Hostel Takeover

With hip designs, inexpensive rates, and built in socializing, hostels may become the next big thing.

“The people here are totally cool,” says the slightly sunburned music promoter next to me from behind an oversized pair of sunglasses. His New York accent is unmistakable. “I love it here.”

A Southeast Asian millennial seated across from us looks up from a laptop to chime in, “I’ve stayed in quite a few hostels and this is by far my favorite.” He’s an entrepreneur, tech start up.

It’s a languid, sunny afternoon and the three of us are seated in the lush courtyard of the Freehand Miami Beach, an ultra-hip hostel with all the trappings of a hotel: a great pool (photo at top), a restaurant, a bustling lobby, and organized yoga for guests twice a week. Mention its bar, Broken Shaker (below), to almost any local and they’ll tell you it’s their favorite place to hang out.

Photo courtesy of Freehand Miami Beach

Certainly this wasn’t what I expected when I heard the word “hostel.” Yet, the Freehand is very much in fact a hostel; many of the guest rooms are shared among four or eight people—likely quite a few of them strangers—sleeping in bunk beds.

And before you dismiss this as something only a 20-something on a budget might subject himself to: I’m 44, I’ve been here almost two weeks, and I don’t feel remotely out of place.

“Many people, especially in the U.S., have a negative perception of hostels,” explains Feargal Mooney, CEO of Hostelworld, an online booking agent for more than 35,000 properties in 170 countries. “They’re envisioning massive bunk rooms with shared bathrooms, unclean quarters and the bare minimum when it comes to amenities. But the reality is that nine out of 10 hostels offer private rooms with en suite bathrooms, stunning interior designs and a variety of social spaces—from bars and music venues to pools, restaurants and roof decks.”

“At a hostel you have the sense of community around you. Think summer camp. There are always group activities planned out for guests to get to know one another,” offers Glenn Valencia, manager of the Freehand Miami Beach. “Plus, we provide the same amenities as a traditional hotel.”

“What truly sets hostels apart from from other accommodation types like hotels, budget inns and Airbnbs is the social experience,” concurs Mooney. “Shared spaces are core to the hostel model and allow travelers to interact with each other and the local community. If you’re interested in adventures, meeting new people and authentic experiences, hostels are the perfect place for you.”

A few hostels worth checking into:

Photo courtesy of the Gallery Hostel Porto

If you haven’t been to Porto, you should move it to the top of your list. This beautifully romantic city, most well-known for being the place that makes the libation that shares its name, also has a great art scene. And what a better way to immerse yourself than a stay at the Gallery Hostel, located minutes from the center of town and filled with original works by local artists. (It’s also one of Feargal Mooney’s top picks.)

Photo courtesy of HostelWorld.com

Located off of Rue Catherine in Montreal’s famed Gay Village, the M Montreal is just steps away from a ton of great bars and restaurants. Not only does the M have a pretty cool interior, but check out its new rooftop terrace.

Photo courtesy of Sydney Railway Square YHA

If you plan to venture Down Under to personally congratulate your Aussie friends on the passage of marriage equality, perhaps venture a stay at the Sydney Railway Square YHA, located in the heart of the city’s backpacker district. Guests can choose to stay in one of the nifty red train carriages on Central Station’s original Platform Zero.

To book any of the above or thousands of other hostels worldwide, visit hostelworld.com.

Bryan van Gorder usually writes about the places he's been or the famous people forced to talk to him.
@bvangorder