What Thru-Hikers Look for in a Hostel
Throughout any hike of considerable length, most hikers look for accommodations with the services they need, but are priced below even the cheapest hotels. While hiking, I frequented several of these hostels and had experiences that were top notch, and experienced others that had the potential to make changes that would attract more business.
It is important to note that these suggestions mainly apply to hostels where services are paid for, not donation-based hostels. Donation-based hostels are places where services are free, and the hostel asks for a donation for services. Please donate something to these establishments. Donation-based hostels are the ultimate trail magic and any funds to keep them operating is a donation to all future guests.
This discussion is to develop a template of different areas guests look for and consider valuable in a hostel, to gather ideas about what hikers need to improve the experience, and to gain hostels more business by catering their establishment to what hikers seek.
The first obstacle to getting to any hostel is actually arriving at the hostel. Hostels that are a short walk from the trail are ideal locations. This often makes up for other services the hostel may lack. If the hostel is not trail adjacent or on a road where hitching is easy, hostels normally offer a trailhead shuttle. Since hikers have chosen to stay at a hostel, I think any costs associated with this ride should be included into fees for overnight guests. No matter what, trailhead shuttles should be priced reasonably.
Hikers flock to hostels when the weather turns south to seek refuge. The bare minimum a hostel normally has is a bunkhouse. If this is what a hostel chooses to have they should make sure each bunk has a clean comfortable mattress. Hikers don’t have issues using their quilt for warmth. Also, make sure hikers on the top bunk have a path to get up that’s safe without tipping the whole bed over. There is no feeling like trying to climb a bunk and the whole piece tipping. Often hostels choose to not do bunk beds and just use normal beds. Hikers appreciate this because bunk beds normally aren’t made for adults and beds are of superior comfort.
Hikers usually have a smell between body oder and cat pee when they arrive. In order to keep this smell from overtaking the hostel most hostels encourage and include showers. Rock n’ Sole even has an outdoor gas heated shower as an amenity. Showers should include towels. Hikers don’t carry a towel and drip-drying is not fun. Dogs make this look far to easy. Restrooms are a precious commodity around certain times. Multiple restrooms are a precious amenity that makes stays enjoyable.
Laundry/Location Relative to Laundry Mat
Clothes capture days of sweat and approach rotting due to lack of showers. Laundry available at the hostel is excellent but a close second is a laundry mat in close proximity. Normally laundry is included with the stay but sometimes separated to reduce costs. Some hostels go a little bit overboard and charge laundry per person instead of per load. This takes advantage of hikers who only have two sets of clothes, which could combine with others to save energy and water. One interesting compromise that I experienced was free laundry if it was done together or laundry charge per load if it was done on an individual basis.
Hikers love seeing hikers boxes in places other hikers have frequented. All it requires is a box where hikers can put items they may have extra. Hikers can sometimes get full days resupply from plentiful boxes. Boxes save hikers considerable money on a long trip and prevent waste.
Extras That Go a Long Way
Wifi access helps hikers do everything from notifying their parents they are still alive to updating social media to tell others how great their trip is going. Also, several hostels have loaner computers and even printers. Computers help update blogs or answer email so they don’t have to type on tiny phone screens. Printers are useful for printing out park permits.
Work-for-stay is an option lots of hikers look for when hostel shopping. Work for stay is an agreement where hikers get to stay for free in exchange for doing chores. For hikers running out of money on the trail work for stay combined with a hiker box can provide self-made trail magic.
Hikers are seekers of cheap lodging options. If the weather is clear and the price is right hikers have no issues utilizing the tent they have to make camp in town. The area should be mowed with sufficient flat spots to set up tents or even sturdy trees for the growing number of hammockers. Uncle Johnny’s Hostel even built a covered area that allows tenting and hammockers to escape the elements in style.
After days of summer heat hikers seek a cool refuge. Northern hostels on the AT are used for winter activities and don’t have AC or even fans in the room. If there is no AC at least provide fans for air circulation. A hot room full of smelly hikers is the last place hikers want to occupy. Also be upfront if you don’t have AC in your hostel. Nothing like getting a ride to a “hostel” that’s just an outbuilding.
Location to Resupply/Restaurants
To avoid having to get additional rides hikers search for hostels close to or with shuttles to resupply locations. Restaurants within walking distance also attract hikers. Hostels off the beaten path even offer shuttles to restaurants nearby. One of the best is Four Pines which shuttles to The Homeplace(AYCE).
In every hostel there seems to be people camped around the bathroom waiting for their turn in line. Hostels may separate showers and toilets or have extra half baths for hikers and this is a nice amenity for hostels. Every hiker has ran into the morning rush when 15 plus hikers are all trying to take care of business with only one restroom. The Notch Hostel in New Hampshire excels at this by having restrooms on every floor(3).
Availability of Private Rooms
Room to spread all their stuff out and get a little privacy is just what hikers need to recharge their batteries. Sometimes these rooms are semi private which is still a better choice than bunkrooms and cheaper than hotels.
Home Cooked (or Frozen) Meals, Kitchen Access
Home-style meals even at extra cost were a favorite while hiking the AT. From Elmer’s masterpieces to the meals at the Rock N Sole in Pennsylvania home cooked meals are amazing to hikers who have been living on overly processed food. Terrapin Station and The Notch offered frozen pizzas, drinks and ice cream for sale onsite. These treats are nice if a hiker gets to the hostel late. Even in the absence of food available at the hostel full kitchen access can avoid dumping cash on town food.
Post Office Access
Nomadic hikers with random schedules use post offices from everything from getting food drops to getting replacement gear. Having one near or a shuttle to one is a helpful amenity.
Other amenities that hikers appreciate are power strips to charge all their electronics, morning coffee for extra motivation to hit the trail, and canister/alcohol fuel for sales.
Comment below with any items that should have made the list.
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