Hostels aren’t what they used to be; they’re so much more.
We remember hostels that frowned on anyone over 26 years old, sold bed space in rooms with four or more stacks of bunk beds, forbade alcohol on the premises, and kicked everyone out between midmorning and late afternoon.
Furthermore, they were often in out-of-the-way locations and filled with backpackers. You could save money and you could meet some nice people. But there was no drinking, no loitering, no privacy.
Then one day in a small town on Lago de Como in northern Italy, we happened upon a hostel with a machine in the lobby that dispensed beer for sale. It was the first time we had found a hostel that did not frown on alcohol.
A couple of Irish kids, dead drunk, were sprawled in the lobby in midafternoon. They welcomed us with open arms and asked if we had any coins they could borrow.
We moved on.
In Mennagio, Italy, late that afternoon we discovered a wonderful old inn, a former convent, with quiet monastic rooms that had walls 20 feet high and windows whose shutters blacked out the brightest daylight. Best of all, there was privacy, and there was peace.
But on our most recent trip, with a decision to stay mostly in two-star hotels (with an occasional splurge for luxury lodgings), we learned to add hostels, along with former convents, to our list of potential accommodations.
The main reason was that we discovered many now have private rooms along with the usual dormitory accommodations.
Hostels are still full of young travelers, but older travelers are just as welcome. Many hostels have a bar and some have their own restaurants on the premises. The secret for those of us looking for a place to sleep — and not necessarily a place to mix and mingle — is to ask for a private room well away from the bar scene. Sometimes you might even get a room with its own bathroom. The cost is relatively low, there’s no lockout period, and many are in good downtown locations, close to restaurants, museums and other attractions.
One of our favorite hostels on this trip was in the heart of Berlin: Citystay Hostel, Rosenstrasse 16, Berlin-Mitte (52 euros a night for a double room (cash only, payable in advance). Free Internet access in the lobby.
The window of our private second-floor room opened onto a central garden. We were within walking distance to many attractions, and next to a bus stop for other parts of town.
Another hostel I can recommend is the Bauhaus Hostel in Bruges, Belgium, $73 a night. Internet access in the lobby.
This hostel was party central, with an active bar and big restaurant, but our double room was on the top floor in the building next door and was blissfully quiet. Our window opened onto a sprawl of red tile roofs and beyond that church steeples and sunsets. And the Bauhaus location, in the Old Town, is within easy walking distance to the plaza at the heart of the town with its many attractions.
We ran into two other couples “of a certain age” at the Bruges hostel, both on extended European tours, as we were, and happy to save money on lodging. Both couples were from Australia.
We older travelers weren’t so very different from the mobs of youths swirling all around us. But they talked a lot about paying off college loans or joining the Peace Corps or which towns have the best party scene, while we “veterans” traded travel stories and showed each other pictures of our grown kids.