In November last year, my family moved from Nevada to Pennsylvania.
For the most part it’s been pretty okay.
It’s a whole lot less expensive. Our rent is $1000 a month instead of $2600 a month, which is incredible. My husband’s parents both have Alzheimer’s and the care they are going to be far more affordable here than it would have been where we were.
I miss the desert, where I lived all my life until last November. But, overall, it was a good move.
Except one little (big) thing.
My oldest daughter is a graduate student on the west coast.
So, for the first time ever I’m thousands of miles away from one of my kids. She’s a grown up kid, but still. It’s a long way.
I’m headed to Oregon this week to visit her for a week for her birthday and I wanted to talk about a travel tip that’s not really a hack — but maybe it’s not something you’ve thought about before, because it’s usually something that’s associated with a certain type of traveler.
The young kind.
When I’m traveling alone, I always stay in hostels.
They’re often ridiculously inexpensive, super quirky, and if all you need is a place to sleep they’re a great way to keep your travel expenses down.
The little town where we live now is two hours from the nearest major airport, which is in Buffalo, New York. The least expensive flights are nearly always very early in the morning.
I saved more than $200 on my flight by taking a flight out that left at 5:47 a.m. and coming home on one that arrives at just after 1:00 in the morning. Which means I’d either need to drive in the middle of the night or spend two nights in Buffalo.
I was able to book two nights at the Hostel Buffalo-Niagra for $32 a night. It has a little kitchen that’s stocked with simple food (think tea and toast), so I don’t have to buy any meals while I’m here since I’m really just getting in at odd hours and leaving.
I was able to buy a $392 plane ticket instead of a $600 plane ticket, so even with the $64 in hostel rooms, I saved $130 and change. Flying in the middle of the week got me the best price on my flight, by the way.
I wanted to fly on Monday, because my daughter’s birthday was Tuesday — but saved almost three hundred dollars by waiting two days. It pays to be flexible with your travel dates if you can be.
If I had flown on Monday and taken flights that didn’t require overnight stays in Buffalo, my ticket would have cost $982.
Flying early on Wednesday morning and staying the night in a hostel cost a total of $456 — less than half. Which means the whole trip, including meals and whatever else I spend during the week that I’m in Oregon will cost less than the more expensive flight ticket would have.
It also means that I can go see my daughter twice this year, for the cost of that one ticket. That makes my heart happy.
When you’re traveling with a group, you have to pay per person to stay in a hostel and it starts to make more sense to rent a hotel room or Airbnb. But by yourself? A hostel is almost always by far the cheapest option.
The best part is that I’ve never once been disappointed by my stay in a hostel.
Go in with your expectations managed. You’re spending the night in a bunkbed, after all. This isn’t a luxury hotel. Expect a quirky experience and you’ll be delighted.
I’ve stayed in a hostel in New York City for less than $20 a night. I’ve stayed for a week in Austin, Texas for less than $100 total. Both of those were trips I wouldn’t have been able to take if I’d insisted on different accomodations.
Every hostel I’ve stayed in has had a way to lock up your valuables — usually either behind the front desk or in lockers in the rooms. They generally have bunkbeds with shared bathrooms. You bring your own toiletries, although there are often some past guests have left.
Some hostels give you a towel. Others have them you can rent. I suggest you stick one in your bag. I also suggest you pack light. You’re not going to have a lot of space. If you have a car, you can keep your suitcase in the trunk and carry a backpack or duffel bag with just what you need for the night.
I always travel with my own pillow and blanket if I can, because I’m weird like that. But I’ve never been to a hostel that doesn’t provide you with bedding. They expect to accommodate travelers from around the world.
My experience is that most people who stay in hostels are young, although not everyone is. I’m rarely the only middle-aged person. Hostels tend to attract experienced travelers who like to talk to each other. They’ll usually be happy to tell you where you can find a good restaurant or somewhere to hang out for a while.
If there’s a common room, you’ll almost always find something going on that you can join if you want to.
There’s some drawback, of course.
Since it’s a shared room, if you’re staying for multiple nights, it can be weird leaving your stuff. It’s easier if you have a car. You can just leave your things there. But if you don’t have a car, then you’ll either have to trust that no one will steal your stuff, or you’ll be lugging it around all the time.
If you check in late, you might have to climb yourself up to a top bunk. Not so bad if you’re young and flexible. If you’re old and arthritic like me, though? It could be more of an issue.
If you’re introverted, it can get to be a bit much, traveling and not ever having space to yourself. When I was in Austin for that week, I was at a writer’s conference. I literally thought I might die of over-exposure to other humans by the end of it.
If you’re not delighted by quirky experiences, then you might not enjoy it as much as I do. I mean, if luxury hotels are more your speed, then nothing I can tell you about a $30 a night hostel will make you love it.
Except, maybe, that it might be the difference between you being able to afford your trip and having to skip it, right?