Accommodations, travel tips

Hostelling International: Is It Worth the Membership?

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This non-HI hostel was probably one of the worst values I’ve gotten from a hostel. But can a Hostelling International membership really make travel better?

This morning I decided to crunch some numbers and find out how many different hostels I’ve stayed at in my lifetime.

The answer?

Twenty two. And then I made a booking for my twenty-third hostel this morning.

Because I hear a lot about the benefits of a Hostelling International membership, I wondered how much money I could have saved in my past twenty-two hostel visits if I had the membership.

That answer?

Way less than twenty two.

Out of the twenty two hostels I have stayed at, only two of them were HI (Hostelling International) hostels. The hostel I booked today also happens to be HI. Hostelling International memberships cost $18, but can result in discounts on stays.  There are plenty of reasons I have chosen independent hostels over HI hostels most of the time:

-There are way more independent hostels than HI hostels. Hostels are rare in the United States and any rural area. HI tends to have hostels in most big cities, but even then they’ve let lots of cities slip through the cracks. My first hostel trip was to Nashville, and it seems like Hostelling International doesn’t even know that the entire South exists!

-Other hostels have been better located. Last year I was making a hostel reservation during my trip to Europe and thought I found a pretty good HI hostel in Florence. However, when I looked up more information on it, I realized the hostel was outside of the city! Since my goal was to explore the city on foot, this was not an option.

-Other hostels have been cheaper. Most HI hostels accept non-HI members, but add on an extra fee. Even without this added cost, I’ve found independent hostels in the same area that are a comparable price or possibly less expensive.

-HI hostels are not necessarily a quality guarantee. There are a few requirements for HI hostels to be part of this network. However, these are requirements that most travelers have come to expect from a hostel, so most hostels will offer the same features anyway. And if there’s any questions, the hostel website and review sites can give more than enough insight.

So why did I ever stay in HI hostels? Well, I shouldn’t be too hard on them. I enjoyed the time I stayed in both of them:

Chicago Hostel
HI Chicago Reception

HI Chicago

The main reason I stayed one night at HI Chicago was because it was the closest hostel to the bus station that had availability during the busy Labor Day weekend! Since I was moving at the time, I had a lot of luggage to drag with me, so walking to my hostel was not an option, and I didn’t want to spend too much on cab fare. This is actually a very centrally located place to stay, and the jumbo-size hostel had some nice amenities. Since I only stayed one night, the extra charge didn’t set me back too much, and definitely not enough to justify buying a membership.

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Exterior of HI Sacramento

HI Sacramento

The main reason I stayed one night at HI Sacramento is because it really is the only hostel in California’s capital! I reserved a private room since I was using this as an opportunity to introduce my mom to hostelling. Our room was probably around the same price as a cheap motel in the same city, but we did have some features here that we may of not otherwise been able to enjoy- such as free breakfast or staying in a historic mansion! The parking fee plus the non-member fee did add to the cost, but again, staying only one night was not enough the justify the cost of being a member.

Why I’m Staying in an HI Hostel on my Upcoming Trip

I reserved a HI hostel because it was the only hostel in the city that provided parking, which is incredibly important for a road trip! It was also in a good part of town, unlike others that may have been cheaper (or not). And because it’s located on a National Park Site, they state that they aren’t allowed to charge an extra fee to non-members. So even though I’m staying more than one night, an HI membership wouldn’t even save me a penny!

I’m not against Hostelling International, and it’s possible that I may even get a membership one day if it ends up being worthwhile. But for now, I’ll enjoy being an independent traveler staying at hostels independently!

Is It Worth It-

Do you think an HI membership would be worth the cost? Have you ever been an HI member?

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Accommodations, Carry-On Toiletries, culture, Foodie, health, resources, souvenir, travel tips, voluntourism

Traveling Can Be Green, Too!

Happy Earth Day! Most of what I write here is creative ways to travel that will save you green. But in honor of today’s holiday, I’m going to shift gears a bit and talk about another way to save the green.

