When you combine the word “Travel” with “Hostel”, perhaps you would immediately think of young backpackers on a budget combined with late night celebrations. However, this is only partly true.
A good number of patrons at hostels are of older, middle-class backgrounds. Some of them are couples on vacation and some are small businessmen seeking a reasonable accommodation for more than a few days, combined with social evenings.
If you don’t mind all the sharing, hostels provide a unique experience. If you are fortunate to have good roommates, you will at least part as friends by the end of your stay.
Hostels have changed very much over the decades because the size of rooms and the number of people per rooms have become smaller. While sharing rooms with strangers is prevalent at hostels in Asia and Europe, the opposite has been true for the United States and Canada, but this too is changing.
Are there Hostels in the United States and Canada?
Hostels and shared short-term accommodations in the United States and Canada do exist in urban centres such as Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago.
You need to be aware that not all properties advertising as hostels in the United States and Canada are truly as such. They are in-fact Student Housing/Co-op/Dormitories operating as a hostel when resident students are on their summer-break. This is especially true for Canada, where summer breaks in universities and colleges last four months between May and August.
Many discussion threads online come to the conclusion that Hostels are unpopular in the United States and Canada because of the vast distances, the lack of cheap public transport infrastructure, and therefore the dependance of car ownership : but this is not entirely true.
In North America, motels are usually considered to be a cheaper alternative to hotels. Motels also provide a sense of privacy as they allow you to exit your room and hop strait into your car without stepping foot in the lobby. Even when on a shoe-string budget, American and Canadians backpackers tend to value privacy over sharing.
Hostels in American and Canadian downtowns also suffer form high operating costs. During peak tourist season, they need to charge as much as a downtown hotel room to stay afloat and competitive.
The advantage of a hostel over a downtown hotel room
Hostels that are located in the heart of a city’s downtown immediately have the advantage of cost over hotel rooms in the same area. While saving $20 to $30 per night may not seem much, these amounts become significant when you plan to be in the city over the next few days.
Most hostels have a communal kitchen where you have a full size fridge, an electric stove and oven and a microwave. You can save money by preparing your own meals. However, you will have to create some sort of a meal plan before your trip. You will then need to go shopping and stock the fridge and pantry with the ingredients you will need after you check-in.
Some hostels (especially student residences), however, may have only a have a kitchenette wih basic facilities and may not allow any cooking.
One of the highlights of a hostel stay is the social life. When I stayed in hotels on week long business trips, I was bored most evenings being alone. At a hostel, you will inevitably get to meet new people, learn about them and have a much better time than just watching TV and falling asleep.
Hostels and Student Residences in the United States and Canada take security very seriously. They will make sure that the only people on their property are staff and guests. Every visitor is ID’d and their information recorded. You will not be able to get to the elevators and stairs going to your room without security buzzing you in.
Disadvantages of a hostel stay
Hostels are places of sharing and that includes rooms and bathrooms. Hostels in Canada also have mixed-gender rooms and bathrooms. Some places do have female-only showers, however. For the most part, you will encounter polite and well-behaved guests.
If any one does happen to cross a line and that makes you comfortable, security will not tolerate such behavior. Hostels are known to kick-out backpackers who refuse to follow proper etiquette and the house rules.
Most hostels especially in North Amercia are located in busy downtown cores. While you may be secure on the hostel premises, anything can happen in downtown. That is not saying that other parts of the city are any safer. But it is always advisable to watch yourself, be aware of your surroundings and keep away form the less populated streets and alleyways.
Are hostels family friendly?
A short, simple answer: Yes, hostels are family friendly for the most part. But there are properties that have a “No Children and Pets” policy in place.
To start, many hostels have the option of private rooms for single, double and quadruple occupancy. A 4-bed room will feature two bunk beds and plenty of space for everything else. And kids love bunk-beds!
You will only have to share the bathrooms and the showers with everyone else on the floor.
The biggest perk of hostels is their kitchen. Families with children will be able to take full advantage by being able to prepare their own meals and tailor them to their picky eaters.
Take note that hostels do not have a full service house-keepers. You must clean up after yourself every time and make an effort to clean your room yourself.
Make sure you pack the following items
- towels, soaps and shampoo
- laundry bag for dirty clothes
- tupperware for left-over food
- games and toys
Don’t over-pack and bring impractical, over-sized suitcases. Most hostel rooms don’t have such space. Where lockers are provided, they can only fit backpacks and collapsible luggage.
Check out these hostels across Canada and the USA
New York City
I hope this post makes you see hostels in a new light. Do you have any suggestions or comments regarding your experience staying at a hostel? Do share below.