In the past, hostels have generally been associated with over-zealous, boozed-up young adults; dingy, dodgy dorm rooms with ultra-thin mattresses and far-flung European destinations à la the movie Hostel. But at HI USA, we believe hostelling can be a real force for good. And as more and more people are opening their eyes to the joys of travel, this form of social, budget-friendly accommodation is fast becoming the popular choice for young and old who are looking to explore the United States and beyond. Nowadays, there’s something for one and all: private rooms are available for the dorm-phobic and there are all kinds of activities that are geared to everyone from solo travelers to families.
But comfort aside, there is another reason why hostels are the place to stay for both the budding adventurer and the experienced explorer. HI USA has long believed in the power of hostelling as a means to get the most out of a travel experience, and more importantly, we see hostels not just as places to stay, but as catalysts for creating a better planet for all. With travel becoming more accessible, the world is getting smaller and hostels are like the town squares of the global village. But how exactly do a bunch of bunk beds and shared bathrooms contribute to the quest for world peace? The answer is, a lot more than one would think.
Here are a couple of goals you may not realize you’re accomplishing whenever you hostel with HI USA.
You’re being good to the Earth. Since you’re sharing accommodations and are less likely to take long showers because you’re not the only one who needs to use the bathroom, you’re already being eco-friendly just by staying at a hostel. Most HI USA hostels also encourage recycling and composting, and plenty of others have even gone the extra mile when it comes to being green. For example, HI San Francisco Downtown uses toilets that have sinks above them, so the water you use to wash your hands is recycled to be used for the next flush, and HI Point Reyes has multiple certifications as a green establishment.
You’re learning about your own country and others. The USA is so big that you don’t have to leave the country to encounter new experiences and unique cultures. If you stay at a hostel, you get the added bonus of interacting with people from different nations, and even Americans get to see their home through the eyes of foreign visitors. Learning about the ways that people live in different countries and states can open your eyes to the good and bad aspects of your home, encourage gratitude and challenge you to think more critically about what you know about the world.
You’re immersing yourself in the community where the hostel is based. Staying at a hostel gives you a great opportunity to be more involved with your surroundings and see more of the city than just the tourist sites. Some HI USA hostels are in national parks and visitors can volunteer to help preserve these areas. Similarly, you can get involved with communities surrounding city hostels and interact with residents to gain an appreciation and understanding that you’re not likely to get when staying at a hotel.
You’re supporting the locals. Hostels tend to offer tours and activities that are led by knowledgeable locals who can take you to spots that are both authentic and off the beaten path. You get a unique experience, and the businesses you visit along the way get to thrive because of your support, which makes everybody happy!
You see the value in experiences. Budget travelling means that you’re more conscious about where and how you spend your money, and this usually forces you to do a bit more research and seek out roads less travelled. When you’re pinching pennies you get to learn that the most expensive things aren’t necessarily the best things. Travel teaches us that money doesn’t make memories, but great experiences do.
Your kids are learning these values at an early age. Hostels aren’t just for solo traveling youths anymore, and most have family rooms for those who want to bring their children along. Young ones who hostel get to interact with people from different cultures and absorb some geographical knowledge while learning how to share spaces and be responsible for themselves. Childhood hostellers grow up to become conscientious future travelers and global citizens.
You’re being good to your soul. When meeting new people and sharing spaces you learn patience, tolerance and open-mindedness, and you end up interacting on a deeper level which leaves good feelings lingering in your soul. If you’re traveling by yourself it can be liberating to learn that it’s not scary to make friends, and you can handle challenges better than you might have thought before you hit the road. Once you’re armed with open eyes and an open heart, it’s difficult not to want to spread those warm fuzzies to everyone you encounter on your travels and back at home.