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Liz Hamill Mossbrae Falls

I have conquered Mossbrae Falls! On a road trip through north-central California.

Hey readers! This week I’ve got a guest post by Fiona Hill about road trips. She gave me some new things to try!

Road trips can be daunting for people suffering from invisible illnesses. We all know that unnecessary stresses can exacerbate everything from chronic pain to fatigue. So, does that mean that those of us suffering in relative silence should miss out on the trips that everyone else enjoys?

In short, no! With a little extra care and preparation, road trips when dealing with chronic pain and other ailments are possible. Check out these tips to make sure you’re comfortable and enjoying yourself! 

Before You Leave

If you have a long journey planned try to make sure you are well rested before the journey starts. Organize everything you need in advance, including medication to avoid rushing and becoming stressed, as stress often triggers conditions like fibromyalgia. Have an itinerary planned for your journey and for your break when you arrive at your destination, and factor in a day of rest before you travel back.

Your Throne

Possibly the most important part of any road trip when you are suffering from an invisible illness is your seat. Whether you will be seated for an hour or 8 hours (we hope not), it’s important that you are comfortable. Whether you rent a car or are driving your own make sure the seat you will be occupying is comfortable by using a mesh back support or an orthopedic back pillow that will give you extra support and help you to maintain your posture during the drive. You can also pick up neck support pillows at most retailers that will ward off neck aches and pains. The better your posture the less stiff you will become.

When your seat is as comfortable as possible you might want to think about some simple stretching exercises you can do whilst in the car to prevent any stiffness that will soon turn into pain, as well as fighting off fatigue. Head to http://www.drivetimeyoga.com/roadtripstretches for information on road trip body stretches, including ‘Stoplight Yoga’ and the ‘Tailbone Tuck’.

Baggage

Think carefully about how much luggage you need to take, especially if you’ll need to unload or load it by yourself. Heavy lifting can make your symptoms worse leaving you unable to enjoy your trip.

That said; don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. What’s worse? Asking a stranger for help or dealing with days of pain by pushing your body too much?

Stop! Restroom Time!

Planning your journey with rest stops is important. No matter how comfortable your seat is or how well planned the start of your journey was, nothing beats a good break! If you’re aware of restrooms and roadside dining options along the way you can avoid mad panics when you feel a bout of fatigue or pain beginning. Where possible you should find out as much as possible about the rest stops along your journey, do they have the correct facilities for you? Are they known to be clean? How large are the toilet stalls? Do they have handrails? (Liz: Are they safe and comfortable for solo/female travelers?)

When Hunger Strikes

Staying well hydrated and well fed during your journey ensures that you have the energy to continue. It’s especially important to eat a healthy breakfast. Avoid snacks that are laden with sugar that leave your system quickly and choose foods that will provide both instant and slow release energy like dried fruits, nuts, bananas, whole-grain bread and a splash of coffee.

If you need to stay alert, chew peppermint gum; the chewing motion and minty flavour will help you to stay awake. (Unless you’ve got TMJ and can’t chew gum—in that case, sucking mints can do similar things. –Liz) Chewing apple slices has the same effect and will also boost your fructose levels.

How do you cope with your invisible illness during road trips? If you have any tips or tricks then let us know. Check out Liz’s post on 10 Ways to Screw Up Travelling with Pain.

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The plane bathroom on a Singapore Air flight by scurzuzu on flickr

The plane bathroom on a Singapore Air flight by scurzuzu on flickr

Oh how I hate airplane bathrooms. But then, doesn’t everybody? They’re tiny, they’re smelly, and sometimes you get to wait in line for half an hour or more for the privilege of squashing yourself into the cubicle. Yippee.

But I know that as bad as airplane bathrooms are, I’m lucky I can use them. On most airlines both major and minor, wheelchair users who can’t walk at all must…make other arrangements. When I stopped and thought about having to wear a catheter just to fly, I suddenly felt much better about the stinking cubicle.

