How to Befriend a Community of Travelers

by Dr. Jessie Voigts /
Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture
Jan 14, 2015 / 0 comments

Which do you prefer – a trip where you focus on attractions, or a trip where you interact with people, make friends, and expand your world? Yes, that’s a trick question. Who wouldn’t choose travel filled with interesting people – perhaps making memories or lifelong friendships?

Our most memorable travel experiences involve others, whether it is meeting the friendliest person in Ireland, sharing a coffee with a new friend, or spending time with fellow travelers, learning more about the world. It seems that these experiences can be hard to come by, though, even if we’re open to meeting people and sharing experiences.


Here’s a tip that will change the way you travel:


Stay at a hostel.


What? If you’re not a college student, don’t worry – people of all ages are welcome at hostels (there are even private rooms, for families). What you gain from staying at hostels is immeasurable.


HI Boston - pool table!

HI Boston - with a pool table!


We were recently at the White House for the White House Summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship, which was conceived (thank you!) and  hosted in part by HI USA (thank you!). Hosteling International USA not only surprised me by the depth of global knowledge, interest, and community, but by the very fact that this, indeed, is an intercultural movement of global proportions.

I’m impressed, and wanted to share more of the HI USA with our readers.

To that end, we were lucky enough to catch up with Netanya Trimboli, of HI USA. Here’s what she had to say…


I'm fascinated by the long history of hostels and the impact of traveling and staying in hostels - can you please chime in?

For over 80 years, HI USA has provided a network of affordable hostels in converted mansions, reinvented lighthouses, and historic urban buildings all across the country. From the first U.S. hostel in Northfield, MA, additional hostels were located ideally about 15 miles apart, allowing for hostellers to hike, cycle, ride a horse, or canoe from one to the other in one day. Circuits of hostels following this model formed across the Northeast, and soon this model spread across the country. But with the advent of modern transportation, the idea of a collection of hostels in close proximity outgrew its necessity.  

Although the means of transportation may have changed, the experience of hostelling in the old days is not that different than it is now. Our hostels have always had an emphasis on the social experience. When my husband and I drove down the Pacific Coast Highway, we stayed in 4 HI USA hostels along the way. We started to see the same travelers from one place to the next, so we naturally started chatting with these familiar faces and creating our own community as we traveled down the coast. Imagine back in the old days with limited transportation: individuals on a similar path at a similar time instinctively came together. And that’s really what’s special about staying at our hostels – the people you meet.

Today, HI USA hosts over 1 million overnights annually, with guests from more than 100 countries. One minute you’re strangers eating breakfast at the same table, the next minute you’re exchanging contact information to visit each other in your home state or country. And it’s these intercultural interactions that support our nonprofit mission to create a more tolerant world.


HI USA hostel at Pigeon Point

HI USA hostel at Pigeon Point, one of 3 HI USA lighthouse hostels


Hostelling is around 100 years old. However, the act of staying together in places is much longer. What are the benefits of staying in hostels while traveling?

Similar to my previous response, the biggest benefit is the people you meet. I think of our hostels like freshman year in college at the dorms. It’s fascinating meeting all these new people, and there are endless conversations into the wee hours of the morning just chatting about what it’s like back home. Our hostels are designed around communal spaces and shared experiences, so these conversations with strangers turned friends happen naturally and easily. When I look back at my own travels, my favorite places had less to do with the towns I was visiting and more to do with the people I met while I was there. Our city hostels in particular also offer regular outings and events to give guests a taste of the local culture, while also encouraging them to meet one another. We get tons of solo travelers, and I know I wouldn’t have survived my own solo travels without all the great people I met in hostels!


Patio at  HI New York City, which is the largest private outdoor space in all of Manhattan

HI New York City, which is the largest private outdoor space in all of Manhattan


HI USA with a pool! Houston

HI USA with a pool! Houston


And hostels aren't just for young people - who else generally stays in hostels?

While our hostels are primarily frequented by 18-30-year olds, people of all ages stay with us. Many people who hostel with us when they’re young fall in love with it and can’t imagine traveling any other way. In addition to solo travelers, we host groups of friends, couples, business travelers – really anyone who understands the experience we provide and wants to become a part of it.


HI Houston, which used to be the mayor's Mansion

HI Houston, which used to be the mayor's Mansion


Let's talk about the learning that occurs in hostels!

Our hostels are experiential learning at its best. While you’re on a walking tour, contributing to an impromptu potluck in the kitchen, or discussing with your international roommate what to wear that evening, you’re learning more about other people, places, and cultures. Our nonprofit mission is to create a more tolerant world, and this is achieved through the conversations and interactions that naturally occur at our hostels. So you’re having this fun experience meeting and befriending a community of travelers from across the globe, while gaining a deeper understanding of what life is like in all different corners of the world.


LIbrary, HI Boston,  LEED Silver Certified

Library, HI Boston (which is LEED Silver Certified)


What might people be surprised to learn about hostels?

Hostelling with HI USA is a travel preference that is based on the experience, not the price tag. At each of our hostels, you will find a community of like-minded travelers who want to share tips and stories, explore town together, or just have a good conversation. Our hostels offer a range of activities and events to get people out of their rooms and connecting with one another, from organized dinners and outings to walking tours to game nights. And since most of our hostels offer private rooms, you can get the privacy of a hotel room without being isolated. Our hostels are for people who enjoy meeting other people, whether they’re traveling alone, with friends, or on business. Hostelling often gets lumped into “budget travel,” but HI USA hostels are so much more than that.


HI Boston Dining Hall

HI Boston Dining Hall


HI Boston Kitchen

HI Boston Kitchen


Is there anything else you'd like to share?

In addition to hostel stays, HI USA offers educational programming and national initiatives to encourage more people to travel and to help support our mission. Many hostels offer free educational sessions, such as World Travel 101, Women Traveling Solo, or travelling in a particular country.

As an organization, HI USA hosts several programs throughout the year:

The Great Hostel Give Back – This programs offers groups of 10 or more a free night’s stay for each day the volunteer 2 hours or more within the community throughout January and February.

IOU Respect – Each year, young people ages 18-23 from Egypt, France, Germany, Lebanon, Tunisia, and the United States gather for this 2-week international exchange program. The program prioritizes dialogue and interactive learning opportunities to bridge cultural divides and increase understanding and respect in its participants. There is no cost to participate (aside from travel costs to the host country) and participants are determined through an application process. This year the program takes place in France and applications will come out in Spring.

Sleep For Peace – In celebration of the United Nationals International Day of Peace on September 21, HI USA hostels host activities and events unique to their locations to raise awareness to this important day. Last year, HI affiliates in nearly two dozen other countries also participated.


HI USA Boston

HI USA Boston Reception area


Learn more about HI USA at


Note: HI Boston is LEED Silver Certified and was just named the #2 Extra Large Hostel in the World and #1 hostel in the U.S. by HostelWorld (HI USA was named the #3 large chain in the world). More info is here:


All photos courtesy and copyright HIUSA