Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age

Can you be too old to stay in a hostel?


A friend remarked recently that I’d lived my life the wrong way round, and I have to agree that’s true in some ways! It’s certainly true that I’d stayed in quite grand hotels before “poverty” made hostels the norm. One advantage of doing it that way round has been that I now feel quite unfazed by any type of accommodation – so long as it’s reasonably clean. Still, I had my list of doubts about whether it was a way of traveling with which I would be comfortable.

It took a long time for the penny to drop, and that partly because, despite (or because of!) the zillions of blog posts I’ve read over the last nine years or so, I still had an image of hostels as being full of  swinging teens, partying their way around the world. I thought that, at 60+, I would be the fish out of water, the square peg in the round hole, that I would stick out like a sore thumb.

My first hostel experience, in Guildford, England,  was only around three years ago, and  I was very hesitant about it. I was nervous that everyone else would be 40 years my junior; I was nervous about the safety of my laptop and camera (let’s face it, if I hadn’t bought the camera I might have been staying in a hotel & not a hostel that time!); and I was nervous that the name YMCA meant what it said – that my booking would be refused when I arrived, and they saw I was neither male, nor young, nor Christian! (OK they might not be able to see I wasn’t Christian, but don’t they have some sort of spiritual antennae or would there be some sort of test, knowledge of the Bible, perhaps?……but it was the only hostel in town, so there wasn’t any choice.   I was far too nervous to book a dorm, so I splashed out on a private room.

The very best thing about the hostel in Guildford is that it is just around the corner from this idyllic scene, and it’s lovely to take sandwiches & sit by the river & feed the ducks & just enjoy.

As it turned out, they didn’t look at me as if I was the freaky old woman down from the hills when I checked in – first relief! The attitude wasn’t what I’d read about though. Where were these friendly young receptionists, probably travelers themselves, earning a crust to see them on their way? I stayed there a couple more times over the next few months, and don’t believe I ever saw a smile. I felt guilty. That feeling that I shouldn’t be there was reinforced, although there were folk of every type coming and going. Perhaps they really did think I was some frugal old broad too mean to stay in a hotel? The room and the shared bathroom were both very basic and very worn, but also quite clean. It was, in short, just the sort of place I’d always thought hostels were like before they became trendy. It wasn’t my worst nightmare by any stretch of the imagination, but I hated it. It was depressing. I felt as if I was a nuisance any time I asked anything at the desk, and it made me feel kind of faceless and grey, but my laptop was still there at the end of the day when I returned at least, having left it quite unprotected in my room.

Happily, that was the worst experience. The next was far better. It was almost everything a good hostel experience should be, although, it was Sevilla, and who wants to hang around the hostel when you’re in Sevilla?! Maria and I had a double room in the Samay Hostel. It was colorfully decorated in a kind of hippie meets IKEA sort of way, and the location couldn’t have been better, slap bang in the middle of the historic heart of the city, so we were able to walk absolutely everywhere. Our room was located around the corner from the main building overlooking a leafy square, full of that old city sort of charm. The bathroom was immaculate. The staff were the young travelers I’d expected, but they were knowledgeable and helpful. Atop the main building was a delightful azotea, where we imagined would be a great place for hanging out and meeting other travelers. We didn’t simply because we kind of had a schedule to keep.  There was generally a queue for the computers, so we went around the corner to a very nice café to use the wifi, and it turned out to be the place to go, as it was obviously widely used.

View from the azotea (roof terrace) of Samay Hostel in Sevilla

Via the hostel we arranged to go on a walking tour, and that was when the penny dropped, and some of the illusions I had about hostels fell away. Our guide picked up first at Samay. We were the only customers that day, and we then scuttled around the other hostels in the area, collecting more punters, and as Filipo, our guide, emerged from each doorway with people in tow, I realized just what an eclectic  bunch we were. I probably wasn’t even the oldest! There were all nationalities, all types, all ages. It was a personal eye-opener that there were folk of my age, and that there were folk who really wanted to know about the culture of the city. They were interesting to talk with and already well-informed about where they were – totally unlike hotel experiences I’d had in the past with people who only wanted to boast about their own lifestyles, and who hadn’t a clue about where they were, let alone anything about its history.

Heartened at last by this great experience I booked a dorm (ok, let’s go for it!) for my next-but-one destination in York, England. If I was going to have a true hostel experience it was time to get realistic, not to mention that funds were dwindling! The great thing about booking hostels or anything else today, is that you can get an idea from the internet as to what to expect before you arrive, and with two differing experiences now under my belt I was curious about my next. It really helped the still-nervous me that it came recommended by a fellow blogger, Barbara from HoleintheDonut, a far more widely traveled lady then I.