Here’s how I make dealing with airplane bathrooms more bearable:

  • Use ’em as little as possible. That means I make time to visit the restrooms in the airport before I board.
  • Go easy on the diuretic drinks–that is, alcohol and caffeinated soda.
  • Keep hydrated…to a point. While I don’t do well at all if I let myself get dehydrated when I fly, I don’t spend whole flights chugging or sipping either.
  • Know when high-use times are, and avoid them. Everybody on the plane will want to use the bathroom after they’ve finished their meal. Another rush happens in the “wakey wakey” time after the sleep period on long-haul flights. Mini-rushes can happen right after the seat-belt sign goes off, and soon before it comes back on before final descent.
  • Try my best to time my bathroom trips to avoid rush hour. The instant the Seat Belt sign dings off, I bolt out of my seat and get to the bathroom as close to first as I can. Then I wait until the after-food bathroom lines die down and go when everyone else is getting settled with a movie or a pillow.
  • Pay attention towards the end of the flight. For me, it’s not just uncomfortable to “hold it” if I miss my window to use the bathroom before descent. It can be agonizing. So I keep track of how long I’ve been on the plane and what the flight attendants are doing, and make sure I get up and use the bathroom just before the plane descends.

Do you have any other tricks you use to deal with airplane bathrooms? Drop a comment here…

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overleaf_lodge_ocva

Photo (c) OVCA on flickr.com

I broke just about every rule I’ve ever made on this site when I stayed at the Overleaf Lodge and Spa. I was flaky about getting a reservation, so ended up calling to get the room at the Overleaf less than 24 hours before I arrived. I chose the Overleaf based on its convenient and pretty location as described on its own web site, rather than by looking at reviews and analyzing how its amenities would work for my physical needs. And I was Not Well Prepared(tm) for my stay–we had no food, no personal pillow, etc.

Just goes to show that y’all should Do As I Say, Not As I Do. Also, it’s better to be lucky than good. Without further ado, the wonder and joy that is the Overleaf Lodge.

The Basics

The Overleaf Lodge is a big spa hotel on the central Oregon Coast. It’s a newer hotel, built as an eco-lodge, with a lot of attention paid to sustainability programs. (They recycle the used bar soap. I love that!) The Overleaf sits just north of the town of Yachats (pronounced ya-HOTS), Oregon. If you’re not familiar with Oregon geography, be aware that the Overleaf is nowhere near Portland or any major city or airport.

Expect to pay a minimum of $150 for a basic room in the off-season, and $210 in high season. If you need cheaper accommodations, the Overleaf’s sister property the Fireside Motel lives next door and runs far less expensive (especially for the non-view rooms). But this review does NOT include the Fireside.

The Bedroom

Our standard King room was friggin’ huge. There was room to turn a wheelchair, though we were not in an ADA room. The bed was soft and fluffy and comfy–I sank into it upon entering and didn’t re-emerge for more than an hour.

The room has a TV & DVD player, but they don’t overwhelm the space. A small table sat in an alcove of windows looking out over the ocean. Our room was not one of the best view rooms, which meant that we were looking south toward the ocean rather than west toward the ocean. All our windows still looked over the water (which is only about 10 yards from the hotel). We were in the midst of an energetic winter storm, but the well-sealed double-paned windows and sliding glass door kept the room quiet all night long. The surf was a gentle echo.

We had a tiny balcony with plastic chairs and table. Didn’t use it on account of the cold and wind and rain, but in the summer it would have been lovely.

The rooms come with a kitchen area in an interesting open space leading to the sinks and bathroom. This kitchen is especially nice–it’s got a fridge with mini-freezer, microwave, coffee maker, cabinets, counters, and bar sink.

Most/all rooms have gas fireplaces. We found that turning on the gas fireplace for about 90 minutes heated up our room for the duration of our overnight stay. Whatever the Overleaf used for insulation in their walls, I want to buy some for my own house!

