The other day, my friend James was telling me about his honeymoon to Iceland. He said that while it was very fun and activity-laden, it was hardly romantic because they had been traveling around like college backpackers. Now, I met James in business school, a used cars salesman-turned-banker with a penchant for the finer things in life, like gabardine suits and Napa wines and pedicures. He is a complete neat freak, mildly OCD with no dust in his home and his schoolwork holepunched into white binders with labels typed out and inserted into the binding sleeve. However, he did spend two years in the Peace Corps living in Honduran houses with bats nesting in his roof, and enjoys hiking up to Mt. Whitney and finding his inner peace in yoga classes. What saves him from being a hippie is that he is a registered Republican from Orange County, California.
So, the reason for this background on my friend James is that he did mention that he and new wife had spent their honeymoon in hostels, which impressed me that even my metrosexual pal who turns his nose up at frugal individuals and liberal ideals could seek refuge in Icelandic hostels. And it appears there’s a trend in hostels making room for guests besides college kids on a dime. Which brings me to one of my favorite budget resources: Hostelworld.
Now, Hostelworld is a site I wished existed when I was in college – rather, I wished Internet existed (actually, it did, in its prime dot-com days, but books and libraries were more reliable then). Back then, you paid $10 for a bed in a dorm room shared with a bunch of random strangers your own age. And since you already lived in a dorm world, it wasn’t much different – and it was fun, and you barely even slept anyway. It’s a little different today, because you actually want to go to sleep, and you do mind if there are drunk college kids smoking pot and blasting Bob Marley in the room with you, and you don’t want stale toast for breakfast.
Hostelworld also lists guest houses, bed and breakfasts, and budget hotels if the idea of bunk beds and button-push showers make you cringe. However, many hostels now cater to past-college people and families by offering private rooms with ensuite bathrooms and other amenities, for a very low price.
Here’s how it works: Enter the city you’re looking to spend the night, dates and number of people, then scan the list of results. (You can also check if you want to only consider apartments, hotels, etc to narrow the search). You can also view prices in the currency of your choice. It also shows availability of each date. By clicking on each listing, you get a complete description of each place. For example, now that I’m married and no longer any fun, I check to see if the “cleanliness” and “safety” ratings are high and that the “fun” level is lower.
Once you’ve selected the hostel you’d like, you can make a reservation at 10% of the price. Note that the price is per person, so if you are traveling alone and want a private room, you’ll have to pay for all the beds in that room. Since most private rooms are around $60 for two people, 10% of $60 (=$6) is a reasonable way to hold down a room even if you change your mind.
I’ve discovered many a great find on Hostelworld. In Prague, we landed an apartment building-turned-guesthouse (Shelter Hostel, www.shelter-hostel.com) that had only huge private rooms and a shared bathroom and kitchen. It also came with free Internet and breakfast. Because its “fun” level was really poorly rated, the other guests were couples in their late 20′s to 50′s, quiet, courteous, clean and did not steal our food out of the refrigerator. In Budapest, we found ourselves in someone’s actual apartment, but he had moved into the lofted upstairs and turned his living, dining and bedroom into separate guest rooms and let us use the kitchen. It was like staying in someone’s home. There was Bussola di Hermes (www.bussolahermes.com), the bright, white-washed hilltop room in Capri (a steal for the luxury Italian island), and the individual bungalows with porches at Casale Antonietta (www.casaleantonietta.com/bungalow) that even included your own full kitchen, living room, community pool and amazing breakfast on the grassy lawn bejeweled with lemon trees in Sorrento - perfect for a wedding setting. There were bunk beds in Barcelona, but the lack of “fun” atmosphere drew in quieter college kids and a clean bathroom which was enough.
As you see, hostels don’t have to be so – hostile. Ha ha. Anyway, sleep well!