Hostel Apostles

The Truth about Hosteling in the United States

The funky digs at the India House Hostel in New Orleans, my first U.S. hosteling experience (source: IndiaHouseHostel.com)

The funky digs at the India House Hostel in New Orleans, my first U.S. hosteling experience (source: IndiaHouseHostel.com)

Here’s the situation…you’ve got a free weekend coming up. You live in Houston, Texas. It’s springtime. You’ve got the option of lying around by the pool, drinking beer, and chowing down on your neighbor’s homemade gumbo. While not a bad scenario by any means, you’d rather be going to New Orleans, attending the annual Jazz Fest, watching Tom Petty, Dumpstaphunk!, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band crush it on stage in the Crescent City. Only one problem: you haven’t made any plans for the trip, you have nowhere to stay, and no one to go with you last-minute. So, do you still go? HELL YEAH! Should lodging logistics be one of your concerns when making the final decision to pull the trigger? HELL NO! Because New Orleans – like many major U.S. cities – has a hostel scene.

FOR REAL?!

Yes, for real. More real than beignets and a Bourbon Street hangover.

This was the exact same scenario I was in when I made the drive over to New Orleans in April 2012 and stayed at my first hostel in the United States (hangover included). While the acceptance of solo travel in the U.S. is a completely different topic for a blog post of its own, the hosteling in the U.S. is a topic that is largely unknown, and at best, very misunderstood.

The reality is, the U.S. has a hostel scene that in many ways mirrors that of the rest of the world, save for a few characteristics that are worth considering when you book. Here are 4 things to know when looking to lodge-it-up hostel-style when you’re State-side:

Many of the Same Rules Apply

Exterior View of the India House Hostel's Victorian Charm

Exterior View of the India House Hostel’s Victorian Charm (source: IndiaHouseHostel.com)

Hey look, this isn’t Europe. You know that. Hosteling is obviously not the standard means of youth and even backpacker lodging in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean you won’t find the experience very familiar to when you were crashing in boutique dorms across London, Paris, and Rome.

Do these hostels have dorms, private rooms, kitchens, and common areas? Yup.

Does the place still have character and funky hostel art. The good ones do!

Are the hostels centrally located? Most of the time.

Does the hostel staff have great recommendations on what to do and experience in the city? Of course.

Will you still meet and hang out with lots of interesting people from around the world? Yes, and more on this topic later…

Just because there’s a diner outside of your doorstep instead of a cathedral doesn’t mean the hosteling experience has changed. An avid hostel-goer will love their U.S. experience just as much as any other.

It’s Under-The-Radar…So Use That to Your Advantage!

Drift Jack's Hostel in Austin, TX is adjacent to University of Texas...and an easy walk to 6th Street and all of the town's nightlife and SXSW activity

Drift Jack’s Hostel in Austin, TX is adjacent to University of Texas…and an easy walk to 6th Street and all of the town’s nightlife and SXSW activity

ATTENTION ALL FESTIVAL JUNKIES AND CONFERENCE COMMANDOS! Did you decide last-minute that you wanted to head to SXSW Interactive in Austin this year because you realized that your startup probably should be valued at $1.2 billion (at least in your mind anyway)? Or did your super-compatible-but-somewhat-forgetful travel partner forget to book your hotels for your trip to Lollapalooza in Chicago? Never fear! Hostels are here!

One of the benefits that come with hostels being under-the-radar is that they might not book up as quickly as hotels, AirBnBs, etc., and they will almost always have a cheaper rate than any of your other options (especially if you’re solo traveling, or with just 1 or 2 others). The reality is, even a mid-range hotel like a Comfort Inn located 15 miles outside of the city will run you way more than a bed at a decent hostel located a mile (and along cheap public transit) from the city’s hotspots. Even if a hostel shows that it’s all booked up, it’s still worth making a call…I’ve snagged a $40 bed on 4th of July weekend in Tahoe before just by calling 2 days in advance and getting on a waitlist. It never hurts to ask, and this flexibility – coupled with cost, convenience, and quality – makes it absolutely worth it if it means not missing out on a great travel experience.

The Quality Spectrum is Pretty Wide

As a tremendous hostel advocate, this is not my favorite topic to make mention of, but I want to make sure I set your expectations appropriately. More-so than in other countries, I’ve stayed at some shadier-than-preferred hostels here in The States. Sometimes it’s because of the location. Other times it’s been because of the quality of the rooms. Never has it been because of the quality of the people (they’ve always been great!). But, as is the case with any hotel or hostel booking, do your research in advance. Pick a spot that has good reviews, in a good neighborhood, with all of the secure features you’d look for anywhere else. If you do your due-diligence in advance, you won’t have to worry about ending up in a crappy hostel. Period.

Mellow Mountain Hostels is a converted hotel nestled in South Lake Tahoe...and one of my favorite in the U.S.

Mellow Mountain Hostels is a converted hotel nestled in South Lake Tahoe…and one of my favorite in the U.S.

Every room at Mellow Mountain is 4-beds only with a private bathroom...not bad for $40 a night

Every room at Mellow Mountain is 4-beds only with a private bathroom…not bad for $40 a night

You’ll Still be Hanging Out with an International Crew

Bourbon Street Rage...no additional caption necessary

Bourbon Street Rage…no additional caption necessary

Just because the youth of the U.S. has been slow to pick up on this trend on their own shores (and arguably, never will) doesn’t mean the rest of the world hasn’t! Whether you’re in Vegas, San Francisco, or mountain towns like Breckenridge, Colorado, U.S. hostels cater to a diverse, international crowd the same way they do in other parts of the world. And let’s be honest…the social element, the serendipity, and the thrill of meeting new people is really why we’re all staying in hostels to begin with, right? Amenities, convenience, and cost aside, never forget that booking a hostel means you’re signing up for the experience should you choose to partake…and I highly recommend you partake! After all, travelers don’t go rolling through New Orleans to go to bed at 10pm…did I mention the bars don’t close there? Santé!

(that’s “cheers!” in French…don’t worry, I had to look that up too)

Got any hostel recommendations or tips from your own U.S. hosteling experiences? Please post those in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you.

Chris Luecke

Chris Luecke is the Chief Travel Officer at Hostel Apostles and aspiring digital nomad. He lives in San Francisco, California, where he spends his time as a marketer and blogger in the tech and travel industries.

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