There’s free wi-fi in all guest rooms.

Grade: A

The Bathroom

We had double sinks in a nice wide usable area.

The bathroom itself was small, but the tub was deep-ish and comfortable. For a bit more $$, you can get one of the many spa tub rooms. We were being all budget-conscious and one thing the Overleaf ain’t is cheap, so I passed on the spa tub. Sigh. Maybe next time.

Towels were thick and numerous. Robes were comfy. Toilet paper was average.

Grade: B

Food & Drink

Here’s where the Overleaf totally won me over. We got breakfast with our room rate, which my wonderful husband went down and raided, then brought up to me so I could sleep in. They don’t use paper or plastic tableware–it’s all crockery & metal, which I like for its sustainability. The range of continental breakfast options was, in my opinion, well above average. (But you should know that I hate the scary pseudo “fresh waffles” offered at Holiday Inn Express.) All well and good.

Here’s the Awesome: The Overleaf has a small “pantry” in the lobby. This contains the usual sundries some hotels sell–toothbrushes and shampoo and granola bars. But they’ve also got a big freezer filled with microwaveable meals they’re purchasing at Trader Joe’s and reselling. They’ve also got wine, beer, and some shelf-stable food items. Having arrived exhausted at the hotel, and having been dreading the need to drive into town to eat dinner that night, my husband and I were beyond thrilled to see this. And the Overleaf lets guests grab plates and silverware from the breakfast area to take up to rooms to use for meals.

Grade: A

Common Areas

The Overleaf has a big lobby with lots of seating. They’ve got a tiny gift shop area that sits in the middle of the lobby. The hotel is easy enough to navigate. It’s got elevators (always a good thing from my POV).

A downside during winter: It’s cold and windy in the outdoor breezeways–bring a coat if you’ve got to get something out of your car. You can’t get close to most rooms via vehicle.

There’s a DVD library…but it’s a rental library and I found the price to rent a DVD to be stupid-steep. If you want to watch movies in your room, I’d recommend BYO.

Grade: B-

Service

Both on the phone and live in person, I found the majority of the service folks to be very friendly, helpful, and accommodating. The desk staff know the hotel–you can ask them questions and they’ll know the answers.

Grade: A

The Spa

Know that this review is based on looking in on the spa rather than using it. I wish I’d had the chance to enjoy this spa–it looks amazing!

Hotel guests get access to the hydrotherapy areas of the on-site spa–which means the hot tub and warm pool that overlook the ocean. I love this area so much–it evokes some of the wonder of the hot tubs at Esalen, with a more upscale indoor environment. (Also, swimsuits are required.) You also get access to the locker room (of course), which isn’t huge but is gorgeous and has upholstered armchairs for TWP who need to sit down comfortably. The locker rooms also have gender-segregated steam rooms and saunas.

The Overleaf Spa’s menu of treatments includes most of the standards you find at an eco-style spa–less facial peels and more seaweed and mud wraps. For TWP, what I like is the range of hydrotherapy treatments the Overleaf offers. They’ve got a Vichy shower room for their body treatments, plus they do a range of Soaks in individual tubs–these can be added to massages and other treatments for a super-relaxing spa day.

Grade: n/a ’cause I didn’t actually use it

Outside

A paved trail runs between the hotel and the sea. While I’d describe this trail as at best semi-accessible for wheelchair users (paving is old and not there at all in places, in the dirt/gravel areas the ruts can be nasty), it’s reasonably TWP-friendly. It’s a flat, easy walk with immense amounts of beauty all around. Even in the cold and wind, it was worth walking for the staggering sight of the Pacific crashing into the rocks.

There’s no beach to speak of. You’ll have to drive a little or walk a bunch if you want to plop down into the sand or hunt for shells & driftwood.

The Overleaf offers a wide range of outdoor activities to its guests. Ask when you make your reservation, or when you check in, if you want to go hiking or horseback riding or golfing or dune buggying or fishing or etc etc.