Section of York’s well-preserved Roman wall, just a couple of minutes from Ace Hostel.

The Ace Hostel in York proved to be an altogether different experience again. For one thing it has oodles of history, dating back to 1753, so despite the fact that you share a dorm with 9 other people it still has a touch of that grand hotel feel about it. In fact, it deserves a post all of its own one day, so I won’t make this one any longer by describing the charms of Micklegate House. Micklegate itself is one of the city’s main, historic streets, and the original Roman wall lies just a couple of minutes from the hostel’s door, and just about anything else you might want is just a hop, skip and a jump.

Whilst my vast age has taught me to be reasonably confident in most situations, I can go a bit shy faced with a host of other people, so that first time I entered the key-coded room a bit tentatively. I’d chosen girls only. I’m pretty sure that I could never face a mixed dorm, although I stand to be corrected as experience grows and money dwindles! I needn’t have worried. The dorm of ten beds, was pretty full, but everyone was friendly, and if anyone wondered about a woman of my age being there no-one made it obvious, plus, later that evening another “mature” lady arrived, and down in the bar there were several people in my age bracket too. The beds were immaculate and comfy, and the staff friendly. I’ve stayed there three times more since then, using a private room when I thought arriving at 3am might disturb a dorm, and I swear I don’t know where those cleaning fairies come from, but it’s always spotless. The wifi’s pretty cool too, not in the rooms, but ample in the assigned room.

So – would I recommend women my age to forget their inhibitions and try a hostel? Absolutely!                     I appreciate that I have yet to experience hostels on other continents, but I think it was good to dip my toe in the water first. Just in the same way that if you have doubts about traveling solo you should start by taking yourself out for a solitary meal to test your reactions. The thought of less modern plumbing etc doesn’t worry this child of the late 40s at all. What would have worried me, had I not given them a try in Europe, is that I would have been a bit intimidated,  and been made to feel my age – something, apparently, I rarely do in the course of normal life. But it appears that there are thousands more of we, “mature travelers” having exactly the same experience, so that is most certainly crossed off my list of doubts. For sure there are more under 30s than over, and some are perhaps not over-friendly, but then, again, isn’t that typical of life in general? I’m sure that just as with life the exceptions will more than make up for the rest, and the opportunities for meeting folk, swapping stories and even making new friends are certainly more abundant than when you stay in a posh hotel…….not that there is anything at all wrong with a bit of luxury when you have the money and the inclination to truly wind down.


Author: IslandMomma

Exploring island life and the freedoms of Third Age: Challenging myself every day: writing, traveling, snapping pix, running & teaching ESL

17 thoughts on “Can you be too old to stay in a hostel?

  1. This is great information – thanks for sharing your experience. I’ve often wondered whether someone my age would be welcome at a hostel, so it’s good to know that when I travel someday this is an option!

    • Glad it was useful! Age clearly isn’t an issue in Europe at least, and from what I glean from others’ blogs it isn’t in Asia either. In any event, if you travel as a couple a private, double room works out very reasonably. The private room I had in Ace Hostel in York would have been the same price had I shared it with one other person. The worst part about traveling solo is the extra costs like that. I know you’re not American, of course, but I was surprised, and very pleasantly so, by the number of Americans who came from the other hostels, Americans of my age that is (which is a fair bit younger than you!). I’d had an image of “the average American tourist” and I should, really should learn not to generalize! I hate it when other people do it!

  2. Being a person of limited funds myself, I appreciate the information you’ve provided here. I’ve never actually travelled solo but I am indeed a mature adult who has thought about it. Your experiences just might give me the courage to at least look into it since I’ve never even considered a hostel before.

    • I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t have either, had I not lost my job and my pension when I did. I might have tried it out, just for the experience, but had I gone by my first experience I wouldn’t have done it again! I tried a B & B in Guildford too, but that was twice the price, and not a happy experience either. Like I said, one of the great things now is that you can research and get a reasonable idea from the internet. If you book through an agency too, the hostel has to keep in mind that their advertising has to match their reality or the agency will drop them, and they will get far less bookings. Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Margie.

  3. Great post! And as a fellow travelin’ lass “of a certain age”, I most enthusiastically agree that you’re never too old for a hostel.

