One of the best pieces of advice I received to prepare for the Camino was from Nancy Reynolds. In her presentation The Camino Experience she suggested staying at hostels to get familiar with the albergue lifestyle. One month before my Camino, I managed to do so, and I am so glad I did!
I hadn’t stayed in a hostel since my college days with three friends on an epic Eurail trip on a shoestring budget. After a few bad incidents involving a theft and cockroaches, I swore I’d never stay in a hostel again. Yet here I am, twenty-five years later, wanting to stay in these hostel-like albergues! The Camino works in mysterious ways.
Hostelling International, formerly known as International Youth Hostel Federation, coordinates more than seventy National Associations in over eighty countries that have more than three thousand affiliated hostels around the world. Who knew they don’t call them youth hostels anymore?
Nancy told the standing-room-only crowd of Camino enthusiasts at REI about Hosteling International USA, a great network of hostels in America. In fact, she works at a hostel in Point Reyes, California. How convenient! After hearing this, I let go of my fear of roaches and thieves and did some research. It turns out that Point Reyes Hostel is the first LEED certified hostel in America. Although it is rather luxurious, with Tempur-Pedic mattresses and organic cotton sheets, it is its location by the Point Reyes National Seashore that visitors find most attractive. Check out this video.
After Nancy’s presentation, I was convinced that I needed to give hostels another chance. I thought that instead of going alone, I could find others who would want to gain this hostel experience, too. And so, on Saturday, April 9, I collaborated with Bay Area hike leader Richard Duker on a “Hike and Hostel Stay” in Point Reyes. I had promoted the event through our NorCal APOC chapter and on this blog. Even though rain was in the forecast, Richard and I decided not to cancel the event. Despite the rain, twenty-five brave pilgrims gathered for the hike. One couple came from as far as Incline Village, Nevada! This proved my theory that if you plan a Camino training hike, someone will always show up. The day turned out to be a great opportunity not only to test rain gear but also to meet other pilgrims. After dinner at Cafe Reyes in Point Reyes Station, twelve of us stayed at the Point Reyes Hostel.
Lessons learned at the hostel:
Earplugs do help. You can get free earplugs at the check-in at the Point Reyes Hostel. On the Camino, however, you won’t, so bring your own.
Sleeping mask. You get a better sleep in total darkness, so use a sleeping mask. A buff will work and might keep those earplugs from getting lost if they fall out!
Assemble a handy night pack. Fill a fabric bag (no noisy plastic!) with things you might need at night, like a set of earplugs, a mask, lip balm, moisturizer, tissues, cough suppressants, and medication. Fill your water bottle and keep it close by. You should have a small LED flashlight or your cell phone near you, as the glow of the screen is all you need to illuminate your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
Bring your own shampoo, soap, washcloth, and towel. I had been out of the hostel lifestyle for so long that I forgot they don’t provide you with amenities like soap or shampoo. Duh! This hostel had towels, but when on the Camino, you ought to make sure you have your own quick drying washcloth and towel.
Wine isn’t allowed at the Point Reyes Hostel. This is so unlike albergues in Spain! But we respected the rules of the house. We had a nice dinner with wine in Point Reyes Station before settling in at the hostel.
There’s no Wi-Fi or cell phone signal at the Point Reyes Hostel. Not having Internet connection or phone reception is actually great practice for the Camino—in most of the albergues I stayed at when walking Camino Portugués, Wi-Fi didn’t work well.
Breakfast. Get something to eat for breakfast the night before and put your food in the refrigerator. In Point Reyes Station, there’s an awesome bakery, Bovine Bakery. For a savory and satisfying breakfast, I recommend their quiche.
Coffee. At the hostel, you can get freshly ground coffee for $1 that you can brew in a French press, which is extremely easy to use. Albergues along Camino Portugués had only stove-top Italian coffee makers, which, in my opinion, are hard to clean and don’t make nearly enough coffee to share with your groggy pilgrim friends. If you are a coffeeholic, bring some instant coffee packets to get you through to your next stop.
The feedback from those who went was very positive. Everyone was glad we didn’t cancel the hike. One of the gals had never stayed in a bunk bed before, and she just completed the Camino Frances.
I learned more tips from bunking it in municipal albergues, which I will share in future posts. If you have the opportunity to stay in a hostel before your Camino, it can help prepare you for communal experience of albergues. Special thanks to Nancy Reynolds, the Point Reyes Hostel‘s “Hostess with the Mostess.”
To reserve a hostel stay, visit https://www.hihostels.com/