Having secured an internship with Downtown Santa Monica, Inc., I find myself residing in the Hostelling International on 2nd Street until I find something a bit more “permanent.” While there are many differences between a hotel and a hostel, one of the most compelling is the average daily room rate, which, in Santa Monica, hovers around $300 per night. Hostel International, on the other hand, will only cost you $35 per night.
Hostels are the convenience stores for accommodations, a melting pot of cultures and personalities. Unlike a hotel, a hostel is communal through-and-through, for good reason. The mission of Hostelling International is to build a new generation of global citizens, unburdened by stereotypes, emboldened by open minds, appreciative of their own heritage and understanding of others, through the dialogue and education that comes from hostelling. The diversity of culture is, indeed, the most striking aspect of my hostelling experience. Even if I sat in my room all day my cultural diversity would increase tenfold because of the revolving door of people who constantly arrive and depart at any given time of day. I have never seen so many faces here today and gone tomorrow.
Santa Monica’s Hostel International has four floors, three common areas, a large, fully functional kitchen and dining room, a laundry room, and three communal bathrooms. My third floor room consists of four bunk beds, eight lockers (BYO padlock or purchase one at the front desk for a cool $5), a full bathroom, and anywhere from two to eight completely different human beings. While my bedroom does have its own bathroom, I have kept an ear to the hostel’s rumor mill and discovered this is not the standard in every room. There also seems to be larger “suites” on the fourth floor.
In a communal environment like a hostel, my biggest concern is always thievery. While guests do have access to their own lockers, there is not enough room to store larger items like suitcases. Your best bet is to develop a relationship with your “bunkies” so if a thief does end up among them there will at least be a few more eyes on your belongings. In any case, you are going to have to take a chance with the majority of your luggage, but that’s the norm around here.
There is no shortage of eccentric personalities here either. Consider Joachim from Sweden, an aspiring actor whose spontaneous Shakespeare improvisations are something to behold no matter what mood you’re in. His regular bouts of culture shock are expressed outright, for he has trouble understanding the avarice of capitalism here in the U.S.; or Melanie and Christina, two philosophical Americans from the University of Delaware who spend time between their academic trimesters exploring the U.S. and constantly questioning existentialism; and Barry, an older gentleman from South Africa who spent most of his life in the film industry before traversing the planet searching for genuine meaning in his life. True to the nature of a hostel, all four of my companions are already back on the road chasing their dreams.
Will I use hostels again in the future? Absolutely, especially when I find myself backpacking across states or countries (it’s on the bucket list)! So long as you have cash in hand, there is a seamless transition from front desk to bedroom. The diversity of people you meet is truly a testament to the heterogeneity of our planet and our species. As far as personal items go, keep your most valuable items in your locker and let the rest lie where they may. Sometimes you just have to roll the dice, albeit my toothpaste disappeared after three days.