before i go any further by adding this, the following exerpt it from Insider's Guide: Hostels U.S.A (Fifth Edition),
written by Paul Karr and published by The Globe Peguot Press.
also, i hope you guys like this cuz my carpal tunnel went nuts typing this!!
How To Hostel
Hostelling in the United States is, generally speaking, easy as pie. Plan ahead a little and use a little common sense, and you’ll find check-in goes pretty smooth.
Reserving a Bed
Getting a good bunk will often be your first and biggest challenge, especially if its high season. (Summer is usually high season, but in some areas of the United States- The Rockies, for instance, and parts of Vermont- winter is the toughest time to get a bed.) Hostellers often have an amazingly laissez-faire attitude about reservations; many simply waltz in at midnight expecting a bed will be available.
Sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn’t.
Most every Hostelling International abode takes advance reservations of some form or another, so if you know where you’re going to be, use this service. Be aware that many hostels require a credit card number to hold a bed, and some require you to send a deposit check. Helpfully, there’s a national 800 number to reserve at many HI joints (800-909-4776). Many other hostels maintain their own toll-free reservation numbers. We’ve included these numbers whenever they’re available.
Some HI hostels are also affiliated with the worldwide International Booking Network. You can make advance reservations for a very small fee by calling (301) 495-1240 or going on-line to www.hi-usa.org
Independent hostels are sometimes more lax about taking solid reservations, though they’re also a lot more willing to find extra couch space or a spare mattress in case you’re squeezed out. Calling a few days ahead to feel the situation out is always a good idea.
If you can’t or won’t reserve, the best thing to do is get there super=early. Office opens at 8 AM? Get there at 7. No room, but checkout ends at 11 AM? Be back at 11:05 in case of cancellations or unexpected checkouts. The doors are closed again till 4:30 in the afternoon? No problem. Come back around 4 PM with a paperback and camp out on the porch. That’s your only shot if you couldn’t or wouldn’t reserve ahead, and hostellers are pretty respectful of the pecking order: it really is first come, first served. So come first.
Paying The Piper
Once your in, be prepared to pay for your nights stay immediately- before your even assigned a bunk. Take note ahead of time which hostels take credit cards, checks, and so-forth. Think your being cheated with the bill? Remember that most hostels charge $1.00 or so per night for linens if you haven’t brought your own. (You always have the option of bringing your own, however, and we recommend it. See below.)
Other charges could include a surcharge for a private room and charges for phone calls from your room, if a phone is included (very unusual).
You might also need to leave a small deposit for your room key- usually about $5, sometimes more- when you’ll get back when you check out, unless you lost the key in the meantime. Sometimes you will be required to show some form of photo identification to check in. very occasionally, you’ll even be forced to leave a passport or driver’s license with the front desk. This is annoying and possibly illegal, but a few hostels still get away with it. Scream bloody murder, threaten to sue- but you might still get shut out unless you play along.
Remember to pay ahead if you want a weekly stay. Often you can get deep discounts, though the downside is that you’ll almost never get a refund if you decide you can’t stand it and leave before the week is up.
If you’re paying by the day, rebook promptly each morning; hostel managers are very busy during the morning hours, keeping track of check-ins, checkouts, cleaning duties, and cash. you’ll make a friend if you’re early about notifying them of your plans for the next day. On the other hand, managers hate bugging guests all morning or all day about whether they’ll be staying on. don’t put the staff through this.
Some hostel managers have the curiously softhearted habit of letting the rent slide a few days days. We can’t figure why; when managers do this, a day often becomes a week or a month. Even if this courtesy is extended to you, don’t use it except in an emergency. You never know who they’ll hire to get that money out of you later.
Okay, so you’ve secured a bed and paid up. Now you have to get to it. This may be no easy task at some hostels, where staff and customers look and act like one and the same. A kindly manager will probably notice you bumbling around and take pity. As you’re being shown toy our room, you’re also likely to get a short tour of the facilities and a briefing on the ground rules.
Knowing The Ground Rules
There’s one universal ground rule at every hostel: you are responsible for serving and cleaning up after yourself. And there’s a corollary rule: be courteous. So while you’re welcome to use all the kitchen facilities, share the space with your fellow guests- don’t spread your five-course meal out over all the counter space and range top burners if other hungry folks are waiting. And never, ever, leave a sink full of dirty pots and pans behind. That’s bad form.
Hostel guests are almost always asked to mark their name and check-in date on all the food they put in the refrigerator. Only the shelf marked FREE FOOD is up for grounds; everything else belongs to other hostellers, so don’t touch it. (Hostellers get very touchy about people stealing their grub.) Some of the better-run hostels have a spice rack and other kitchen essentials on hand. If your not sure if something is communal, ask. But don’t assume anything is up for grabs unless it is clearly marked as such.
Alcohol is still a major issue at some hostels. Hostelling International rules officially forbid it on the premises of HI hostels. We were not surprised to see this rule bent or broken in some places, but inquire with the a smile on your face before you bring that brew inside. Independent hostels are a lot more forgiving- some even have bars.
Then there’s the lockout, a source of bitter contention among hostel factions. A few rural and small-city Hostelling International hostels throw everybody out in the morning and don’t let them back in until the early evening. Lockouts tend to run from around 10 AM to 4 PM, during which time your bags might be inside your room- but you won’t be.
The practice has its pros and cons; managers usually justify a lockout by noting that it forces travelers to interact with the locals. The real reason is usually that the hostel can’t or won’t pay staff to hang around and baby-sit you all day. On the other hand, some hostels become semi residential situations stuffed with couch potatoes. A lockout sure solves that problem.
In the reviews, we’ve identified those hostels that enforce lockouts. Usually you wouldn’t want to be hanging out ion the hostel in the middle of the day anyway, but after several sleepless nights of travel-or when you’re under the weather- daytime downtime sure is appreciated. So be aware.
