Goodbye, hostel.

It’s official: Friday November 16 marked my last day at the hostel. If you’ve been following along, you know that I transitioned out of full time employment in August, and have been working part-time since then. But that was never a permanent plan, it was a temporary source of guaranteed cash until I figured out another (part-time) gig. That gig is set, and I enjoy it more than the hostel. In fact, I still have been dreading my two days a week at the hostel. I knew it was over.

I feel relieved, like I can finally move on with my life, and reach the next step. I had that job for almost thirteen years (minus the year when I went on The Big Tour), and it’s been too long. Heck, I was done with the job the first time I quit in 2011, but came back to it after I returned. It was the Known Evil, and besides finding a job was pretty difficult in this town up until fairly recently. There were perks like paid benefits and generous vacation time (if you could use it), but they started to feel like gilded handcuffs than benefits.

I think the thing that got me the most was I couldn’t see what I was getting out of the job besides the aforementioned benefits, a paycheck, and a source of frustration. The hostel was fun at one point, when I was younger and closer to the base age of the guests, when we had other staff that I considered friends, when I didn’t have to take the job super seriously. But that’s the past. The biggest source of “fun” I found after all that was the bicycle tourists, but their numbers have been dwindling, and honestly some of the more recent ones I didn’t want much to do with.

There was nothing more I could learn in the job, there are only so many different ways you can answer the phone, check people in, make a reservation, etc. Most importantly, there was no room for advancement. I got as high in rank and pay that I ever could at that location, and getting a job with corporate never seemed in my realm.

Yeah, I’m a bit burnt. Which is a shame, because I used to be such a “believer” in what hostels meant. It’s never been perfect in America (oh, how many times would people walk in saying something like “I didn’t know that there were hostels in the US” yet we’ve had hostels in this country since 1934.) But I’ve seen it erode even more. Hostelling International USA seems more and more intent on forgetting its roots (cheap communal lodging for people who traveled “by their own steam”) by pursuing the “hip urban social-media savvy Millennial” demographic and concentrating on flashy urban hostels, rather than, oh, having a consistent network coast-to-coast.

And yet, there are these “old fashioned” hostels out there. When I did the Big Tour in 2011, there were many “wilderness hostels” in the National Parks of the Canadian Rockies. They were spartan: most didn’t have electricity, heat and lighting was from propane, water from a pump, the bathroom an outhouse (no shower, but some had saunas!) Internet and cell service? Ha! Yet, I had probably the most fun at these hostels than any other. I hung out with the other guests, sometimes making communal meals. We had bonfires. We talked and got to know each other. This felt to me what hostelling was about, not sitting on a laptop all day in the common area.

Oh, there are hostels like this in the US, some even new. I’ve been hearing good things about the Spoke’n Hostel out in Mitchell in Central Oregon. The key thing about these places are they are usually on popular bike touring and/or through hiking routes. Heck, I’ve thought about opening a hostel like this from time to time, but right now the last thing I want to be is an inkeeper.

Anyways, the hostel is now in the past, and I’m happy to move on to other things. I’ve been drawing more this past couple months than I have in years, and I like that a lot. I’m also looking forward to doing more books, more writing in general, and more stuff with bike touring in general. I’m not ruling out a full time gig at some point, but I’m not anxious to get one anytime soon. I want to spend at least a year doing a part time gig and working on my own things. And maybe I’ll find happiness.

6 thoughts on “Goodbye, hostel.

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  1. Congratulations on having the courage to make your move. I hope it allows you to do more of what you really want to do.

    In my youth (up to my 40s), I stayed in quite a few hostels in the US, Canada and Europe–usually while bicycle touring. I even worked for American Youth Hostels in New York for about two years.

    What you describe parallels much of what I have experienced. Even though I am a city girl, my favorite hostels were in the country. But even the city hostels were friendlier than most other places. Cheaper, too.

    These days, I don’t stay in hostels because, frankly, I need some privacy at the end of the day. More important, though, is the hostels themselves: I’ve looked at a few urban ones and to me, they seem like Starbucks with dorm beds.

    And, while working at AYH, I experienced some of the frustration you describe. Even then (30+ years ago), it seemed that the organization was putting all of its effort into “hip” urban hostels and tour packages. There never seemed to be any interest, let alone effort expended, in establishing a national or even regional network of hostels.

  2. Shawn, great to hear you made the break…and are now open to the cosmic possibilities. And you are spot on about the status of AYH…Im frustrated at the shift from the roots as a lifetime member.

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