How Old Is Too Old to Stay at a Hostel?

I recently stayed at Backpackers Vacation Inn & Hostel on Oahu’s iconic North Shore. The choice of accommodations was initially more out of necessity than preference, as the North Shore is notoriously void of traditional hotels. Travelers can opt for the luxurious and expensive Turtle Bay (currently closed for renovations) in Kahuku, the Courtyard Oahu North Shore in Laie, a home rental, or a hostel.

I was looking for something in the heart of the action, and Backpackers’ location fit. It’s significantly closer to hot spots like Waimea Bay and Banzai Pipeline than either of the two hotels in the North Shore and offers semi-private and private rooms starting at just $75 a night.

While I was drawn to the location, I was wary about staying in a hostel. This was my first hostelling experience since traveling across Europe in college, where I remember communal bathrooms, bunk beds, and uncomfortable proximity to lots and lots of strangers.

During my stay, I was surprised to find that I wasn’t the only 30-something choosing a hostel. I saw guests of all ages, including some families with children, and older solo travelers.

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The Skinny on Hostels

Hostels usually carry with them a reputation for party culture, packed dorm-style living, and a lack of privacy. That reputation is even harder to shake in the U.S., which is severely lacking in options. If you search for cities like Miami or Chicago on Hostelworld.com, you’ll find just a handful of listings, dramatically different from cities like Lisbon and Barcelona which offer pages upon pages of options.

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Though the U.S. doesn’t have as many options as elsewhere in the world, the country’s hostels do come in more shapes and sizes—and with more unique amenities—than many realize. The Modal in Greenville, South Carolina, for example, has an in-house art gallery and coffee shop and the Ember Hostel in Denver is set inside a beautiful 9,000 square-foot historic mansion. Most places offer private rooms and walkability to a destination’s best attractions—a huge draw for travelers.

How Old Is Too Old to Stay in a Hostel?

Hostels also attract more age groups than one would think. Hostelling International USA (HI USA) is the nation’s oldest and largest hostel brand with properties across the United States. According to their guest data—collected via surveys, membership profiles, and group travel contracts—at least 50% of their hostel guests are over the age of 30.

Michelle Hirschfeld, Head of Sales, Marketing, and Revenue Management at HI USA notes that “it’s not unusual to see retirees sitting at the breakfast table across from 18-year-olds on a gap year or a family traveling with small children.”

While HI USA’s mission is “to help all, especially the young, gain a greater understanding of the world and its people through hostelling,” Hirschfield says that this nod to the young isn’t meant to alienate older travelers. She explains, “HI USA’s mission is bringing people from diverse backgrounds together in one place, and age is just one of those many factors of diversity that you’re likely to find in our hostels.”

Hirschfelt notes that group tours in particular bring guests of all ages into HI USA hostels. Education and service trips in coastal California, for example, often house participants at HI USA properties in Point Reyes and Pigeon Point. These service trips attract an older audience, giving 30-somethings, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers a taste of hostel life.

My Hostel Experience

My experience at Backpackers was in line with Hirshfeld’s assessment of HI USA guests. I opted to stay in the Beach Building—one of four buildings on the property and the only one located directly on Three Tables Beach—where I had a private room next to a family with young children and another room with a few other 30-somethings.

My room went for $140 a night and had two double beds, a private bathroom, a kitchenette, and a balcony overlooking the ocean. It was relatively bare and lacked amenities like complimentary toiletries and air conditioning, and I ran into a few snafus like a leaky sink and a temperamental TV (but who needs TV when you have an ocean view!). I’d pack earplugs next time, but less because of obnoxiously loud guests and more because of the roosters that crow outside the property all night long—which I’ve found to be typical of many homestays in Hawaii.

I had no issues with the in-room WiFi when I needed to hop online to work or check email, and the location was absolutely perfect. There was ample parking for hotel guests and I was just across the street from a Foodland, Coffee Bean, and a variety of beachside food trucks with delicious shrimp and fish tacos. Waimea Bay was a quick five-minute walk down Kamehameha Highway and I was able to walk just one mile to the surfing mecca Banzai Pipeline via a paved bike path.

INSIDER TIPIf you pay in cash at check-in, Backpackers Vacation Inn & Hostel will offer you a discount on your stay.

I didn’t take advantage of any common “hangout” spaces at the hostel during my stay, but Backpackers does offer BBQ areas, a community lounge, and laundry facilities closer to some of the buildings that offer dorm-style and semi-private room options.

The Bottom Line

All in all, I’d say that my stay taught me that I shouldn’t count hostels out when planning a trip. I was able to get a decent room in a fantastic location at a very affordable price without feeling like an older, odd-one-out among a bunch of rambunctious 18-year-olds. I knew not to expect the attention to detail that you’d find at a traditional hotel, but didn’t feel like the condition of the hostel was anything less than you’d find at a homestay or bed and breakfast.

Who knows, after this experience, I might look to plan a European hostel crawl when I turn 40!

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