    Indeed, I’ve backpacked throughout Africa and now live here in Asia (Vietnam, but darting off to Cambodia, and soon Mongolia, every chance I get.) And though I admit that as I’ve grown older, I do favor the quiet and privacy of my own room/en suite bath on occasion (fortunately, these are extremely cheap here in Asia), dorms are fine too when I’m trying to pinch pennies (to… fly over Mt. Everest or some such once-in-a-lifetime treat, yes?) 😉

    • Thanks so much both for reading and commenting, Dyanne. I can’t wait to explore Asia too! For the moment I’m trying to sort out my pension problem! It should have kicked in in January, and I expected to be, well, not here – much as I love it in the Canaries – by now. I also think (oops feel another blog post coming on) that if you have something positive, goals, dreams and ambitions to look forward to you don’t age so fast. I’ve observed so many of my peers sliding into a kind of No Man’s Land where they just appear to while away their lives in nothingness, waiting for the end. Wow, that sounded a bit strong, but it really is what I see around me. Nice to “meet” someone else who is set against that too!

  4. Good for you, Linda. You know, sometimes thinking “outside the box” or even stepping outside of your comfort zone can really bring unexpected rewards, especially when considering how to travel further or for extended periods.

    A few years ago we started travelling to Australia and New Zealand each winter for three or four months. Quite apart from the air fare (which we accept is a necessary expense to get to the other side of the world), this would have proved to have been far beyond our means if we hadn´t discovered house-sitting ( In exchange for looking after someone´s beloved dog or cat – we get to stay for a few weeks in free accommodation at some great places. They often also throw in use of their family car whilst they are away. It´s a “win-win” situation. We usually get to meet some of the house owner´s friends too, meaning that we fit right into the local situation, straight away. Two years ago we were away for 16 weeks and during that time we did three house-sits covering an eleven week period. We could have done even more, but chose to spend the other weeks touring for only a few days here and there.

    I´ve made some great friends this way and, in fact, at this very moment I have a lady staying with me from Sydney, Australia, who we housesat for last year. Luckily she needs a housesitter again later this year while she goes away for a month over Christmas and New Year!

    Another thing you could try is Couchsurfing ( Yes, I was sceptical about it too at first, but I was encouraged to join by a Canadian lady who I met on a ferry in Sydney Harbour whilst we were each out there housesitting, a couple of years ago. In fact, she came to stay with us in Spain last summer, and together we went Couchsurfing in Granada, Bratislava and Budapest. Couchsurfing is like having a network of interesting friends all over the world, who you can go and stay with FREE, and who will gladly show you around their home town.

    ¡Buen viaje!

  5. Hi Marianne! I was thinking about what I’d written yesterday and one side of it was, yes, getting out of your comfort zone, and that applies at any age, though I suspect it gets harder as we get older!

    I’ve followed your adventures but didn’t realize that you housesat. I’ve often wondered about that as an alternative. I’ll check the website. As with Couchsurfing I think it’s wonderful that people have such trust these days. Just shows that what you give out you receive I think. Throw out the whining tabloids and the tv and live a real life with real people!

    I have friends who Couchsurf, and I have to say that every couchsurfer I’ve met (directly and indirectly) has been a great person. I actually signed up last year, but I was quite inundated with requests (you can imagine, living here!) and it was a time when I was traveling a bit & couldn’t respond so I set my status to traveling. I really should perhaps change it and set it to meet ups to get used to the idea instead of offering an actual bed? My apartment is tiny and also my workspace, and I can’t imagine offering more than just an overnight. Still,should try it I know. I have friends who have made good friends that way.

    • Yes, I know what you mean about being inundated with requests to come and stay via Couchsurfing! LOL That happened to me last year, so now I set my status to “travelling” whenever I´m busy and, in between, to “maybe” or even “meet up” if I´m really pushed for time. I only offer a couple of nights to travellers, but I know it´s really appreciated and I feel that I´ve “paid it forward” in case I ever want to Couchsurf myself in the future. I hope you know, Linda, that if you ever want to travel to my part of Spain (east of Málaga) you are MOST welcome to come and Couchsurf with me anytime! It would be lovely to finally meet you after all these years – and you really wouldn´t have to sleep on the couch! 🙂

      If you need any further help or information about house-sitting, then you can always email me and I´ll let you know my username on the Housecarers site, or on Couchsurfing.

      It´s nice to always have other alternatives when you want to travel, isn´t it?

      • Thanks so much for that offer, and let me say it’s absolutely mutual! this apartment may be small, but the position is fine (not great, but fine!). I had set my status to “maybe”, that’s why I chickened out and put “traveling”. I’ll try “Meet up” though. I did that a couple of times and both terrific experiences. Thanks for the help offers. I may well take you up on those!

        It certainly is great to have alternatives, and not only because of money, but to get a closer insight into “real life”!

