Is there such thing as being TOO OLD for a “youth” hostel?

Photo Courtesy of Barnacles Hostel

On my way to Jamaica last week, I had an overnight layover in Miami.  Not wanting to spend a lot of money on lodging, I booked a hostel near the airport. After getting off the bus and wandering around lost for an hour (in heels and in the heat), I arrived at the hostel hot and tired and looking forward to ditching my roller-bag and taking a nap.

As soon as I walked into the dorm room, however, I knew that wasn’t going to happen.  First, though it was only two in the afternoon, there was already a party underway in the dorm’s common room.  Beer bottles lined the coffee table, techno blasted from the stereo system and several people were smoking in the kitchen; using the sink as an ashtray.

After saying hello and dumping my stuff on the bunk bed, I decided that since I wasn’t going to be sleeping any time soon, I might as well take a shower.  But as soon as I opened the bathroom door, I realized that wasn’t going to happen either, thanks to the naked girl passed out on the toilet in the dorm’s only bathroom.

“Oh!  Sorry!”  I said, backing away from the open doorway as soon as I saw her. I expected her to hastily stand up and slam the door shut, but she didn’t even seem to register my presence.

“Are you okay?”  She didn’t move.  Crap, is she dead?  I thought. I headed down to the reception desk to find the hostel’s manager (a shirtless, barefoot 30-something), in a fight with the housekeeper.

“Can I help you?” he asked as soon as he noticed me.

“Um, yeah.  I’m checking out…”  I placed the dorm key on the desk in front of him.

“Why? Is it because of the girl? Cause you can change rooms if you want…”

“Um…you mean the girl passed out in the bathroom?”  He knew about her?

“There’s a girl passed out in the bathroom!?”  He looked at the housekeeper accusingly, as if he had had something to do with it.

“Yeah.  Look.  I’m gonna go…”  I said, wondering what girl he’d been referring to, but too weirded out by  the situation to want to stick around to find out.

Later, after gathering my stuff and wandering down the highway a ways, I found a motel. Though it cost 70 dollars (about 50 dollars more than the hostel had) I was happy to pay it.

Five years ago, I wouldn’t have thought twice about staying in that hostel.  I would have no doubt joined the party; heck, I probably would have been the one to start it.  But now, at 29, getting wasted with strangers on a Monday afternoon was the last thing I wanted to do.  What I wanted to do was take a hot shower (alone!) and crawl into a comfortable king-size motel bed and sleep.

When I read about travelers like 29-year-old blogger Matt (who’s been bouncing around from hostel to hostel nearly non-stop for the past five years) or about 34-year-old blogger Christine (who not only stays in hostels with her husband but with her one-year-old baby as well), I wonder how they do it.  I also wonder whether or not they should.

As Christine explained:

“No one wants to party their way around the world and then find a baby is in the room… especially if they’re from the States. I noticed this taboo pretty quickly as we stayed in a hostel in Bogotá…the American kids were definitely not into the cherubic angel cooing at them from across the room (sort of a buzz kill, me thinks).”

A few months ago, while staying in a hostel in Portland, Oregon, I encountered something similar.  I awoke at six in the morning to get a drink of water and as I sleepily stumbled out of the dorm room barefoot and in my snowman pajamas, I was embarrassed to find a 40-something Asian man sitting in a chair in the hallway.  Though it was barely dawn, he was dressed in a suit and watching Modern Family on his laptop.  It looked as though he’d been up for hours.

We nodded at one another and I patted down my messy hair, feeling both self-conscious and resentful that he’d caught me looking so disheveled.  It was Saturday, for crying out loud!  He should have been sleeping off a hangover like a normal person.

But he wasn’t the only one up early. There were quite a few other older people chatting in the kitchen over coffee.  One guy looked to be in his late 60’s.

“I’m so hung-over,” I overheard him tell a girl.  He was clearly trying to relate to us; to let us all know that even though he’d probably been given a senior citizen discount when he’d reserved his hostel room, he was still cool.  It was painful to watch and I felt embarrassed for him.

Anyway, what do you think?  Does the old adage “age ain’t nothin’ but a number” apply here or do ‘old people’ cramp a hostel’s style?

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Comments ( 5 )

  1. Broche

    Great post! You bring up some really great points, but ultimately, I think you've got several threads of discussion here: 1. What age is "too old" to be staying in a hostel? 2. Is it appropriate/wise to be staying with a baby in a hostel? 3. What are your reasons for staying in a hostel in the first place? Maybe #3 should be moved to the #1 spot, because I think that's the core of the query - if you're staying in a hostel because it's the cheapest option, you're going to have to put up with what generally goes on in one (mostly drinking, smoking, partying, etc.). Some hostels have a better or worse reputation for that sort of thing than others, but it's pretty safe to assume that's going to be the atmosphere. If, however, you're staying in a hostel because in addition to wanting the cheapest option, you're looking to meet other travelers and have a good time sharing experiences, advice, clothing, booze, food, etc., then you're in the right place, regardless of age. Perhaps that 60-year-old staying there had been on the hippie travel path for the last 40 years, and he wasn't trying to be cool, he just was, at 60, kind of permanently hung over. Perhaps the couple with the baby didn't mean to cramp anyone's style, but instead, was trying to not let the baby cramp theirs. Cheap travel options aside, I think you illustrated your point when you said what you wanted was a hot shower and some sleep (in a relatively clean environment) - alone. It's not so much an age factor as a priorities consideration. If you're 29 or 59 and traveling for business where a good night's sleep, a reliable shower, and quiet space/time to prepare for work is a necessity, a hostel is probably not ideal. But if you're 29 or 59 and you want a more communal travel experience, well, you know where to go. Thanks for making me pause to think about this!

  2. Reannon Muth

    @ Broche - "If, however, you’re staying in a hostel because in addition to wanting the cheapest option, you’re looking to meet other travelers and have a good time sharing experiences, advice, clothing, booze, food, etc., then you’re in the right place, regardless of age." - Well said! I think you're right...it's not so much about age as it is about you're reasons for staying in a hostel in the first place. I've found that as I've gotten older, the novelty and excitement of meeting other travelers has worn thin and more often then not, I just want to be by myself. I'm not sure if that has to do with my age or the fact that I've just stayed in too many hostels.

  3. Sarah

    Hmm...maybe I'm staying at the wrong hostels but they generally tend to be quiet, in my experience! Whenever I travel in Japan, I exclusively stay at hostels because they're cheap but I find that my roommates are usually women in their 60s and 70s. And they go to bed around 8:30 p.m. and are up and out by 5:30 a.m. Perfect. I've stayed at a lot of hostels in Japan and never seen one single party! I've also stayed at hostels in Rome & London & Beijing. Same thing. Quiet, respectful roommates. Personally, I like to see older people at hostels! And families too. I wouldn't stay at a hostel if it's full of young partiers. Actually, I usually check the reviews on hostelworld.com to see what the vibe is. If people complain that the hostel is boring and quiet, then that's the one I will reserve.

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