Grade: A-

The Bottom Line

The Overleaf Lodge and Spa is a fabulous TWP hotel. Not only would I stay there again, I’d make a point of it.

Grade: A-

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On British Museum steps

My beloved fiance sitting on the steps of the British Museum

I spent last week in London to celebrate my dad’s birthday. My family are a bunch of unabashed and unashamed museum geeks, so we went hog wild. We visited the Museum of London, the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, and the Victoria & Albert–three separate times.

I discovered, to my joy, that London museums make great refuges for a traveler with pain.

Getting In

Most of the major museums in London are free. FREE. Which means that anyone who’d like to come in out of the (near-endless) rain can just walk in and shelter in the British or the V&A. The big free museums in London that I know of are:

For a fairly complete* list of free museums and other cheap stuff to do in London, check out this Fodor’s article.

Benches V&A London

Nice soft squishy bench seats with backs on the 3rd floor in the V&A

Sitting Down

Bench placement varies by museum. The British has lots of benches scattered in its major galleries, so that I could lounge at my ease while appreciating great art. On the other hand, the Museum of London doesn’t have many benches in the good galleries.

It took me a while to realize that instead of benches, the London museums all have racks of ultra-light black camp stools. Again–FREE.

For me, lugging a seat around so that I can sit down wherever I want involves a trade-off–convenience vs. encumbrance. In this case, I found that the convenience of sitting in front of any bit of art I wanted to enjoy while resting won. Your mileage may vary.

Eating and Drinking

The Tate Gallery in London originated the upscale museum cafe concept. I didn’t eat in the Natural History, but visited the cafes in all the other museums. Good stuff. All provide healthy full-meal options and reasonable numbers of seats for diners. I stuck with the lower-priced cafeteria-style museum eateries (the British has a full-fledged white-tablecloth restaurant too).

Outside the British Museum

Sometimes you've just gotta lie down: A pack of youthful folks chilling out in front of the British Museum

Using the Bathroom

Being that the museums are free, the bathrooms tend to be a bit overused. Expect lines at the popular museums, and a fair bit of dirt. There are wheelchair accessible stalls and rooms in all the museums, but these can be tough to find depending on the museum. You get what you pay for. *shrug*

The Bottom Line

Museums in London are heaven-sent for travelers with pain. Free entry to climate control. Public restrooms. Free seating in galleries filled with great art. Easy access to water and real food.

Absolutely fabulous.

* This kind of information about attractions changes constantly. Please don't hold it against me (or Fodor's) if they're not 100% accurate.

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Westfield Center San Francisco inside

A charming seating arrangement inside the Westfield San Francisco Centre

I’m not a mall rat. Even as a (misfit awkward) teenager, I hung out at all-night diners rather than retail havens. Today, I find malls useful but often dull–they’ve all got the same set of boutiques and department stores selling the same items regardless of what town or even country I’m in.

But now, as a traveler with pain, I’ve come to find the value in a good old-fashioned shopping mall. Not so much in the shops, unless I need to restock my supply of L’Occitane foot cream. But in the amenities.

Restrooms

They’re not the cleanest public bathrooms in the world, but mall stalls aren’t usually the dirtiest either. Malls often have family restrooms, so that people who need help can get it with minimal hassle, staring, and rude comments. And unless the latest boy band or the casting producers of America’s Next Top Model are holding court, most mall restrooms don’t have horrible lines.

Some malls even have “family rooms” adjacent to the restrooms. These usually have cubicles for nursing moms who prefer privacy; some also have toddler play areas and armchairs where travelers with pain can kick back and rest for a little while.

Korean barbecue

My $10 plate of Korean barbecue--I especially liked the clear noodles and crisp veggies

Food & Drink

Malls have plenty of both, from the pedestrian offerings at the food court up to overpriced but decent sit-down restaurants. Travelers with pain (or diabetes, or thyroid troubles, or hypoglycemia) need to keep hydrated and fueled, or a trip can start going downhill and gathering speed. A mall’s an easy place to find a bottle of water and a snack anytime between 9am-9pm.