Many environmentalists frown upon travel as it causes greenhouse gases and a bigger carbon footprint. True, carbon costs associated with travel can be astronomical, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be cleaned up and greened up. Since Earth Day is celebrated each year on April 22nd, here are 22 ways you can make your travel more green!

(Bonus: In addition to saving the green for the environment, many of these will save the green in your wallet, too!)

Green Accommodation

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Share your campsite to make an even lower impact!
  1. Stay in Hostels Staying in a hostel dorm with others requires less square footage and encourages community. Hostels also often tend to buy in bulk and cut out worthless amenities, so you won’t create excess waste with miniature shampoos.
  2. Go Camping Get in touch with nature, and then be encouraged to preserve it! Any kind of camping is probably helpful for the environment, but you can take it a step futher with primitive camping, where you won’t have electricity hookups, WiFi, or possibly even flushing toilets!
  3. Stay with Friends Instead of creating a demand for a temporary place to sleep, go somewhere that’s already being lived in. Your friends will probably equip you with the same shower, dishes, and bedding they always use instead of providing disposible or temporary supplies like a hotel does.
  4. Don’t Request Sheet Changes Unless Absolutely Needed In your own home, you probably realize that washing sheets from just one bed is enough to load an entire washer and dryer. Save the water, soap, gas, and electricity by skipping sheet changes. You don’t replace your sheets at home every day, do you?

Green Packing

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Unless you need a Delorean because you’re going on a time-travel vacation, don’t pack enough to fill a truck.
  1. Bring Your Own Toiletries in Reusable Containers I’ve shared some of my favorite travel toiletry containers here before. Whether you use my recommendations or not, siphoning toiletries from bulk containers into smaller, reusable containers is much better than purchasing one-time bottles from the travel section of superstores.
  2. Lighten the Load with Carry-On Only No matter which mode you travel with, you’ll always save fuel if you take a lighter load. I backpacked the Mediterranean for 92 days with just a carry-on! I think going on a weeklong vacation with only a carry-on is a piece of cake.
  3. Borrow or Buy Used Travel Gear There are some items that may be necessary while traveling, but useless in everyday life. If you absolutely cannot go without it, ask your friends, family, and social media followers if you can borrow their tent, or ice chest, or lawn chair, or… you get the picture.
  4. Do Laundry Effectively If you need to do laundry on your trip at all, first see if there is anything you can wear more than once between washes. Bring your own eco-friendly soap instead of the single-serve packets found at the laundromat, and try to line-dry your laundry, even if you have to do so indoors.

Green Transportation

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You could travel by boat for a really fuel-efficient getaway. But if going by raft, you may get wet!
  1. Carpool If someone else is available to travel with you, going in one car instead of two will cut your emissions in half. Better yet, if you’re both licensed drivers, split the driving time to help keep alert and avoid accidents.
  2. Take the Bus or Train I love both of these options! You get to see so much more of the country, and reap the benefits of extremely low passenger miles per gallon! Trains are often a vacation in themselves, and long-distance buses make travel available to all income levels!
  3. Walk or Bike Everywhere at Your Destination Make a point to do this everywhere you go, even if it means staying closer to the city center. I can’t imagine all that I would have missed out on if I took cars or city transportation everywhere I’ve been.
  4. Don’t Fly First Class I’ve flown first class one time, and it was WAY overrated. Flying in coach means that the seating allows for more passengers to fly (and thus cuts down on emissions per person), plus lowers the waste of beverage cups and snack wrappers.

Green Eating

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My take-away container was already full when I bought these in Paris. But I could recycle the cardboard and bag!
  1. Pick Restaurants that Serve Local Food You’ll get a better sense of the local cuisine and prevent excess trucking and shipping of food.
  2. Become a Vacation Vegetarian I’m not saying you have to give up meat. (Not everyone can!) But try to select veg options in your travels. Besides the environmental advantages, vegetarian options often cost less, and you will be less exposed to those icky stomach bugs that travelers fear.
  3. Bring Washable Dishes or Stay Somewhere that Offers Them It’s not that time-consuming to wash your dishes after eating instead of throwing them away.
  4. BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle!) Vacations tend to make me thirsty! Instead of buying drinks everyday, I’m saving my wallet, my waistline, and the Earth with a reusable bottle.

