“When I think of hostels, all I think of is the movie,” was most people’s response when I explained that my roommate, Willa Oddleifson SC ’13 and I would be staying in a hostel in Santa Monica for three nights during spring break.
This was not the most encouraging picture, seeing as the movie (which I never saw myself) boasts the slogan “Welcome to Your Worst Nightmare” and involves backpacking youths arriving at a hostel and subsequently getting tortured and murdered, or something else just as dreadful. As far as I was concerned, anything involving even the slightest bit of pain was unwelcome on my spring break, so I took my friends’ jokes with a tight grin and tried my best to explain that we would still be alive after break.
I had discovered the hostel while doing research online for cheap places to stay in Santa Monica. Willa and I had realized that we were both staying on campus for the week-long break, but were hoping to take advantage of the freedom to explore the Los Angeles area. Having made plans to camp at Joshua Tree State Park for the first half of the week, we turned our attention to the beautiful, beach bliss to the west. I had been hoping to find a cheap hotel in Santa Monica (thinking of the $50 to $70 per night price range), but after a few Google searches I soon realized that even the grungiest-looking hotels along the shore cost closer to $200 per night.
Luckily, Willa was talking to her father one night, and he came up with a solution for us.
“Why don’t you look into a hostel?” he said. Willa and I looked at each other, amazed at how obvious the idea was. After doing yet another Google search, we came across the Hostelling International chain of hostels. HI hostels are found around the world, with economy beds starting at about $27 per night. Luckily for us, there was one located right off the Santa Monica pier, between the shore and the Third Street Promenade. The location was unbelievable; the pictures of the facilities on the Web site looked gorgeous; the price was right. Willa and I booked our beds in the cheapest room.
Having never stayed at a hostel before, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew the basics: A hostel is a cheap place to stay because it is dormitory-style, with multiple strangers sleeping in bunk beds in the same room. Especially since we went for the cheapest room, I pictured a long, ugly, gray room with rows and rows of beds—kind of like a prison without bars. The bathroom would be down a long, thin, and equally gray hallway, and the beds would have lumpy, thin mattresses. Breakfast was provided in the morning, but online reviews of the hostel told me the coffee would be cold. More nerve-racking, the hostel had apparently had a bed bug problem just a year or two ago, and of course I fretted that the bugs would still be there and might even be transported back to Claremont.
Even if I hadn’t arrived at the hostel with such low expectations, I still would have been impressed. The hostel was clean, easy to find and decorated with bright colors and lots of informational brochures on the surrounding area. A lot of people seemed to check in for much longer stays than we did (though there was a cap on 14 nights), and the hostel organized lots of discounted outings and sight-seeing opportunities for its guests, including a $45 bus to the HI hostel in San Francisco. Security was obviously a priority: we were given swipe cards to get into the guest-only portion of the hostel (everything past the lobby) and our individual rooms. Also, we were happy to find that breakfast was quite delicious, consisting of toast, cereal, orange juice and peaches.
Our room was wonderful. There were eight beds in total, with one locker for each bed, a bathroom and shower in the room, and even a balcony. We were greeted by a tall, blonde, Italian woman who had obviously been living there for some time; her clothes were strewn all over the bed underneath Willa’s. As she grabbed a cigarette and headed for the balcony, she explained to us that she was “something of a traveler,” and that this hostel was one of the nicer ones at which she had stayed. Besides an Australian woman who arrived the second day, she was the friendliest traveler we met. Most guests kept to themselves and their individual agendas.
Still alive, free of bed bug bites, and with a decent amount of money left in our bank accounts, Willa and I left Santa Monica on Friday morning, thoroughly satisfied with our hostel experience. Not only was the stay comfortable and affordable, but inspiring. Seeing the women and men who travel the world staying in places like these has encouraged both of us to one day do the same.
For more information, visit the Hostelling International website: http://www.hihostels.com.