Climate Control

Need to cool off on a super-hot summer day? Freezing solid and desperate to get out of the rain/snow/icy wind? A mall can hook you up, pronto. That sort of comfort can change a whole trip for a traveler with temperature-sensitive chronic pain. (And doesn’t all chronic pain seem to be temp-sensitive, one way or the other?)

Seating

Cheap malls have benches. Expensive malls have armchairs. Whatever the price range of the mall, they all have places for weary travelers to drop their bags and their bodies down for a rest. After all, if exhausted shoppers had no place to sit, they might leave the mall without spending any more money.

Many malls have squishy upholstered seats and a reason to sit down for more than an hour…er, movie theaters. For $10, I can give myself an excuse to take a real 2-hour rest. After a movie, I can leave the mall feeling refreshed and ready to tackle another round of tourist attractions.

Supplies

Sometimes I do find I need L’Occitane foot cream, or underpants, or a new camera battery when I’m traveling. Other times I need new clothes, if that bag I checked got lost or delayed in transit or if I spilled red wine on a key piece of apparel. Mall stores come in handy for those sorts of needs. While I prefer to do my souvenir shopping in local independent stores, I don’t feel that same need when I’m hunting for a new USB cable or a plain white t-shirt.

Surprises

When I was in San Francisco the other day, I found myself in the Union Square area at dinnertime. In Union Square, the food options tend toward bad, overpriced sit-down restaurants, super-expensive fine dining, and fast food. So I asked the cute little 16-year-old-looking clerk in the H&M where I was buying a cotton tank top where I could find something cheap that wasn’t fast food. He told me that the best cheap food to be had anywhere near Union Square was in the food court area of the Westfield Centre mall.

Seriously? He was totally right.

I got a big plate of tasty Korean barbecue (and a chair, despite it being right about 7pm) for $10. I could have gotten fresh baked goods, Mediterranean food, vegan dishes, or fancy (but still cheap) Italian–all from walk-ups. Everything was far better than what I usually find at my local suburban malls.

The Bottom Line

They’re not unique. They’re not sexy. Most travel writers eschew malls as though they carried the black plague (while rhapsodizing about places where you can actually get black plague, but you won’t find a Gap Kids within a thousand miles). But the plain fact is that a mall can save a traveler with pain.

You don’t actually need to buy anything to take advantage of the creature comforts inside a mall. So drop on in to the Westfield Whatever, sit for a dozen minutes, get comfortable, grab a drink or some dinner, and get your equilibrium back.

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A San Francisco Cable Car - A Mobile Landmark

A recent article on Huffington Post’s Travel channel describing one travel writer’s “Most Overrated Travel Experiences.”

As always, pretty much all of Mr. Juddery’s picks for “overrated” are sites and attractions commonly described as “on the beaten path,” usually in sneering tones by travel writers who strongly favor backpacker’s hostels and “authentic” travel experiences that skip museums, monuments, clean bathrooms, and reliably safe food.

What seems to get missed in these more-traveler-than-thou articles is that lots of people have never been to Paris/New York/Tokyo/Yellowstone before. Easy (if shameful) example: I’ve never been to Washington D.C. When I make it to my nation’s capitol, I will see the Washington Monument, take the White House tour, and get lost in the Smithsonian Museum. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that itinerary.

As for fancy restaurants being somehow unworthy…well that’s just wrong for travelers of every ability level. Anyone who visits San Francisco or the Napa Valley and skips the stunning high-end restaurants will NOT find hole-in-the-wall food that’s “better” in any sense of the word. (Though there’s some good cheap food in both regions.) In addition, such luckless tourists will miss out on an important part of local life and culture in central California. We’re a bunch of foodies in this neck of the woods, and we go out to dinner at places like Masa, Fleur de Lys, Michael Mina, Etoile, and Bouchon for birthdays, anniversaries, and (if we’re lucky) Thursdays. After a year of saving up, we calculate dates and program our phones for speed dial at 8:45am to gain the privilege of spending $500 per person for a meal at the legendary French Laundry.

