Yes, I’m 40 and Stay at Hostels—These Are the Design-Forward Ones I’ve Loved
Skip the squeaky bunk beds for comfy stays.
Published Feb 10, 2023 1:52 AM
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In 2007 a friend and I spontaneously flew to Barcelona from New York City in search of an adventurous weekend abroad. The caveat? Our budget was minimal. As a result, I was introduced to squeaky metal bunk beds, paper-thin pillows, and a plastic-wrapped mattress during my first-ever hostel stay. It was not pleasant, to say the least.
As a 40-year-old frequent flier and solo female traveler, boutique hotels have a hold on me. But a new wave of hostels has been showing up with similar amenities and, in some cases, stronger design than my beloved boutique stays. With that, plus an opportunity to meet like-minded people and offset my budget in places where I’m mostly exploring anyway, the Barcelona experience was becoming a distant memory. I decided to give these humble accommodations a shot. From stylish interiors to cushy (never creaky!) beds, here are some of the coolest dorm-style stays that definitely aren’t just for college kids.
Modal, Greenville, South Carolina
Why we love it: It’s basically a chic coffee shop with rooms.
When I met Joe Hindman, one of Modal’s owners, my first question was: Am I too old to be staying here? He assured me the demographic was diverse, ranging from early 20s to late 60s. “It’s not an age group,” he says. “It’s a lifestyle.” The old backpacker model hasn’t aged well for today’s hostels anyway. Instead they’re catering more to business travelers, families, and groups.
Modal was inspired by Hindman’s desire to see Greenville put on the global map. “I designed it to feel like it was located in a major market like San Francisco or Los Angeles,” he says. With a mix of local furnishings and art that the owners sourced over a decade of thrifting, the mood is mid-century–meets–Southern coffee shop. A 1950s tulip table and chairs sit in the café. Camel-colored Daystrom chairs dot both sides of the fireplace (the best seat in the house). In the center, there’s a fully equipped kitchen at your disposal because Southern hospitality means never going hungry.
Colo Colo, San Sebastian, Spain
Why we love it: Easy access to AYCE pintxos.
Colo Colo commanded my attention with vibrant blue and white branding, but it locked me in with its proximity to La Concha beach (we’re talking five minutes, tops) and the world of San Sebastian’s pintxo culture. I ended up overnighting on a whim, as I arrived during a food festival where hotels were quadruple their regular price. This place was only 30 euros a night. I repeat: 30. Euros. A. Night. The common areas were clearly designed with the digital nomad in mind. In fact, with plenty of space to spread out, easy access to snacks, and always-fresh coffee, it feels more like a funky shared office where you might look forward to working late nights. Expect a smart experience end to end, from the digital check-in to techy touches in the casitas (self-contained beds where you’ll turn in for the night) like noise-canceling headphones for deep work sessions or supersound sleep. Minimalist yet welcoming, the podlike beds are crafted with local wood and you can sense a touch of Basque country influence when you look up at the traditional gabled ceilings.
What we love: It’s centrally located in the heart of Montmartre.
Spending a week posted up in swanky Paris hotels might be dreamy, but that also means fewer euros to spend on the finer things in life: food, fashion, and, most important, French antiques. Between the city’s 5-star stalwarts and grittier budget options, Caulaincourt is the Goldilocks pick for a chic stay at a reasonable price. Situated in the heart of Montmartre, where artists peddle wares along cobblestone streets and Sacré-Cœur Basilica is a 10-minute stroll away, you might feel like you’re ducking into a charming prewar walk-up. Inside, there’s a nod to the neighborhood’s bohemian energy with rattan lighting, mismatched pillows, and potted plants suspended from the ceiling. The rooms continue a wanderer’s theme with wallpapered landscapes and curvy wood headboards. Snag a private room and, if you’re lucky, you’ll find yourself with a window that swings open to a city view.
Cache House, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Why we love it: She’s the cooler, younger sister of a well-loved hotel.
If Jackson’s upscale Anvil Hotel is the chic go-to, then consider Cache House its cool little sister. In place of a lobby, a stylish gathering space comes together with custom lighting and furnishings from TRNK Studio, Lawson-Fenning, and Fern NYC. It’s complete with a communal worktable and a library curated with adventure-inspiring books. As far as the rooms, you’ll find a mix of queen-, full-, and twin-size beds outfitted with custom wool blankets that guarantee a cozy night’s sleep. Fair warning, there’s only one queen setup, so I highly recommend snatching it if it isn’t sold out.
The Pad, Silverthorne, Colorado
Why we love it: Riverside rooftop hot tub. Need we say more?
Constructed from recycled shipping containers, this newcomer is changing people’s views on (or is it from?) hostels, literally. Exhibit A: The spot’s floor-to-ceiling nook overlooking the Blue River. BraytonHughes Design Studio’s airy atmosphere embraces an elevated Alpine identity, so the space reads more like a modern mountain lodge than a hostel. It still feels relaxed in all the right ways, though. Whether you land in a shared, micro, or deluxe private room, timeless pairings and materials—think: wood bed frames, crisp white walls, and black metal accents—give you a soothing space to unwind after a day of exploring. And if you want to see what the locals are up to, just head to the hot tub and buzzy riverside rooftop. A-Bar is the place to be for happy hour and unobstructed views of three different mountain ranges.