Hostels are becoming vacation rentals in response to pandemic demand

Aug 11, 2021

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Pre-pandemic, the HI Point Reyes Hostel — the only non-camping accommodation for travelers within spectacular Point Reyes National Seashore, along the Northern California coast — was a place where guests from around the world discussed the day’s hiking plans over muesli in the communal kitchen and organized their backpacks atop beds in the dormitory-style rooms.

Today, the coastal property is one of five hostels-turned-temporary vacation rentals currently for rent within Hostelling International USA’s portfolio of mostly shared accommodations.

Instead of hosting its former crew of independent international travelers, the HI Point Reyes Hostel in vacation rental mode welcomes multigenerational groups,  families and gaggles of friends within its Historic Lodge and Bunkhouse, which when rented together can sleep up to 32 people for $1,000 per night.

And if you’re worried about your vacation rental being sold out from under you, as has happened to more than one traveler in the current too-hot-to-handle housing market, renting a hostel for your next vacation rental might present a more secure alternative for trip-planning.

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Hostelling International USA’s decision to turn several of its smaller hostels in California and Massachusetts into vacation rentals since the pandemic is a direct result of it, said Aaron Chaffee, vice president, head of Hostel Network for HI USA.

“With COVID-19 and the changes in demand, it was tough figuring out how to space people out in the common spaces of some of the smaller hostels,” Chaffee said.

So the nonprofit decided to get creative in the interest of public health concerns while also responding to the demand for vacation rentals and people wanting to escape into nature, he said, by putting some of its smaller hostels with the most scenic views into the vacation rental pool.

“We saw the demand for these types of locations, we didn’t even feel like we had to test it,”  he said. “We had a feeling it would work, and it did.”

Indeed, most of the vacation rental hostels have been solidly booked through summer.

Minor adjustments have been made at some of the properties to make them more like a vacation rental, Chaffee said — things like converting two kitchens into one, in one case, and making private bedrooms a little more vacation-rental friendly through added decor touches.

“We’ve always had some private rooms at our hostels, but we’ve kept the dorms as dorms,” Chaffee said. “It works well with families with kids.”

And you don’t have to worry about schlepping along your own sleeping bag liner to these hostels, either.

All of the hostel vacation rentals come with bedding, towels and kitchen supplies — just don’t expect the amenities of a five-star rental or hotel, Chaffee said.

“They’re wonderful places, they’re very scenic, but people have to know they’re going to have lots of bunk beds and it’s pretty basic,” he said. “You’re not going to have high-end shampoos in your shower and hair dryers and 600-thread-count sheets.”

If great scenery and good prices trump fancy linens for you — after all, some of these properties rent for prices that end up cheaper than $40 per person, per night — book one of the below hostels-turned-vacation rentals while you can.

Because eventually, said Chaffee, they’ll likely revert back to their original purpose.

“We’re a nonprofit about cultural understanding and shared space in hostels — and breaking down those cultural barriers between people to lead to a more peaceful world,” he said. “We’ll probably go back to a traditional hostel stay at these properties after we get past COVID-19 because it’s more of what our mission is about.”

HI Point Reyes Hostel

The ultimate digital detox within Point Reyes National Seashore, HI Point Reyes Hostel is two miles from the beach and even farther removed from cellular or Wi-Fi connection. As long as you’re fine being disconnected from technology while on property, there’s lots to love in the area, from hiking within the national seashore and kayaking in Tomales Bay to exploring nearby oceanside towns.

The hostel has three different components that can be rented together or separately, including the Laguna Creek House — a private house with four bedrooms, all outfitted with bunk beds, that sleeps up to 20 people (from $520 per night).

HI Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel

HI Point Montana Lighthouse Hostel
HI Point Montana Lighthouse Hostel (Photo courtesy of Hostelling International USA)

Just 25 miles south of San Francisco atop a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, this is another former lighthouse and hostel now available for exclusive rental as a vacation property.

The HI Point Montana Lighthouse Hostel puts you near the California Coastal Trail, surf beaches, state parks, birdwatching and the coastal towns of Half Moon Bay and Pacifica.

Among the rental units being sold as vacation rentals before the property reverts back to a hostel is The Surfside House, which sleeps 12 people in two bedrooms (each with three sets of single bunk beds), has a full kitchen, dining room, living room and ocean views (from $379 per night).

HI Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel

HI Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel (Photo courtesy of Hostelling International USA)

Right on Highway 1, 55 miles south of San Francisco and at the base of a lighthouse, HI Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel is the place to spend your days hiking to secluded beaches, peeking into tidal pools and listening for the barks of harbor seals.

The three vacation rental units available here each sleep up to 15 people and can be yours from $300 per night.

HI Sacramento Hostel

HI Sacramento Hostel
HI Sacramento Hostel (Photo courtesy of Hostelling International USA)

A gorgeous Victorian mansion built in 1885, the HI Sacramento Hostel is right near Old Sacramento and can sleep up to 20 people in its 11 bedrooms.

Amenities include a huge bricked courtyard with a barbecue grill and tables shaded by umbrellas, a game room with foosball, pool and ping-pong, a modern kitchen and parlors with period furnishings for a game of cards or lounging. Call for rates. You can rent the entire house for 20 people for $540 per night.

HI Truro Hostel

You can enjoy views of the deep blue Atlantic Ocean right from your bunk within Cape Cod National Seashore at the HI Truro Hostel, open from June to September only.

The beach is five minutes from the property and you’re also close to the Pamet Area Trail System, where you can hike to a cranberry bog.

With beds for nine guests, the hostel has a six-person dorm-style room with bunk beds and another room that sleeps three people. Rates start at $750 per night.

Featured image of the Point Reyes Lighthouse by Weili Li/Getty Images

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