High-end hostels give hotels a run for their money

SHERYL NANCE-NASH | 5/13/2021, midnight
When you think of a hostel the image that comes to mind may be some drab, non-descript facility full of ...
HI New York City Hostel lobby and common space Photos courtesy of HI New York City Hostel

When you think of a hostel the image that comes to mind may be some drab, non-descript facility full of backpacking kids. Maybe that was somewhat true way back when, but hardly the case anymore. It’s time to rethink staying in a hostel. You can stretch your travel budget and feel secure in digs that may just give some hotels a run for their money.

Matt Kepnes, who runs the budget travel website nomadicmatt.com and is author of “How to Travel the World on $50 a Day,” over the years has stayed in close to 1,000 hostels. What’s important? Free lockers. “Great hostels depend on a central neighborhood, free WiFi, a common room, kitchen, cleanliness, and organized social activities so people meet each other,” says Kepnes.

When picking hostels he looks at user reviews, pictures, amenities and star ratings on sites like Hostelworld. “See what your fellow travelers say. The consensus is going to be pretty spot on. Pick the hostel that the majority of travelers agree is awesome.”

Here, travel gurus and others share their favorite hostels.

HI New York City Hostel

This New York City hostel is the largest hostel in the U.S. and on the National Registry of Historic Places. It also has one of the largest outdoor spaces of any accommodation provider in Manhattan. There’s an enormous outdoor patio for chilling after traipsing around the city all day. Show off your cue stick skills at the pool table. Busy yourself with plenty of games when you’re hanging out at the hostel. The location, the trendy Upper West Side, makes jaunts to Harlem, Midtown, and top Manhattan attractions easy.

Rado Boutique Hostel, Santiago, Chile

Rax has spent more than a decade traveling on different continents and runs the travel website, nomadsunveiled.com and travel podcast. Rado Boutique Hostel is a favorite. “I enjoyed staying there and found myself extending the stay a few times. It was also recommended to me by other friends who were there.” He says it is small and modern. One of the best features is the kitchen and lounge area, which is spacious and located at the top floor. There is a big open-air patio where you can see the city. “The buffet breakfast is fulfilling and has good variety. For a hostel, the price point is towards the higher end. I remember paying about $18 a night,” he says. It’s conveniently located in Bellavista which is well known for nightlife. The hostel is right next to Patio Bellavista, a vibrant area with shops, restaurants and bars. Another popular nature landmark, Cerro San Cristobal, is just a 5-minute walk from the hostel. There is a metro station just across the main road. It is also a walking distance from other places of interest like the Lastarria neighborhood and city center (Plaza de Armas).

The Bivvi Hostel, Breckenridge, Colorado

The Bivvi is ideal for outdoor lovers and offers shared and private rooms. It’s located on the Breckenridge Free Ride bus route making it easy to get to and from the mountain/town and is also a short walk to town on a trail. Enjoy the 10-person outdoor hot tub that overlooks the Ten Mile Mountain. Shared rooms start at $45 a night. Breckenridge boasts hundreds of miles of hiking and biking trails, new restaurants, and shops on historic Main Street. There are more than 30 pieces in public art collections around town. Check out the new AirStage, a mobile 1975 Airstream Ambassador Travel Trailer that has been retrofitted to a preform-anywhere stage aimed at bringing the joy of much-needed concerts safely throughout town.

Kos One Canggu, Bali, Indonesia

Alexx of travel blog FindingAlexx.com has visited and stayed in more than 57 hostels on her adventures. Her all-time favorite hostel is Kos One Canggu, in Bali, Indonesia. “Although it’s considered expensive compared to other Bali options, a grand total of $20 per night will get you a comfy bunk bed in a female or mixed dorm complete with suitcase storage, a privacy curtain and your own power points. Outside of the room there are shared bathrooms and lounge areas, but the best thing is the huge pool, complete with a swim-up bar, a two-story waterslide and floating bean bags,” says Alexx.

She says Canggu is in a “super chill neighborhood popular with digital nomads, with brilliant eateries, funky shops and easy access to amazing surf spots and beach clubs. The best-known cultural spot to visit is Tanah Lot Temple, an ancient Hindu temple that sits atop a rock right above crashing waves. Canggu is cheaper than the luxury hotels in Seminyak and classier than the tourist traps in Kuta, and it's known as the hipster capital of the island.”

Maarten Cox, owner of the online travel guide Gecko Routes, is big on Kos One too. He’s stayed in about 100 hostels and been traveling through Southeast Asia for several years. “It's only a 5-minute walk from the main beach in Canggu, but what is best about this location is their pool. I've never seen a hostel with a pool like this, let’s leave alone their amazing pool parties on Saturdays.”

It’s also easy to meet people. “At the breakfast (which was fabulous), travelers make new friends all the time and as well as in their gym, the common area overlooking the pool and the pool bar. We played beach volleyball, took surf lessons together and even organized a Volcano hike with people staying at the hostel. Last but not least, the beds were one of the best I ever had in a hostel. Super comfy, with good blanket, curtains, charging plug and lamp. All you could wish for.”

HighRoad Hostel, Washington, D.C.

In the midst of the bustling Adams Morgan Neighborhood, home to an eclectic food scene and bars with live music, there’s the HighRoad. If you feel like nesting following a day or two of sightseeing, no worries. There’s free WiFi, free Netflix and Hulu, and a mini-library collection donated by fellow travelers. Even better is the common space, a classy parlor room with a cozy fireplace that lets you see D.C.’s nightlife just out the front door in Adams Morgan. You don’t even have to leave to get food by joining in on free dinner nights, ice cream socials, hot chocolate socials, and movie nights. Get a good night’s sleep on the hostel’s memory foam mattresses, and enjoy luxury linens, towels, reading lights and bed dividers. There are free computers available.

Hostelling International, Chicago

Avid traveler Roger Senpai loves this multi-floor hostel with its enormous kitchen and lodging areas (e.g. game room, couches, library). “It’s larger than most hotels that I’ve ever been to. The amenities are truly amazing, free breakfast buffet, fully equipped washrooms and drinking fountains on every floor, lockers to store your luggage and valuables and much more,” he says. The hostel is located in the heart of The Loop (downtown Chicago), so there are beautiful views of the L-train and the skyscrapers. He says, “For a semi-private room (with 3 other people), I pay a fraction of what I would normally pay at a hotel, especially being located downtown.”

Notch Hostel, North Woodstock, New Hampshire

Located in an old house in North Woodstock, the Notch Hostel is ideal for hiking enthusiasts. The hostel not only offers rooms but also the Carrigain Cabin, which is a converted tool shed. Backyard tenting is available too. Stay in a shared or private room and enjoy the kitchen lounge areas, gardens, fire pits and decks. Even if you’re not a hiker, you’ll love the quaint town of North Woodstock with its shops, restaurants and breweries. There is family fun like Alpine Adventures, Clark’s Bears, Lost River Gorge and the Whale’s Tale Waterpark.