The Mature Hosteler

It’s so easy to get stuck in a rut. We all have our patterns and set routines, some to get us to work or to school on time, others just to get us through the day. It’s also easy to get bent out of shape when our routine is upset – the alarm doesn’t go off, the toast gets burnt, someone takes your seat on the bus. Grrr!

Travel changes that. While you may make the most detailed travel plans since Columbus, well, like that fateful voyage, things don’t always work out the way you planned. Sometimes they work out better.

Take today for instance. The plan was to leave Kilfenora and drive north, through Galway and up into the beautiful Connemara peninsula. I had lodging booked for four nights at The Old Monastery Hostel in Letterfrack, right on the coast. I had researched hostels on the Internet and this one looked pretty good – convenient location for touring Connemara, gateway to Connemara National Park and very close to one of the self-catering accommodations I wanted to check out for my writers’ retreat. You can probably tell where this is headed.

After going for a walk in Connemara National Park, I headed for the hostel, which was practically next door. It was . . . unusual, to say the very least. Have you ever seen those old schoolbuses careening down the road that look like they’ve come straight out of the ’60s? Chock full of all kinds of psychedelic paraphernalia and oddities everywhere you look? It was like that, only bigger.

After wandering through the hostel, with sitting rooms full of sagging old couches, dorm rooms full of sagging old beds, rabbits in cages on the porch and treasured trash around every bend, I finally found Steven, the owner, seated at a table in the lower level courtyard/bar. I told him my name and over his cigarette smoke he gestured to a room across the way. It was a basement. And it smelled like the sewer line ran right through it. Not under it, through it.

I turned around, but Steven was nowhere to be seen. I debated for about two seconds on whether I should view this as an adventure and tough it out, or turn and run. Flee I did. Back to the car, down the road to Clifden, a marvelous seaside town with not one but two charming hostels, right in town.

I chose the Brookside Hostel, as it was not quite in the hub bub of town, and it has turned out to be a good choice. The owner, a kindly senior gentleman named Richard, was of course surprised to hear I was traveling alone. He was apologetic that all he could offer me for the night was a 6-bed mixed room, but he said if they didn’t get any more lodgers for the night he could move me to another room all to myself, for no charge. How I have come to love those two words. Upgrade to an automatic? No charge. Upgrade to a private room? No charge. No more hostelers showed up and I am now the proud tenant of my very own 6-bed dorm room for the next four nights, all for 14 euro per night (about $21).

Downside: this hostel is not as nice as Kilfenora Hostel, of which I had become quite fond. It is an old building and has seen quite a bit of use. The bathrooms are down the hall, not ensuite, and there is – gasp – no Internet at all. Still, it is comfortable in a grandparents’ house kind of way and I would recommend it. Old Monastery Hostel gets the old thumbs down.

Many people have expressed curiosity about my choice of lodgings for the month. “You’re staying in youth hostels?” is the usual reaction, like I said I was staying in frat houses. Do I look like I’ve had a lobotomy? While I’m sure some hostels deserve the Animal House reputation, they are not just for partying youngsters anymore. Most have dropped the “youth” from their names, and they cater to people of all vintages, particularly when students are back in school.

For single travelers hostels offer a very cost-effective form of lodging, with most in Ireland running around $25-30 a night. Sound pricey? A room for a single person in a hotel costs at least double that, triple in a B&B. Plus, hostels have full kitchens, lounge areas and laundry facilities, and many offer free breakfasts as well. I find that being able to make your own cup of coffee in the morning is priceless. I also looked for hostels that offered Internet service or free wifi, which is great for Internet addicts and staying in touch with those back home.

And, while there’s no guarantee you’ll like your hostel mates, the group living offers a chance for the solo traveler to have human contact, maybe even make friends and new travel partners. All hostels now include bed linens, and towels can usually be rented. You don’t have to carry your sleeping bag rolled up on your knapsack—unless you want to.

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