I just had three really nice days in Austin, Texas. The total charge for lodging was about $84, breakfast included. That’s because I stayed at HI Austin, a 10-minute bus ride outside of the city’s bustling downtown.
Yes, I had up to four roommates at any given time and yes, the bed was extremely basic (a bottom bunk). But what did I care? Any time I was in the room I was asleep or headed in that direction.
I’ve stayed in hostels in the United States (Chicago, Philadelphia, New York City) and the United Kingdom (London, Cardiff) and always had an agreeable — and frugal — experience. These places aren’t nearly as scary as those Eli Roth movies would have you believe.
Well, there was that one hostel roommate who’d just been arrested for importing machetes. And the time that some Eurotrash dude decided he could make me into a cougar. But both those examples actually wound up being funny, as well as good blog post material.
I never thought I’d want to sleep in a room with strangers, but decided I’d give it a try and see. I was hooked immediately because they’re just so damned cheap. How often have you paid $129 or more per night for a “budget” motel room in which you spent very little time?
True, there’s a total lack of privacy unless the room is mostly empty. In Cardiff, I stayed in a very large room with only one other woman. We nodded politely but didn’t bother each other. (Some hostels do have private rooms, but they cost more.)
On other occasions, though, I’ve talked with people from all over the world and also from all over the United States. It’s interesting to get other points of view about our country. And if you’re not around young people very often, it’s good to hear from late-teen and 20-something U.S. travelers. The world they inhabit may be different from the one in which you live — and their experiences will make you think, even if you wind up agreeing to disagree.
But what about bedbugs?
Almost always I’m the oldest person in the room, except for that Irish guy who had beer for breakfast and thought it was fun to watch me struggle down from the upper bunk. Yet I’ve never felt marginalized by younger tourists. Some, in fact, are curious about why I’m staying there and ask me why.
If you want to start a chat of your own but feel too shy to do so, buy some fruit and/or cookies at a market and offer some to your roommates. Since many of these youths are traveling on a shoestring, food is a primo conversation-starter.
Whenever people ask me how they can travel for less, I always suggest hostels and the Megabus. Fairly frequently the word “hostel” seems to trigger the fear of bedbugs. One reader on an MSN Money article left a snide comment about how dealing with an infestation would wipe out all the money I saved.
Sure, it’s possible I could get bitten or, worse, bring Cimex lectularius home with me. But that could happen at major hotel chains, too.
I brought this up at the Austin hostel and one of my roommates was puzzled. “Why would people think that?” she asked.
“Probably because they think ‘cheap’ automatically means ‘disgusting’,” I replied.
Maybe some hostels are disgusting. Maybe I’ve just been lucky to visit only the good ones. But I consider them a great frugal hack: The cheaper I sleep, the longer I can stay.