Thursday, April 02, 2009

The joys of hostelling in America

When I was nineteen, I Greyhound-ed around America with my best friend Caz. We really did see it all as far as hostel accommodation in this country was concerned. From a waterbed mattress in a bunk bed in Austin to gen-u-wine teepees in Truth & Consequences, there was no hostel experience we left unplumbed.

Now that I am a grown up, I don’t need to stay in hostels very often. Most usually I travel for business (fashion weeks or location shoots) or for work (reviewing hotels or writing travel pieces), so I get put up in some wonderful, spoiling places.

However, when I’m travelling around on my own for pleasure, (as opposed to taking a holiday to a fixed destination) I work on the principle that, as I’ll be exploring all day and eating out in the evening, all I need is a bed and a shower in the cheapest possible place. (After all it’s not like I have the luxury of splitting the cost of a double room with someone.) I like hostels: they tend to have free Wi-Fi & breakfast, kitchens for guests to use, on-site parking and are usually situated somewhere particularly convenient.

In Santa Barbara the only viable choice was an independent backpacker’s hostel down near the waterfront. I can’t in all honesty recommend it, even at a bargain $22 a night. They can’t be held responsible for the snoring Germans in the next door bunks or the irritating conspiracy theorists loudly pontificating in the common area, but the cramped dorm rooms, dubious blankets, loos with curtains not doors, unrenovated bathrooms and general feeling of staying in a travellers’ sausage facility can be laid firmly at their door.

Fortunately the hosts were relentlessly cheery and incredibly helpful: they even let me sit outside the front door in the sunshine to use their internet connection after they shut up for the day. (Hostels are generally shut between 12 & 5pm to guests.

In contrast, the official Hostelling International set-up in Cambria is an independent traveller’s wet dream. A 110-year old white painted clapboard house, it was originally a parsonage for the church next door. The dorm has just three beds ($27 pn), each with a floor length white linen privacy curtain, and made up (as opposed to having an armful of crumpled linen thrust at you at reception) with china blue & white sheets and beige fleece blankets. It’s actually chic; a word never before used in association with the word ‘hostel’. Best of it has individual reading lights, so no having my sleep patterns subordinated to snoring German tourists. (Last night I was reduced to tweeting Belgian Waffling from underneath my smelly blankets so the light from my cell screen wldn’t wake them up.)

hostel dorm bed; Cambria hostel;