Opening Doors, Opening Minds

Traveler's Tales & Testimonials


July 1969. America lands men on the moon. I land in a hospital bed in Bezier, France, a fallen victim to car meets bicycle. I had been leading a European Swing Trip, cycling casually on back roads into Marseille where we would have lunch before following the road into Italy. There was my life until THE accident. And my life after it. The klnd of life in which virtually every step taken hurt because of unresolved pain in the leg so badly torn apart. But a life, although departed from it's original intentions of athleticism, the outdoors or extended travel, has been filled with successes, moments of intense meaning, the ability to comfort others.

Two weeks ago I finally went under the knife and got a new knee. A replacement part so desperately needed that I could barely walk. And in the hospital, and here at home since, I have had countless memories of the kids on that trip for whom I was their leader, the places we went and saw, and the incredible connections and opportunities that hosteling provided for me that summer. It is truly the first time since my accident that I have been able to look back at the memories of that trip with relish. Thirty-five years ago on a back road in Southern England, on the way to Brighton Beach, we passed through a village of thatched roof cottages. A woman busying herself by her door looked out and called out joyfully, "American? American? Tea?" Several of us riding together stopped and she said she'd not seen American "children" since World War II in her remote village and invited us for tea. We chatted a few more moments, declined the tea, however, and cycled on.

An AYH memory of a Michelin map, a remote country road, and a moment of unforgettable history. Many such memories, this many years later, stick. Huddling on a Sunday morning in a church on the Isle of Wight because we'd had to leave the hostel in a cold and miserable rain storm. Where a roof and a bit of prayer weren't such an awful place to be. The ferry ride from Dover and the rough seas. . .unforgettable. The rain again in Toulouse, the sun and the colors of the shadows on the walls at Carcasonne. With the lifting of the pain in my knee from the accident, like a veil, the trip shines now as if yesterday. Perhaps someday I'll go back and finish the swing through Italy, Austria, Germany, and get back to see Paris, too. But for now, remembering in vivid color, sights, sounds, smells, the smell of cheese on my hand in a public park as we hunkered down for lunch - what a wnderful trip it started out to be. And how sweet, so many years later, to pull those photographs from the back pages of my mind, and be ablem, finally to cherish them without pain.


Hostelling from the Other Side.

I was born in a hostel. From my earliest years the doors of our home were open to people of all cultures and persuasions. Some stayed a day, some a week and one stayed a year. It was exciting. Everyday someone new. I learned to love strangers.

I did not travel because it seemed the whole world came to me. Always someone new and interesting to meet and speak with everyday of my life.

The hostel is gone now. But each day I am out there looking for strangers. Looking for someone new to greet and cheer on and direct to lovely sights and sounds peculiar to this little part of the great wide wonderful world. The world that came to me because our home was a hostel.


HI-USA ODOM International Youth Exchange Participant

“There have been few events in my life that I can truly say have had a profound effect on me, and the exchange in Verdun is one of them. It is only after being home for a few days that I have really been able to see the changes in me and to absorb the lessons that I learned from this amazing experience. I would like to share these lessons with all of you.

Day 1: I learned that when you try to judge someone by how they look and where they come from, you are usually wrong.
Day 2: I learned that, many times, a great big hug from someone is all the language you need.
Day 3: I learned to have a deep respect for the heritage of countries and cultures that have stood the test of time ages longer than my own.
Day 4: I learned that one country or way of life is not the center of the universe.
Day 5: I learned that true honor is the result of standing by your principles in the midst of great threat and fear.
Day 6: I learned that wisdom is gained by listening when you would have preferred to speak.
Day 7: I learned that laughter is a necessary component of inner peace and peace all around us.
Day 8: I learned that the creation of a solid group is a beautiful work of art.
Day 9: I learned that even young people get tired and cranky!
Day 10: I learned that lifelong bonds could be formed in ten short days when respect, honesty and giving are at the foundation.

These are just a few of the lessons that I hope to integrate into all aspects of my life. Social change begins with one person’s inner transformation and I hope that all of us have returned home better people than when we embarked on this journey.”


This is the first time I stay in a youth traveller hostel in my life. There are people from different background, with different ages, spoke various type of languages. How would I expect I end up travelling with two wonderful girls from Columbia and France at Boston for a week?

