When we sat down to plan our goals for 2011 we knew that big-ticket traveling needed to be nixed from the list. First, my school schedule just wouldn’t allow it. And secondly, since I went back to school full-time we’ve been forced to really watch our pennies and stretch our budget to the squeaky max.
But being budget friendly doesn’t mean that we have to sacrifice the things we love: travel, great cuisine, nature and culture. It just meant that we needed to get creative.
Instead of traveling far (we had originally planned to join family in Ireland this fall), we decided to look for interesting destinations close to home. And instead of taking only one long vacation we would spread the time into many mini-trips throughout the year, whether they were simple day-ventures or overnighters—we were going to get out, relax and have some fun.
MY GOAL: discover something new at least once a month spending no more than a tank or two of gas. We’ve gone to see the elephant seals, checked out a new winery in Sonoma, went snowshoeing in Tahoe. We’ve hit San Francisco’s theater scene, found a new favorite spot to watch a sunset and who-knew-these-were-here trails to run our dog.
Several months ago I read an article in the travel section of the San Francisco Chronicle that mentioned three of Northern California’s coastal hostels were rated in the top 10 in the world. In my mind, U.S. hostels were always linked to grungy, boot-strapping college expeditions. After turning 30, and with the exception of the refugios found in the Alps, I had completely dismissed hostels as enjoyable venues. But according to this article, these California hostels could change my mind. I quickly got online to see where they were—and wouldn’t you know it, they were perfectly situated in areas that we wanted to explore. When I saw the pricing ($22/person) I just about peed my pants—they fit my puny budget. Hallelujah! I whipped out the calendar and began reserving dates. I almost forgot to confer with Jack and see if he even cared to go. Lucky for me that he always says, “Sure.”
OUR FIRST STOP: The Point Reyes National Seashore hostel, which is located right in the middle of the eponymous national park. The hostel is the only lodging, other than camping, available within the park. There are lots of inns, motels and B&Bs in nearby towns, but there is something really special about being in the middle of the park, where you’re able to walk right out the door and onto the trail.
I have to say up front that my photos don’t do this place justice. Although modest, this is quite a charming little place. And I regret that I didn’t take any photos of the interiors or our delightful host, Sebastian.
Now let me remind us: this is a hostel—a communal living dormitory-style lodging—not a full service inn or B&B. You are provided clean sheets with which you make your own bed. There is a large, cozy living room with musical instruments, books and games to share. There’s also a large nearly-commercial and exceptionally well-equipped kitchen to share. The entire place is very clean, organized and easy to access. Finally, the hostel is LEED-certified and entirely eco-green—certainly not a requirement, but a nice boon nonetheless.
For us, the hostel worked perfectly. We planned to spend our days outdoors enjoying the park. We only needed a place to relax at night and therefore our requests were modest.
And although we chose not to, there are a handful of private rooms available for only $10 more per person—a bargain that can’t be beat. The private rooms in this hostel were booked through December, so if you want your own room definitely plan ahead.
We also remarked at how family-friendly this hostel was. Private or semi-private accommodations for families are available.
Because we had the option, we cooked our own food. Although the hostel does have a huge Weber grill that is free for anyone to use we had brought with us our own little Hibachi grill that we often use for car camping. We ate well, my friends: special sauce BBQ chicken, herb crusted fingerling potatoes, grilled pita with homemade sun dried tomato hummus, aged cheeses and berries. We even had chocolate for desert along with a steaming hot pot of local organic herbal tea.
There is a sizable dining room, but the weather was so balmy that we chose to eat outdoors. More romantic, too.
For breakfast we partook of the hostel’s offering of local organic coffee (some of the best coffee I’ve had in a long while), fried up some black forest ham fripitas, cooked up some oatmeal and munched fresh berries while we each caught up on our reading. Despite oatmeal always being good hiking fare, Jack wished he’d brought up eggs and omelet fixings, which would have been easy to dish up. We saw some pretty good food being cooked up by fellow travelers.
All in all, we’d do it again in a heart beat.
Our little tips for happy hosteling.
1. Be friendly.
2. Mind your manners.
3. Bring good food.
4. Bring good book.
5. Mind the bedtimes unless you’ve got a private room.
6. Invite people to dine with you.
7. Check in early vs late to reserve a good bed.
8. Bring earplugs.
9. Ask fellow travelers for must-see suggestions.
10. Leave a tip for your host and say “Thank You!”