So what has all this got to do with travelers with pain? Quite a bit.

1. If I’ve got the money for it, I’m going to stay in a resort hotel. Will I pick an independent if there are nice ones at my destination? Yes. But if the only indie choices are hostels and cheap motels, I’ll take the Hilton every single time. Yup, it’ll be the same as every other Hilton–same comfortable beds, same clean private bathrooms with soaking tubs, same working elevators, same bell assistance and room service available.

2. Fancy restaurants have the ability and inclination to cater to all sorts of dietary restrictions. Ethnic holes in the wall have neither. ‘Nuff said.

3. Landmarks and monuments, so long as you haven’t already seen them a dozen times, tend to be some of the easiest places to visit for travelers with pain. They’re often accessible to wheelchairs. They often have restrooms, elevators, and places to sit indoors. Benches for gawkers tend to cluster just outside of landmarks and monuments. And if they don’t, we can take a quick look, take that silly photo, and leave.

But leave with a feeling of accomplishment–by visiting the Eiffel Tower or the Washington Monument or the Great Wall of China or the World’s Largest Thermometer, we’ve gone out into the world and seen one of its landmarks. For a healthy person who can go literally anywhere in the world without having to spend so much as 5 minutes thinking about their physical health, spending half an hour admiring an architectural wonder probably seems commonplace and dull. For a traveler with pain, it can be a major big deal.

4. Other attractions that sit squarely in the middle of the beaten path, like churches and museums and gardens and famous houses, tend to be the most accessible to travelers with pain and all sorts of disabilities–hidden and visible. Such places often have restrooms and benches and concessions–those little creature comforts that off-the-beaten-path places don’t have in abundance…or at all. Those little creature comforts that can make the difference between an enjoyable trip and a disastrous pain flare in an unfamiliar place.

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Jazz on the Town Hostel, East Village NYC

Everyone’s been waxing poetic about the joys of hostelling lately. Hostels are cheap, they’re ubiquitous in the Western world, and they’ve got cachet with the  I’m-No-Tourist- I’m-a-TRAVELER™ community.

But for me and other travelers with pain, hostelling is a mixed bag at best.

The Good

As a working travel writer (please read here: deeply broke), what I love most about hostels is the price. At $15-$25 per night for a bed with a mattress indoors, I know of few lodgings that can beat hostels for budget traveling. (Camping With Pain will be a separate post.)

 These days, some hostels really give good value for the money. I particularly like the Redwood Hostel on the northern California coast—the newer wooden bunk beds gleam, clean, fresh smelling sheets and towels are included, and the location (in the midst of the redwood forest, across the highway from the Pacific Ocean) can’t be beat.

In  addition to gender segregated and co-ed dorm rooms, many hostels offer one or two private or “family” rooms. At $50-$100 per night, that’s not much better pricewise than a cheap motel, but they offer more privacy and comfort for me if I’m not feeling well. So I’ll choose based on what I know of the motels and hostels in any given area. Some hostels are pits, some are gorgeous. Hidden Villa Hostel in tony Los Altos, California boasts the best of sustainable architecture set on an organic farm and ranch that backs onto the hiking trails of the Santa Cruz Mountains. On the other hand, the Downtown San Francisco hostel sits adjacent to the dirty and dangerous Tenderloin, and seems to bring a lot of that neighborhood inside. Especially the smell.

I might pick a hostel over a comparable motel if I’m feeling sociable. I love chatting up hostel owners, who tend to be passionate about their regions and great sources of information about where to eat, what to see, and how to do it all cheap. They’ll know little about how to work around a chronic disability—disabled folks aren’t usually a hostel’s bread-and-butter clientele. But if I want a companion or four to hang out with, it’s easy enough to hook up with fellow travelers for a night out or a night in, cooking in the ubiquitous hostel common kitchen and chatting in the living spaces.