All three of us have different backgrounds, education, personalities, taste of food. It is the adventurous daring gut that lead the three strangers together to explore Boston.

We went to the freedom trail, Harvard and MIT, museums etc. We got lost on the way back, we chatted inside a grave yard, we made our own breakfast, lunch and dinner on a limited budget.

Even though the whole travelling experience isn't comfortable, it is a priceless memory that money can't buy, college professor can't teach you.

Living in a youth hostel let me meet and greet people from all over the place, widen my view and broaden my horizon.


Seattle, WA

While staying at a hostel in Melbourne, Australia in 2001, I signed up for an Oz Experience tour of the Mornington Peninsula. As I boarded the bus, I realized that, at age 48, I was twice as old as my companions. I thought, "No one will talk to me all day." But as soon as we pulled out, the driver asked to us introduce ourselves, and soon I had more conversations than I could handle. An English veterinarian told hilarious stories about animals and their owners. An Irish couple entertained us, and a German woman wrote two pages of notes, including Chinese translations, for my future visit to Beijing. We had a wonderful time exploring the spectacular coast where Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt disappeared in 1974, and enjoyed lunch in Sorrento, Australia's sister to the Italian city. From then on, I never hesitated to stay at hostels where I was old enough to be someone's father.


Portland, Oregon

I have been hostelling for 18 years, since I was 21. I've stayed in Hostels in England, Scotland, Wales, South Africa, United States and, most recently, Ireland. As a parent, I have always made it a priority to provide travel as an important part of my child's education. For several years, I have been travelling with my daughter Tori, who is now 11 years old.

During our most recent trip to Ireland, I had a wonderful and "world-broadening" experience that I will try to relate here. We checked into our hostel on our first night in Ireland. Almost immediately, Tori began interviewing fellow hostellers, introducing herself, and asking where they were from.

Seeing her inquisitive nature and her notepad, Shaheb - a young man from Sudan- asked for the notepad and drew out a game for her to play. Then a Riddle for her to guess. This lead to a 2-day-long riddle-fest between the two, which was wonderful to see.

During that time, I watched each of their eyes light up as they thought of a new riddle to share. I also watched Tori as she recognized that some of her "old standby" jokes had no meaning for someone whose first language isn't English (Shaheb's was Arabic, though he spoke several others). I could see the recognition in her eyes as it occurred to her that our language is ethnocentric, and that she had to adapt her communication style to communicate better with her new friend. (How would I have taught THAT at home???)

As I watched the two of them, in my eyes, the puzzles became larger than themselves. As I stepped back to watch, I was able to see with some awe how wonderful an experience this was. A young, Arabic-speaking, Muslim man from Sudan sharing time, stories and friendship with a young, English-speaking American girl. Both far away from home - and ALL of our lives richer for the experience.

In the hostel kitchen, over our last shared breakfast, Shaheb, a man from Japan, and a woman from the U.S., all told me how amazing they thought Tori was. It made me proud of her, but also proud of myself for making travel an important part of her education. As a single parent, it has not ever been easy to make this happen, but this experience reminds me why I make it a priority.

A last word on this subject: I do not think this kind of experience would have occurred if we had been staying in a traditional-type hotel. I firmly believe that the international network of hostels encourage this kind of connection. For that reason, I will always prefer hostels to any other kind of accommodation as my daughter and I explore the world together.


Carrolton, Texas

Last summer was my first real hostel/travel experience and it has opened my eyes. I love meeting other travelers from all over the world. They're usually independent, open-minded, friendly people.


Belgium, Europe

I am on a world tour, going from hostel to hostel. It is very nice, as I am traveling by myself. A world tour alone but never lonely!


Camarillo, CA USA

Not to sound cheesy but hostelling has changed my life extremely. I have backpacked all over Central Europe for four months and I have met the most amazing people. Hostels encourage communication, sharing and travel. I honestly can't explain the change in my life since I traveled but it has been a great change and I just crave to explore and travel and meet new people and Hostels are what tie all of that together.


Brisbane, Australia

I have been on the road for about three months now. This is the fourth or fifth hostel I have stayed in and it is very nice indeed. I am traveling by myself and while this may mean some lonely times such as spending the whole of last night at the Seattle Airport, sleeping next to a vending machine. I have met many great people on my trip and have had a generally wonderful time.


