We were wet, we were cold and my friend Jane and I had committed the cardinal sin of arriving early at our hostel in the Lake District. We were not allowed in and had to huddle, with our soggy backpacks, under the nearby trees until the permitted ‘admission time’ and the door lock was pulled. (I’m probably making the bolt up a bit but, such were the draconian rules – no cars, no booze, bunk beds only – in my teenage hostel years he might as well have there be.) Despite these inconveniences, the youth hostel has given us great spoonfuls of freedom, unexpected adventures and exciting friendships. And it was wonderfully cheap.
Fast forward to the 21st century and, damn it, my room (Safestay York) had its own bathroom – and a TV! In Lisbon (Independente) I found a rooftop restaurant, a groovy bar and staff with knowledge of the local scene. The hostel has gone upmarket. Other hostels have pools, yoga studios, hammocks in yards, aromatherapy treatments, coworking spaces; one (in Berlin) even has a microbrewery. Tours, trips and events – local diners, movie nights – are now commonplace.
I’m not the only one, shall we say, of the most traveled years to have discovered that hostels can be a serious option for solo budget travel, with civilized luxury and guaranteed encounters with like-minded travelers the same ideas. According to global booking platform hostelworld.com, 12% of their customers are solo travelers aged 45 and over, with 80% of this group having made five solo trips. Those who take month-long trips report, on average, making 10 new friends.
It’s no surprise Gary Morrison, CEO of Hostelworld Group: “The fundamental need to want to meet other people while traveling is still there, and hostels are the way to do that,” he says. What has changed, he adds, is consumer demand for better: “Dorms now often have ‘pods’ [effectively, enclosed bunk-beds] and all offer private rooms.
Forget the ignominy of climbing into the top bunk or rushing to the shower block. Today’s hostels allow you to maintain your dignity, sleep in peace – maybe get a massage for those less flexible joints – while keeping costs down. Most importantly, you can still experience those life-affirming moments by meeting like-minded souls and turning encounters into strong friendships.
Here are 10 of the best hostels for older travelers.
Riad Rodamon, Marrakech, Morocco
In the heart of the medina, 10 minutes from the bustling color of Jemaa el-Fna square, this hostel offers all the exotic features normally associated with a chic boutique riad: green-tiled swimming pool in an interior courtyard, classic Moorish architecture , vast urns of shining ferns and a roof terrace looking towards the Atlas Mountains. White-walled, minimally furnished rooms have high ceilings, shuttered windows, and beautifully decorative arches and cornices. There’s a cozy vibe, helped by the layout of the rooms around the courtyard — you’re bound to bump into other guests — as well as the friendly poolside restaurant and rooftop bar. Activities include daily guided tours of the souks, as well as desert excursions and treks.
The details: Private room from £70; dorms from £20 (00 212 524 378 978; rodamonhostels.com).