Hostel kitchens build in another big cost savings while traveling—food. I often prefer to cook many of my own meals on the road—it’s a great way to sample the best of local farmer’s markets and cook-at-home specialties while saving money, and the pinch of fridge space and dash of stove time make that possible.

The Bad

There’s nothing to cap a pain-ridden travel day quite like drunk people staggering loudly into my dorm room in the middle of the night, turning on the lights, talking for a while, then crashing into the bunk above me and proceeding to snore until dawn. And in a $20 hostel dorm bed, this happens. Staying out late drinking and clubbing, then failing to respect the sleep of dorm-mates is part of hostel culture. As the sick one wanting quiet sleep from midnight on, I’m the odd one out, not them. Expecting a bunch of strangers to cater to my medical needs…isn’t reasonable and doesn’t work.

In a hostel I don’t have any control over temperature in my room. I can ask the staff to adjust the thermostat, but that’s about it. And it’s not like most hostels include fluffy comforters to snuggle beneath. Granted, more hostels offer bedding included with the price these days. (Check that before you arrive, or you could get a nasty surprise!) But I must lug around an extra blanket and my own pillow to guarantee a reasonably comfortable  sleep. And if I can’t sleep, I can’t travel successfully, period.

Hostels don’t have private bathrooms, and I hate dealing with hall bathrooms in the middle of the night in a hostel or hotel full of strangers. At best I feel unwarm; at worst, unsafe. Of course there’s nothing so comfortable as a bathtub—I’m lucky to find hot enough, clean enough stall showers in almost all hostels. Cheap shower shoes are friends of hostellers the world over.  

It’s a rare hostel that boasts a working elevator, and if I’m not feeling well I’m not able to slog bags up and down stairs. Urban hostels often have several flights; rural hostels tend toward uneven ground with hills. Even if US accessibility requirements have been ostensibly met, I usually need some extra energy to negotiate your lodgings.

Almost always, hostelling means more physical strain than staying in a motel (though less than camping). Stuffing luggage into lockers, climbing stairs, climbing bunk bed ladders, making my own bed, washing dishes, and getting around the property must all be factored in to a hostel stay.

The Ugly

I’ve been to some repulsive hostels–dirty, smelly, and dangerously located

Sanitation in any given hostel depends on how good the staff is and how much the operators care. It’s almost never great, and it can be terrifyingly bad. If you’ve got serious food allergies, look at the pots and utensils in a hostel kitchen with suspicion—it’s anyone’s guess as to what’s been on them, and how well (or otherwise) cleaned they’ve been.

Need a comfortable mattress to get a good night’s sleep? Good luck. Hostel mattresses run from reasonable to wretched. In the private rooms, I see a lot of futons. I find old futon mattresses only a little bit less comfortable to sleep on than linoleum.

Got allergies, scent sensitivities, light or sound issues? Tough. Chances that you’ll convince the 3-7 strangers in your room to conform to your requirements are slim to none. Hostels cater primarily to young, fit, backpackers who like their nightlife. Travelers staying in hostels may drink, smoke, and do drugs in the room or on the property—it’s part of hostel culture. This means that it’s really a bad idea to advertise that I take narcotic painkillers. I don’t talk about them, and I keep them secured day and night.

The Bottom Line

I can’t usually stay in hostels. I’ve got too many needs that hostels just can’t meet, such as guaranteed quiet while I’m sleeping and private bathroom facilities. Your mileage may vary—if you can manage hostels, they are a great way to get out and travel on the cheap. But before you book your hostel beds, think hard about what you really need to be baseline comfortable when you travel. There’s more than money at stake; the physical cost of travel can be high for travelers with pain, and staying in a hostel puts me over my budget for pain.

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