Hostels are a way of life for budget travelers around the world, except in America, where the idea has yet to catch fire in the same way. If you love travel and aren’t yet familiar with hostelling, it’s well worth a look. The slow, but steady expansion of a reliable hostel network here in the United States is making travel easier, cheaper, and more accessible for all.
Hostelling International USA reached out to me with an invitation to see what they’re all about, so I took them up on the opportunity. With the fall foliage past its peak, but not quite finished for the year, I embarked on one last hiking trip here in New England. Last week, I headed up to Bethel — a tiny, charming blip of a ski town in western Maine — to check out the hostel there.
Hostelling International USA Hostel in Bethel, Maine
If you aren’t familiar with the idea of hostels, here’s what Hostelling International USA promises:
Hostels provide friendly, inexpensive overnight accommodations for travelers. Hostelling International hostels assure travelers the utmost in quality standards including cleanliness, security and service.
Hostels offer dormitory-style rooms with separate quarters for men and women. Some hostels also have private family and couples rooms. All hostels provide a blanket and pillow. Linens are often included in the price, or available for rental.
In short: “Stay with friends you’ve never met!”
Their Bethel location promises ultra-affordable accommodations in a western Maine ski town where finding a budget hotel stay is difficult in the off-season, and nigh impossible during ski/high season.
Lounge at the Hostel in Bethel, Maine
The Traveler’s Take
To call it a “youth hostel” is a bit misleading. While the term has been historically accurate since the dawn of modern travel, hostels have evolved over the past two decades as a real accommodations option for travelers of all ages. The Bethel hostel in particular sees an influx of younger folks on the weekends, but weekdays bring a healthy dose of older travelers (50+).
You never can tell who you’re going to run into – it’s a guaranteed mix of ages, nationalities, and demographics almost every day of the year. The sense of community found in a hostel means you’re interacting with all of those people over breakfast, while reading a book, cooking dinner, and surfing the web in the library.
Owners David and Deb Doyle at the Bethel Hostel recognize the most fun, memorable, and inspiring parts of travel are almost always the people you meet. They’re among the warmest, most welcoming and gracious hosts I’ve ever met while traveling. I saw and chatted them up every morning and night to discuss the day’s events, my plans for the next day, and just life in general.
While they don’t explicitly offer it, they’re also happy to serve as an expert local guide for their guests as well. With an intimate knowledge of Bethel — especially the hiking trails, best spots to kayak, and pretty much any other outdoor adventure of interest in the area — they were incredibly helpful with planning my day-to-day activities. Especially since I’d never been to the area before.
Touches of Home at Bethel Hostel in Maine © Mike Richard
The Bethel Hostel also offers many of the comforts of home, including a dedicated dining area, full kitchen (which guests are welcome to help themselves to cooking in any time of day), TV area, a game room with a public internet-connected computer, and a large outdoor rec area with firepit and plenty of games to pass the time. Dave can often be found tending the fire after the sun goes down and inviting guests to s’mores or to enjoy a beer by the fire.
Facilities and amenities include:
- Common room(s) w/ TV, computer, etc.
- Credit card accepted
- Groups welcome
- Individual traveller welcome
- Internet access
- Laundry facilities
- Lockers available
- Self-catering kitchen
- Sheets included in price
- Smoking room/area
- Accessible – suitable for wheelchair users
It’s clean, quiet, comfortable, and ideal for budget travelers who value affordability over copious amounts of (often unnecessary) creature comforts. In terms of bells and whistles, it’s a step below a traditional hotel, but miles above a typical campground. For the three days of my stay, I found it the perfect base camp for my hiking and outdoor adventures.
Pricing + Availability
Depending on the time of year, prices run as low as $25 nightly for a bed in a coed/mixed dorm (with the purchase of a Hostelling International membership).
The Bottom Line
The hostelling experience isn’t just for kids and gap year students anymore. Budget travelers looking for unique, affordable accommodations that value community and a sense of togetherness would do well to research hostel options. After three full days in Bethel, I would return to the hostel there in a heartbeat.
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