Green Entertainment

Love Locks Paris
See those love locks at practically every major attraction? Skipping this activity will reduce the waste of the lock and packaging, reduce the pollution caused when the key is tossed into the water, and reduce the repairs needed on the structures that are getting vandalized and weighed down!
  1. Recycle Ticket Stubs (or Use an eTicket) These are usually recyclable, but rarely do people think to recycle them!
  2. Visit Local Parks Fresh air, green plants, and a free place to explore the local culture. What’s not to love?
  3. Borrow Books or DVDs for Downtime Sure, you could buy a paperback for those times you need to relax. But many hostels, and now even some hotels, offer lending libraries or book/movie exchanges. Reduce the demand for new materials, and lighten the weight of that carry-on you brought!
  4. Visit Ethical Attractions What you define as “ethical” is ultimately up for you to decide, but consider how workers are treated, how animals are used, how waste is disposed of, and how guests can contribute to the community.

Green Shopping

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Arnold Schwarzenegger bought this bear statue as a souvenir of his time as governor, but then left it at the California State Capitol! I guess he couldn’t even fit it into his suitcase.
  1. Avoid It Why do you need a tacky souvenir (that’s probably not even made at your destination), when there are more effective, and more eco-friendly, ways to capture your memories? One of my favorite mementos are my travel journals. Photos are another great option, or if you absolutely want to buy something, send yourself a postcard or letter from your destination.
Accommodations, resources, saving money, travel tips, writing

My Review of Hostelling International Sacramento

Remember last month when my mom and I road tripped through California? On our first night of the journey we stayed at a hostel in Sacramento.

Selfie at HI-Sacramento

I am happy to announce that Hostelz.com has published my article about HI-Sacramento. Click here to read my insider information! A unique feature about this website is that it takes information from all over the web. That means you’ll be able to read more reviews from travelers, and you’ll also compare prices from different websites, making sure that you get the best deal. I have been a staff writer for Hostelz for a few years now, and I am especially looking forward to writing for them as I encounter even more hostels in Europe!

Question for Travelers: What websites do you like to use to book hostels and other lodging?

Question for Accommodation Owners: What makes your lodging stand out? Would you like me to come to YOUR place of business?

Note: Hostelz.com does not pay for advertising on this site. However, if you use the links above to book your next hostel stay, I will receive a portion of the reservation fee at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support!

Accommodations, destinations, Foodie, road trip, tour

The Beginning of a Road Trip: Exploring Northern California

Just last Thursday, I returned home from a nine-day road trip with my mom. Some days didn’t have too much going on, so I won’t bore you with details of the mundane. But some days were jam-packed with activity, warranting multiple posts to describe all that happened on the trip. The very first day was probably the most eventful day, so this post only covers Day One.

Oh, and one more thing before we begin: last month I finally got Instagram! Feel free to follow me (I’m @JessicaLippe, of course!), and to see all the pictures specific to this trip, check out the hashtag #roadtrippingwithmom.

We decided to leave early on Tuesday, April 21st in order to pack a full afternoon of fun at that night’s destination. And even though I think 6 am was a little too early, we’d often leave at 3 or 4 am when I was younger. Most of our relatives live in Southern California, so our family would usually make a straight shot of the 11-hour drive to get there. But I had a little treat for my mom this time around, so in exchange she agreed to take me to the Sundial Bridge, an attraction I always saw from the freeway but we never had time to stop at.

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The Sundial Bridge is a piece of art spanning a river in Redding, California. It is literally a giant sundial and has markings for telling time at certain times of day. The bridge itself has a walkway made of green glass. Even though it isn’t exactly see-through, our first few steps out on it gave us that shaky feeling!

