How to Hostel

How to Hostel

Originally Printed:

University Times (California State University Los Angeles), May 31st, 2007

Stuck in a two by two foot mirrored square box, I was a bit concerned when the box stopped moving and begun shaking—do they have earthquakes in Italy?

Finally the movement halted and wearily I exited. To the right a name plate on the door was labeled Hotel America. With a stomach full of McDonald’s fries I was cold and frustrated from the hour long trip I’d taken lost in the area attempting to get directions from people who didn’t know a single word of English. I silently prayed this was the right place.

This was my first hostel stay after the release of the movie Hostel. I pressed the buzzer and told the hyper, very petite, middle aged man that answered the door with his small lion of a yellow dog I had a room there. He started speaking rapidly in Italian. I stared blankly back.

He did know English and when he gave me the tour of the place, his broken dialogue emerged. I’m told my room has changed, free of charge, from the four person mixed dorm I was scheduled to pay for, to the double room instead because the miniature hostel owner didn’t think I’d be crazy about rooming the Polish family that would check in as well.

The room key that resembled something in the back of a wind up toy was apparently my only source of security from the other nine rooms in the single floor Hotel America establishment.

I’d found and reserved this place on, an international travel assistance website much like the Hostelling International Student travel program I’d worked with a couple years prior when I stayed in a London hostel that resembled a frat house. I’ve stayed in a few hostels and so far so good, each one nothing like the one before. As I dragged my rolling suitcase down the narrow, dimly lit, eerily quiet hallway, I wished I was at the party hotel style hostel I stayed at in downtown London that had pitchers of beer and cups everywhere and lots of loud voices of others in my age group.

It’s very important to make reservations early and only make reservations at places that offer updated photos and several previous customer reviews. You wouldn’t know from the unmarked rusty old building with the rickety elevator that there was even a hostel located here. It was quiet I learned because as Italy’s shopping headquarters Milan is only swarmed by visitors on the weekend, I’d touched down for my spring break solo trip on a Tuesday.

The room was relatively large, bigger than my 15×20 foot dorm at Cal State L.A.. Left and left alone with the only key I surveyed the three walls of the rectangular room adorned with African artwork and a fourth wall consumed by a balcony. There were two twin size beds covered in yellow and blue checkered comforters, a single wood and silver bureau, a wall mounted television set with cable, a silver chromed wash basin with an attached oversize mirror.

My first day I took a day long nap because of my inability to sleep on the plane, it was quickly approaching dusk when I woke. No in house restaurant or vending machine in sight, so armed with the confident not a victim or woman alone in an unknown place walk I mastered in women’s self defense last quarter, I trudged to a grocery store a couple blocks away. I approved of the hostel but I never left the room without my under the shirt money belt firmly in place, keeping my passport, cash and credit cards protected on my body at all times.

Location is everything. When you know you aren’t going to be able to read anything anywhere, getting lost or having to travel too far from your in country residence is not an option. Know where you want to go, how close public transportation is, the proximity from the airport and American Embassy, places to eat, and if grocery and drug stores are near by. Even more important Google search safety and security precautions—yes it’s super cheap, well maintained and clean, the pictures are great—but is it in the South Central-like part of Paris?

7:30am I rose with the sun. I opened the French doors, stepped outside in thin pajamas and am hit with the cool morning breeze and warmth from rays of sunlight hitting the right side of my body. I looked around at the unmoving cars parked on the sidewalks because there is no parking anywhere in this city. I was captivated by the craftsmanship on the surrounding buildings in the morning glow. It was peacefully quiet, no movement or sound anywhere, as if I was the only person awake anywhere.

Some hostels offer bathrooms with showers and toilets in the room for a pricey additional fee, typically hostels are known for their communal restrooms though. I’ve only stayed at one where the restroom could be compared to a locker room with stall enclosed showers and all and I don’t recommend it. I’ve been spoiled by living in an apartment style dormitory, so I prefer not do the whole wearing flip flops where while in the shower thing.

Just like with showers prices are based on privacy levels. If you want to be really cheap reserve the higher number of co-eds in a single room with bathrooms down the hall—they’re dirt cheap. I am not that open. I chose the private bathroom only shared amongst my foreign roommates and me. Even in the new room same rule applied, but at this hostel my shared with three other people bathroom was across the hall. It was very small but very clean. I always checked both ways as if crossing the street before leaving my room and I dead bolted the door and checked it three times before using the cramped shower facilities.

Another word of the wise, never expect toiletries to be available at hostels, assume they won’t be. Bring a bar of soap and toothpaste or purchase it somewhere. Pack accordingly clothes wise. I brought throwaway underclothes and light interchangeable outfits because time and money will be wasted looking for a Laundromats.

The hostel in Milan did offer a breakfast platter that I usually skipped out on, and it did fill up the weekend. Thursday night only by looking outside did I realize there was a dance club on the first floor. During the daylight hours I would be in and out and was aware of the constant cleaning and construction work being done. This activity never hindered a complaint in noise and was usually done before I returned from my daily adventures. This hostel provided more of a homey feel with highlights that included direct care concerning my comfort, conversation, and amusement over my continual ability to get my key stuck in the door—all for $11 Euros a night (before the exchange rate).

Though my travels in America and outside of I’ve visited many kinds of lodging establishments, and I encourage exploring various methods as well. I prefer traveling alone usually and I don’t care for many tourists catered guided tours. Instead opting to put together my own packaged from references to popular locations in conjunction with local resident recommendations. I take pains to not look like a tourist—a. it’s saver because you will be targeted more if you do, and b. your experiences will more likely be more endearing and well rounded.

Hostels in America are similar to those found in international locations with many in a room, accents filling the air, and cheap being a constant. Hostelling International is a student hostel program with discount offers at designated HI hotel locations worldwide. With proof of student status student travel agencies such as STA Travel provide membership applications.

On 2nd Street behind the 3rd Street Promenade houses a Santa Monica HI location. Alike to other hostels in the program, it contains the unified lodging format of small clean no windowed rooms with three or more sets of bunk beds, curtain separated shower stalls, and in room lockers. The brightly painted interior provides out of town visitors with in and outdoor relaxing areas, a cafeteria, phones, computers and other hotel related amenities.

Adjoined to this location is a travel store complete with travel agents, travel books, and directions to destinations like Disneyland and Universal Studios, very helpful for going where the wind takes me travelers with undecided future plans.

If still desiring a different feel check out the rated Venice Beach Cotel– located right on the world famous Venice Boardwalk just feet from the beach. Visitors here can expect delicious and free unlimited pancake breakfasts, free boogie board rentals, and full size beds you can actually spread out on. The showers are in the room and the walls actually have pictures on them and windows to peer out of for a grand total of $13-$18 a night (compared to more HI locations that cost $22-$36 a night with the $22 membership discount card). They are just as safe (no matter where you stay bring your own lock) and clean, with that much more of a personal this-is-really-California feel.

Travel books in the lobby are helpful, but then again so are bookstores with travel sections. Most places you’d even consider visiting already come equipped with visitor locations anyway. Lastly, maybe you should rent Hostel or other travel movies with hostel visiting travelers, bad things do happen. Plot ideas come from somewhere, so think twice before following the person you met at the town bar. Even if you don’t know how to use a phone know the phone numbers to police stations, Embassies, and emergency medical.

Riding the shuttle back to the airport a week later to catch my flight back from Italy I listened to the young American woman behind me screaming. She had stayed at a fancy hotel and just realized her passport had been stolen from her hotel room. Her terminal was the next stop, and she was freaking out because she had no idea what to do, where to go, or who to call. Don’t let that happen to you.