Hotel vs Hostel

On my summer vacation in Portland, I made the decision to stay in a hostel instead of a hotel. I had stayed in Hostels in Europe and South America. It was probably after having stayed at them, I found that Americans generally have a bad impression of hostels.

So it did make me think about, in our consumer, brand name culture, our unnecessary hotels are, compared to most brand name items. Scouting and choosing a hostel may be more work, but not only is it a money saver, it is probably still well worth it.

As I have talked about this, I have found that many people are either scared of hostels, or don’t even know what it is. A hostel is a somewhere between a dormhall and a hotel. There are often rooms with bunks, private rooms, shared kitchens and bathrooms.

  1. Shared Space: As an Augustinian, Augustine’s Rule puts a lot of value in the sharing of goods (whether spiritual or material). Having shared spaces is very Augustinian, and perhaps Augustine may have preferred a hospitality where there is shared space. For Augustine, we encounter God in the places we set up unity, and so we don’t encounter God by locking ourselves up in our hotel room. A Carmelite, therefore needs a cell, and might like a hotel room if it weren’t so extravagant.
  2. Entitlement and Customer Service: American Consumer Culture has taught us that expressing your dissatisfaction gets you results. It is part of our customer service culture. Nobody likes a complainer still. Being in a hostel where you have to share space, requires you to be considerate of other people around you. How Gospel is that?
  3. Passionate Staff: Many hostels do not have large rosters of indifferent staff clocking in and clocking out. Usually the smaller staff is younger, they take ownership of the hostel, and are interested in connecting with the customers. Although you are likely to encounter more people who are not super churchies either working or staying at a hostel, you will find good people.
  4. Wi-Fi: Many hotels see Wi-Fi as an added expense. Forget that you are paying hundreds of more dollars at a hotel, heaven forbid it cover internet.
  5. No Television: Hostels almost never have televisions in the bedroom, some will have televisions in shared spaces, or none at all. Who needs television on vacation?
  6. Unnecessary Amenities: If I saved ~100+/night where did that money go? Shampoo bottles? bed made daily? continental breakfast? Private Television with pay per view porn? Are any of these really worth the extra hundreds of dollars?
  7. Safety: With so much shared space and so many strangers, hostel staff, who are very passionate about what they do, are very keen on not allowing random people to walk in. Hostels set up lockers, where you bring your own combo lock. It might feel obvious that a hotel appears safer, but most hostels care about the safety of their customers.
  8. Food: Although there are hotels with kitchenettes, most hotels expect you to fork out extra cash for room service. Sometimes the nicest part of having a vacation is being able to make delicious food for yourself, and not have to pay 7.50 for a bagel and coffee daily, when you can buy several bagels, and enjoy hostel coffee for five bucks. Having a few budget meals in a hostel can expand your possibilities for finding places.

I have a few caveats. I think an older person who needs a private bathroom, elevators, etc, is in an entirely different state. Also, hostels are great in urban areas, where you can go out and do a lot of walking or using public transportation. Rarely are hostels in remote areas, where you would be better off staying at a resort. Although I don’t mind sharing spaces with others, I still need my own private bedroom. Hostels can be a good thing to do with a group of people, but wouldn’t work for business purposes.

For those curious, while I was in Portland, I ended up staying in two separate hostels located next to two really cool neighborhoods. The first one was Portland Hostel Hawthorne District. Hawthorne had some of the coolest restaurants, bars and culture. The building itself is an experiment in eco-sustainability. This hostel is also part of Hostelling International, which tends to take older nice buildings and fix them up for their use. Hosteling International also separates boys and girls into separate dorms, and prohibits alcohol on the premises. Private rooms are typically available.

The other Hostel was Travelers House in the Alberta neighborhood. This hostel was owned and operated by a younger couple who lived upstairs, and used the bottom house for the hostel. The place was fixed up really nice, and cost a little more than the other place. It may have been somewhere between a hostel and a bed and breakfast.


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