Hostel environments in New York
M.K. Cannistra/The Washington Post
Friday, February 25, 2011; 4:52 PM
The first time I stayed at a hostel, I feared waking up enwombed in bedbugs. Before that trip, in 2008, I'd heard lots of tall tales: that hostels are dank shanties filled with thieves and voyeurs, and that they're sometimes converted into torture chambers (according to that 2005 horror film classic, "Hostel").
Despite my forebodings, I desperately needed a cheap place to stay in New York for a weekend. My wallet was light and I couldn't afford more patrician quarters. The warnings, it turned out, were false.
Since that trip, hostels have become my preferred vacation lodgings. They're cheap and fun, with more entertainment than you find in humdrum hotels. It's easy to make friends and to enrich your understanding of the world. I've learned, for instance, that Canada has a Thanksgiving holiday (second Monday in October) and that there are no squirrels in Buenos Aires. I've brushed up on my anthropology and improved my language skills. I once had breakfast with eight people from five continents.
Hostels do have their downside. Yes, there's the occasional bedbug. Or a roommate or two can snore so loudly that they'd topple the walls of Jericho. New York last year abruptly closed a popular Harlem hostel, citing fire safety concerns with its design and no doubt miffing European travelers stranded stateside by a belching volcano in Iceland.
Gone, though, are the days when hostels, many of which once had age restrictions, mostly attracted young backpackers who needed extended lodging on a shoestring budget. Nowadays you can run into people in their 50s or older taking advantage of the inexpensive accommodations: Prices range from very cheap to moderately so, starting as low as $15 and going up to $60, usually for a private room with a shared bath.
Over the past few weeks, I stayed at four New York hostels to check out their offerings. Some were good, some less so. But I'm happy to report that as usual, I found no bedbugs, creeps or disembodied heads.
891 Amsterdam Ave.
Beds from $39.
This hostel on Manhattan's Upper West Side is billed as the largest in North America. With more than 600 beds, it's almost a village. A recent poll by the Web site Hostelworld.com ranked it No. 10 among the top 10 hostels in the United States.