the stairwells. 

Polynesian Hostel

I was shocked by how dirty this place was when I arrived, but I gradually got used to it.

Okay.  Total lie.

Everytime someone checked out of my room, I deloused their space, as I was fortunate to discover a container of Clorox wipes in the closet. I scrubbed like a madman. My space was gradually becoming inhabitable.  No more cockroach encounters

Panoramic of common area

I don’t know anyone who cleans feverishly while on vacation as I do. Some call it a curse. I call it a gift.

I’m gonna go see if there are dirty dishes in the sink yet.

This place does have it’s charm.  It is a hostel, so you have to take everything with a grain of salt.


We’re Here – Hawaii

The City bus 19 took me from the airport to approximately 200 yards from the front gate of the hostel…for 2.50 USD. You just can’t beat that!
Checked in at Polynesian Hostel. Was mortified by this place as it was so dirty. I don’t think this was the precise location depicted in the original advertising. Maybe it changed ownership since I booked a couple months prior.

I traveled all day to get here.  I was hot and miserable and had not been drinking enough water during the day. I was hoping my feelings of disappointment and heavy heart were the result of lack of nap/water/food. I have these feelings often in the initial phase of my solo trips. It always passes. I was hoping this would also be one of the those instances.

This is a great backpack!
I didn’t check any bags, so all of my
 stuff is in here…even the laptop.

I told the front desk staff there was a cockroach in my locker. They said not to worry. I would not be charged extra for the privilege. I was hoping to fashion an army of sticky traps, as a moat around my backpack, but they didn’t have anything like that.

As soon as I was able to obtain clean sheets from the front desk, I passed out in my bunk…with ear plugs in, (as absolute must when staying in hostels, or in the presence of loud talkers). 

I woke a few hours later feeling a lot better and began meeting other guests. Some great networking in these environments. One of the guests told me about state run programs that, for a minimal registration fee, offer classes and workshops in television and various media productions. I thought, “This is great!”. I’m not necessarily interested in television per se, but at some point, would like to create some instructional videos, (maybe just for youtube), but nevertheless, this would be a great skill-builder.

Once the sun went down, the weather was perfect, (by Margaret standards). I walked to the Safeway a mile away to buy my groceries for the week. Food is so much more expensive here; perhaps 30% more. 

Right now, I am in the dark typing this in my bunk. I think all of my roommates were asleep in bed by 10:00. This room smells so foul! Q whispers to me, “Someone has been eating beans”, and proceeds to smother her tiny cherubic face with a pillow. She’s so cute, and she’s right. Beans definitely; laced with cabbage.


Hawaii – The Departure

We left for the airport a little after 6:00 am. I left my furry friends with Mom, and attached to each cage, a name plate listing each one’s modus operandi. I have learned from previous incidents my creatures will dupe a care-giver whom has not been forewarned.

Bruce, (on left), whispers to Q, “Take me with you!”.

Q said her goodbyes to each one of them individually. It was touching.

Mom made a Hawaii themed card for Q and I. Q loves the sparkles.

We got to the airport without incident. I urged Q to put on clothes before we got to the terminal. She wore her new handbag. Baby steps.

Q was playing in the decorative plants and believed we were already in Hawaii.
She was thrilled to start the day with a macadamia nut cookie and a Bloody Mary.
I guess I haven’t been to Terminal B since the renovations, (where Hawaiian Airlines is).  I looks like a winter wonderland.


Louisiana 2012 – Part 2 of 2 – New Orleans Slideshow

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