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When taking these pictures, we both noticed that the cable was pulsing (possibly from the birds landing on it further up?). But somehow this inspired us to have me hang from one of the cables.

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The Sundial Bridge was not the only thing around. It was actually part of a very large park with several other attractions. We did walk around a little bit, but I would love to go back there someday, perhaps with a bicycle.

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The next stop was a place we used to always use when going on trips to California: the city of Corning. You may not have heard of Corning before, but there’s a good chance you’ve eaten olives from there. And our go-to place is the Olive Pit. It’s been about four years since I last went this way, so some of the things have been changed a bit, but I was comforted to know that they still have a wide variety of oils, vinegars, and jams to sample on. 055

One thing from Olive Pit that I had never tried before was their shakes. They have some typical shakes, but they also have specialty shakes made out of flavored balsamic vinegar. I chose the Dark Raspberry Balsamic Vinegar shake. Yes, it sounds weird, but it is so good. You’ll just have to try it for yourself to see what I mean!

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The next driving break we took was for lunch. It’s not right to go to California without stopping at an In-N-Out. There are two things I really like about In-N-Out: 1. There is a Bible verse printed on every cup and food wrapper, and 2. Instead of ordering frozen french fries like most fast food places, they get shipments of fresh potatoes and make the fries right there. (I also like their milkshakes, but since I just had a balsamic vinegar one, I decided to skip it this time.) I tried to convince my mom to dress up in their paper hats, but she refused, so the only picture I have is of a cup and food wrapper:

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Not too long after lunch, we arrived at the place where we’d stay the night. In order to make the most of this trip, I offered to introduce my mother to hostelling. She agreed to it, but since she can sometimes be particular about things, I wanted to ease her into staying in hostels instead of scaring her away. I found a hostel along our route in Sacramento that was originally a Victorian mansion, and I knew that would be just the sort of thing she’d love.

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Probably the best part of being in Sacramento was just looking around the hostel at all the Victorian-style things they had!

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And because there wasn’t much of a price difference between two dorm beds and a two-person private room, I sprang for the private room. I’ve been upgraded to private rooms at hostels before, but I’ve never actually paid for one, so I guess that was a first for me too!

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The one attraction we didn’t want to miss out on was touring the California State Capitol Building. We went in the travel clothing we had been in all day, but once we got past security, we realized that everyone else was wearing business suits and dresses. We stuck out like sore thumbs! We tried to make excuses, such as it was just because we weren’t from the state, but my mom was actually born in California, so that didn’t really work.

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We learned a lot of things on the tour. For example, for many years the building was not earthquake-safe (not a good thing for the building that represents California!), so everyone that entered the building during that time had to sign a waiver. Eventually they closed down the building for several years and a did a complete remodel. My mom then realized that when she had toured the capitol with her dad as a teenager, it must have been just a matter of months before it was shut down!

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We also learned that the dome seen on the outside isn’t the same dome that is seen on the inside. The outer dome is too tall for artwork to be seen from the inside, so a shorter inner dome stacked inside creates the illusion that they’re the same. However, there’s quite a bit of space between the two!

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And although there was no chance we could get inside, we did have to stop by the outside of the governor’s office. When Arnold Schwarzenegger was in office, he got a bear statue and let it stay at the Capitol. Our tourguide told us they had secretly named it “Bacteria Bear” because so many tourists rub it!

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The Capitol was our only planned attraction, but we decided to walk around and see the other sights too. We went to some of the shops in Old Sacramento and also looked over the Sacramento River.

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Before retreating back to the hostel, mom and I stopped at a Pho restaurant. We’ve enjoyed the soup made at home, and I was interested to see what it was like when authentically made. The spring roll was delicious, too.

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And although we got some sleep at the HI-Sacramento Hostel, we once again had to get up early the next morning (though not as early as the day before) and make it the rest of the way down California. But I’ll save that for tomorrow!