Some of my fondest memories are of times I spent in hostels as a traveler in Europe in 1985. Whether in Paris, Innsbruck, Austria, or Venice, Italy, my memories hark back to meeting new friends, staying in comfy inns and halls, and eating simple, delicious meals. Today, I'm busy raising a family and working and it's hard to find time to get away. But my oldest daughter and I did just that a few years ago, right here in Wisconsin, with an overnight bike trip. The hostel we stayed at was called Wellspring . . . Thanks!


East Greenwhich, Rhode Island

I love hostels. I've met people from all over the world and have heard amazing stories. I have also learned different people's perspectives about the U.S.A. It is really interesting to hear other people's point of views. Traveling and hostelling opens many doors for people. Always remember that the world is yours! You can go anywhere with hostelling.


Hostelling opened up a whole world when I gave myself a retirement present of volunteering on a dig in Russia and stayed in a hostel in Vienna, Austria and St. Petersburg, Russia. I met a backpacking lady in Vienna who was on a painting jaunt. She was 84 and had 2 hip replacements. The hostels were so friendly that I have never hesitated to go anywhere else.

One of these days I will go back to Hong Kong to the hostel there. Now I use hostels by preference. I love being able to dump my pack and go walking wherever I want. Total Freedom!! And the desk people are full of helpful advise. I can travel twice as far and twice as long with hostels. This fall will be Australia and New Zealand for 2 or 3 months. Seniors should not think they would be out of place in a dorm -- I learn so much from all my roommates.


"When I bicycled in Germany, Holland, Denmark and England in the summer of 1939, I appreciated staying in many hostels. Contacts with people in the hostels helped me understand the conditions of local people. I learned more about the reasons for Hitler's aggressive policies etc.

In recent year I have supported growth of hostels in our Northwest. It is still a pleasure to meet international as well as U.S. travelers at our hostels."

Mary Emma

"As I have helped establish hostels in Washington State, it has been exciting to have hostel manager dedicated to serve hostellers. I was always pleased to talk with travelers and learn of their appreciation for hostel atmospheres. At the Seattle hostel it is always great to talk with international travelers. It is good to see their interaction and activities with those of other countries.

One reason for my involvement in the hostelling movement is that building friendships between people of the world is the basis for building peace in our world."


In 1999-2000 I spent a year traveling around the world. During this time I stayed in a lot of hostels, some official HI-AYH hostels and others that were just cheap hostel-style accommodations. The thing I loved most about the hostels were the people I met. Where else in the world will you find people who will just strike up a conversation with you, ask you to share a meal with them, arrange to go on a day trip with someone you just met, or just find people to share a beer and stories with at the end of the day? Everyone there shares the same love of travel and adventure which is great. I got my best travel advice from people I met in the hostels and the best thing was running into them again and again as I worked my way around Southeast Asia and India.

Everyone pretty much has the same route so it's like running into old friends again. That's the thing about the hostelling lifestyle, you meet lots of great people and you keep running into them. It can be lonely when you are on the road for months at a time without any of your friends or family with you but as you get to know people and as you keep running into each other it makes the world seem like a much smaller place. Whether it's hanging out having a beer on the roof of a hostel in Jordan and watching Indiana Jones movies or going on a hostel sponsored trip in Jerusalem to watch the sunrise over Mt. Masada, these are all memories that I will never forget and which helped make my trip complete.

Anyone who has ever spent a little time in a hostel common room knows that hostellers are full of good stories. Tales of unexpected journeys, fascinating people, and wonderful discoveries all seem to flow after a good day of exploration.

Now, here at HI-USA, we want to start collecting and sharing great hostelling stories as part of our new Opening Doors, Opening Minds Initiative. And while we love all travel stories, we primarily want to know your story about how hostelling has impacted your life. Has hostelling broadened your horizons? Changed your outlook? Challenged your perceptions? We want to hear about it! We would also welcome your thoughts about how hostelling can impact society as a whole.

More stories will be added in the months ahead. In the future, we will also occasionally feature some stories in our monthly e-newsletter HI-USA Travel Bytes. Authors of featured stories will be sure to get recognition and a special gift of thanks.