        It would be great to meet sometime. I feel as if I know you, given that we come from the same neck of the woods, plus what we obviously have in common (how odd that we meet in one internet place, and then end up meeting in other).

      • Just wanted to likewise chime in here about the sheer genius of COUCHSURFING! I’ve been doing it too, since 2008. username: globerover (well, what else would you expect?) 😉

        But seriously, the best part is NOT the free sleeps, but the chance to see a country through the eyes of a LOCAL. When I lived in Seattle I hosted folks from all over the world. Haven’t had the chance to surf myself but only once – on a overnight layover in Madrid en route back to Seattle from Morocco. Lovely lass from France, an attorney in Madrid, we talked of Euro politics over dinner at her place (I learned a LOT!) I brought her a scarf as a small gift for her hospitality.

        Now that I’m living (small apt.) here in Saigon, I’ve no room to host (but have my status set to “hang out”) And now that I’m headed for a month in Mongolia on the cheap – I’m definitely looking into doing some couchsurfing there (hmmm… wonder if there’s any couchsurfing gers in the Gobi?) 😉

        And yes, in Seattle, I too limited stays to but a couple of nights – both ‘cuz my place was so small (1 BR with a futon in the livingroom) and… I didn’t want to become a “hotel”. 😉

        And finally, yes, YES Marianne! I’ve become very interested in the option of house-sitting. It just seems to fit so perfectly with my newly acquired mantra of “slow travel”. Any tips on best sites to join, etc?

      • First of all, Linda, apologies for having apparently hijacked your thread about the possibility of being too old to stay in a hostel (NO, absolutely not!). It wasn´t intentional and I was merely trying to introduce some alternatives for those of us cash-strapped travellers who want to journey beyond their means 🙂

        I agree with Dyanne that the best part of Couchsurfing is something you can´t get from any guide book – the chance to hang out with the locals! I wish I´d known you were in Ho Chi Minh city, Dyanne, a few months ago when I stayed for a few days – I would have loved a local guide! As regards house-sitting I can thoroughly recommend it to any “slow traveller”, though the only website I am familiar with is Housecarers, which I have always found to be excellent.

      • Thanks for the extra reccomendations, Dyanne! The more I hear the more confident I feel about giving it a go!

        No need to apologise, Marianne! This ain’t CC! One of the things I love most about travel bloggers is the way they share. I’m delighted if discussions pop up on here!

  6. I’ve been a ‘hosteller’ since I was about 14 or 15 and still stay in hostels several times a year. Some are good, some are great, but I enjoy it. In the UK I/we usually stay in YHA/SYHA hostels, from tiny wee remote places in the back of beyond to the city hostels. We also hostelled when in Alaska, California, Oregon and when in Morocco.

    Although in most situations I am not good with meeting strangers, I like meeting other hostellers and see that as one of the main positives of the experience, Memorable meetings include: in Kirkwall, Orkney, everyone sat around in the common room discussing ferry timetables and maps. Some of the ferries only visit some of the smaller islands 2 or 3 times a week, so as people planned which island to visit during their stay, others gave advice on the ‘must sees’. We were disappointed when we checked into the hostel in Meknes to find we were the only customers there the first night as we had wanted to meet others to share experiences. However a young couple arrived the next day and we gave them advice for their trip to the main tourist attraction of Moulay Idriss and we guided them to the railway station to catch the train to Marrakesh – as we were. We knew the way on foot and knew it was quicker than going for a taxi.

  7. Love hearing about those experiences, Sheila. I really hope anyone reading this who has been hesitating reads through the comments. The feedback is all so positive!

    I’m interested that you used hostels in the US. I’d been led to believe that they were few and far between there, due largely to the availability of cheap motels.

  8. This as great as a hostel can get. Of course roomates can really vary, but our experience was great. I live on the west coast, and stayed there with my brother for new years eve 07′. We tried to find a hotel, but they were $325 plus for a one bed room (New York on new years, go figure). Jazz on the town was $35 dollars a bed (8 beds a room), and in a great location right next to a major subway station. The staff was really cool. we were complaining to the guy working there that all of the wine shops were closed, and he offered to sell us some that he had there, very cool. The other employees were great too.They have a computer room with internet, It’s not free, but it’s cheap and you use your credit card. Upstairs on the roof is a really cool place to hang out. Don’t need to go to the bars, just take a bottle of wine to the roof and enjoy the view from the tables set up. Great view of the city.I’ve done a lot of hostel traveling in my life, and this place is one of the best. Clean, comfortable (for a hostel), and cheap. Check it out.

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