Am I Too Old for a Hostel
Recently I had an argument with my wife about staying in a youth hostel which prompted the thought --when’s the right time to admit you might be too old for such an establishment?
After a recent European trip where we stayed in a few Austrian and English hostels, with more lavish pubs in between, she objected to a night in a New Zealand hostel during a hiking holiday.
Apart from the fact it was by a lakeside, full of fellow hikers and their experiences, had drying rooms and welcomed muddy boats, was friendly and economical does she have a point?
It’s a lively debate around the globe as more older people seek to travel longer and cheaper with the ability to share kitchens and small dorms with others.
In the US they are called ‘Grey Gappers’ in homage to perhaps a shameless revisiting of happy memories from their teenage gap year. (I plead guilty)
Ironically it seems the younger people who go hostelling either welcome the senior crowd or don’t notice them. The hostel experience is about diversity.
So are we too self-conscious about checking into the world wide brand of the youth hostel when our outward age suggests we are anything but?
I believe yes.
The youth hostel movement began in the 1912 in Germany to bring impoverished youth into the great outdoors and many of us, particularly from Europe, have grown up with it and it with us.
When I first ventured out to Scottish youth hostels they were so Spartan you had to take your own knife and fork. But the locations alongside lochs, glens and remote beaches made the approx. $1 a night tariff the bargain of the century.
English hostels made you do cleaning jobs, banned alcohol (although pubs were usually close) and gave preference when crowded to those who hiked and biked with drivers turned away.
It’s all changed to keep the product more attractive to a more demanding generation. Dorms are smaller, there are private rooms with en-suite, bars sell beer and wine and hot meals can be provided.
But you can still stay in castles, stately homes, historic barns and haunted barracks. We even slept soundly in a hostel’s Mongolian-style yurt (tent) with its own pot-belly stove and carpets on the top of the UK’s South Downs.
There are also some great YHAs in Australia to check out, such as the water-access only retreat in Sydney’s Pittwater, although I’d prefer more in rural and adventurous locations as in Europe.
As a tip, I would stick to officially accredited Youth Hostel Association premises where membership can get you a discount and standards are regulated. There are good less-official hostels but some may be more ‘party houses’ than relaxing hideaways.
In short, I will continue to frequent youth hostels for all of the reasons outlined above and hope some of you may discover their charms too.
My wife agreed to the stay at the NZ hostel perhaps because the best reason of all for older people to use them is because they can help you feel young again.