Some hostels also enforce a maximum limit on your stay- anywhere from three days, if the hostel is really popular, to about two weeks. You will know if such a policy is in effect the moment you walk into a place. If there are lots of cigarette butts, slackers, or dirty cloths hanging around, it’s the curse of the dreaded long-tremors; folks who come for a day and stay for a lifetime to avoid doing any work. So a maximum stay rule can be a very good thing. On the other hand, you might find yourself wanting to spend more than three days in some great place- and be shown the door instead.
Savvy budget travelers have learned how to get around this unfortunate situation, of course; they simply suck it up and spend a night at the “Y” or a convenient motel- then check back in the cheaper hostel first thing in the morning. But we didn’t tell you to do that. Uh-uh.
Etiquette and Smarts
Again, to put it simply, use common sense. Hostellers are a refreshingly flexible bunch. All these people are able to make this system work by looking after one another; remember, in a hostel you’re a community member first and a consumer second. With that in mind, here are some guidelines for how to act:
- The first thing you should after check-in is get your bed made. When you’re assigned a bed, stick to it. Don’t spread your stuff out on nearby bunks, even if they are empty. Someone’s going to be coming in late-night for one of them, you can bet the backpack on that.
- Be sure to lock your valuables in a locker or the trunk of your car. Good hostels offer lockers as a service; it might cost a little, but its worth it.
- Set toiletries and anything else you need in a place where they are easily accessible. This avoids your having to pay through your bag later at night, rotationally disturbing other guests from their slumber. The same goes for early-morning departures; if your taking off at the crack of dawn, take precautions not to wake the whole place.
- If you’re leaving early in the morning, try to make all arrangements with the manager before going to bed the night before. Retrieve your key deposit before the desk closes if possible, and settle up any other debts. Managers are usually accommodating and pleasant folks, but guests are expected to respect their privacy and peace of mind by not pushing things too far. Dragging a manager out of bed at four in the morning to check out- or for some other trivial matter- is really pushing it.
- Be sure to mind the bathroom. A quick wiping of the shower floor with a paper towel after you use it is a common courtesy.
- Finally, be sure to mind the quiet hours. Some hostels have curfews, but very few force lights-out. If you are up after hours, be respectful. Don’t crank the television or radio too loud. (Save that for the beach and for annoying people staying in much nicer digs.)
Those dainty hand towels and dapper shaving kits and free soaps you get at a hotel won’t be anywhere in sight at the hostel. In fact, even some of the bare essentials may not be available; you’re on your own, so bring everything you need to be comfortable.
There are only a few things you can expect the hostel to supply.
- a bed frame with a mattress and pillow
- a shower and toilet facilities
- a working kitchen with communal pots, pans, and dishes
- a common room with some Spartan furniture, and maybe a few heavy blankets.
Some of the more chic hostels we’ve identified in this guide may be full-service. Heck, we’ve stayed in hostels that provide the food for you to cook- not to mention generous spice racks. But they are the exception to the rule.
Bring this stuff to keep your journey through hostel territory comfortable;
- A passport is strongly advised, even if you are traveling domestically. Many urban hostels keep a very tight filter on who may check in. (The exception is HI affiliates, which are required by policy to admit all paying guests.) A passport gives you a sense of legitimacy as a traveler. Be aware that a few hostels simply will not allow American visitors to stay- and we have done our best to identify those in the write-ups. HI hostels are not supposed to take in hostellers who live in the area, for obvious reasons, but sometimes this rule is bent in dire emergencies.
- HI Membership Cards are a good thing to have on hand. They can be purchased at most HI-member hostels ($28 annually for 18-54, $18 for 55 and older). This card identifies you as a certified super-hosteller and gets you he very cheapest rates for your bed in all HI(and also some unaffiliated) hostels. At $2-$4 per night, these savings can add up fast.
Sometimes that membership card gets you deals at local restraints, bike shops, and tours, too. Again, it will be easier to deal with the front desk at some of the more cautious hostels (even the non-member ones) if you can flash one of these cards.
-Red alert! Do not plan on using a sleeping bag in most hostels. A good number of places simply won’t allow it- problems with ticks and other creatures dragged in from the great outdoors have propelled this prohibition into order. The alternative is a sleep sack, which is basically two sheets sewn together with a makeshift pillowcase. You can find them at most budget travel stores, or make your own. Personally we hate these confining wraps, and we rarely get through he night in one without having it twist around our bodies so tight that we wake up wanting to charge it with attempted manslaughter. Our preferred method is to bring our own set of sheets, though that might be too much extra stuff to pack if you’re backpacking. some hostels give you free linen; most that don’t will rent sheets for about $1-$2 a night. You don’t get charged for use of the standard army surplus bla
nkets or the must charm that comes with them.
- some people bring their own pillows; those supplied tend to be on the frumpy side. This is a good idea if you’re traveling by car and can afford the space.
- We definitely suggest earplugs for light sleeper, especially for urban hostels- but also in case you get stuck in a room with heavy snorers.
- A small flashlight is a must- not only for late-night reading but also to find your bed without waking up the entire dorm.
- A little of spice is always nice, especially when you have had one too many plates of bland pasta. you’ll find the cost of basil, oregano, and the like in convenience stores too high to stomach once you’re on the road. Buy it cheap before you leave and carry it in jars or small plastic bags.
- Check which hostels have laundry facilities. Its much easer to do the wash while making dinner than to waste a day sitting around with eh cast of The Shining at a local Laundromat.
- Wearing flip-flops or other plastic sandals in the shower might help spare you a case of athlete’s foot.
- Be sure your towel is a quick-drying type. Otherwise you’ll wind up with mildew in your pack- and in your food.