What am I doing here?!
I’m not your typical traveller. My name is Marcia and I am the singer of London-based ska/punk/hip hop band The Skints. Touring life means that more often than not, I’ve spent most of my time in airports, gas stations, laundromats and coffee shops. Yes, I know, I know, we get to travel a lot as musicians, but I certainly can’t claim to have truly experienced every place I’ve geographically been in. I recently embarked on a solo adventure to New York City. I’ve always been more of a hotel sort of person, but figured, it was time to see if there was any truth to the hostel hype, especially as New York accommodation can be so expensive. Rather than race from place to place, checking off items from the itinerary, I figured I would take some time to explore the streets, see the sights, and really slip into the fabric of what makes the Big Apple so great. While researching where to stay in New York, i found a bunch of awesome hostels around the city. Time to experience the life of a hosteller in NYC…
When strangers become kindred spirits
Brooklyn, New York – The International Students Residence
It sounds simple I know, but when you’re used to hotels you rarely get to experience the idea of meeting people from all over the world, with whom you can instantly bond over your mutual love of travelling. This was my first time properly travelling solo, and I’m really not the type of person to strike up conversations with strangers, but somehow the hostel environment made people I met not actually feel like strangers.
On the very first day I met a beautiful girl called Zara. We sat for ages and talked about our jobs, our lives at home, etc. We live in completely different worlds and lead totally different lives, but there we were, hanging out on a hostel sofa, drinking coffee, watching TV, chatting about nothing and everything. I immediately understood how people get addicted to travelling for weeks on end. This was so much better than being cooped up all lonely in a hotel room!
The rooms here are more like partitions in one huge communal room, with lockable doors. In the evening you can hear the soft murmur of other people on your floor chatting, laughing and speaking different languages to each other. I genuinely loved the funny little experience I was sharing with these strangers from all over the world.
You haven’t lived until you’ve had a rainbow bagel
I woke up the next day to the sound of more giggling and chatting. It was refreshing. I was wide awake at 7am and wanted to explore Brooklyn, specifically Williamsburg where the hostel is located. Williamsburg is amazing. I would actually compare it to Shoreditch in London: gentrified, artsy, a little rough round the edges but full of creatives.
I found a great cafe on Union Ave called The West. As well as boasting locally roasted coffee and espresso, food and fresh baked goods, the joint actually doubles as a cocktail bar with an impressive selection of craft beers. Everything is wooden, with hand written chalk menus, huge light bulbs with artsy filaments and a friendly face behind the bar. I remember seeing a guy behind me munching avocado toast as he painted with water colours!
I highly recommend visiting The Bagel Store on Metropolitan Ave. You’ve probably seen their bagels on Tumblr and Instagram! I bought a sweet rainbow and a delicious savoury bagel, and strolled down to the water’s edge, dipping into various boutiques, retro clothing stores and antique shops on the way.
It’s all about location baby!
Manhattan, New York – The New York Budget Inn
One of the best places to stay in NYC, is The New York Budget Inn. It’s right off Park Avenue, just a short walk from the Empire State Building, Times Square, Madison Square Garden, and close to the M train. From the name I was expecting it to feel more ‘budget,’ but it just felt warm and welcoming. The room was stylish, with an old-timey radiator and a tall window through which you could see the classic NYC fire escape.
I know it’s touristy, but I fully recommend going up the Empire State Building if you get the chance! My jaw dropped when I saw the view. On the observation deck you can go outside and walk around the building. It’s breathtaking on every side and worth every penny. Next time I will definitely get tickets to the 102nd floor; I can only imagine how epic the view from that height must be.
The big secret to happy hostellers? Donuts of course!
I was up early again the next morning, so I decided to check out Central Park. On my way out of the hostel, the guy at reception reminded me to grab some coffee and donuts on my way out as they serve free Dunkin’ Donuts every morning to their guests! The park is huge and I felt like I kept discovering new things all day. I’m about to sound very British lol, but I joined a few other spectators on the surrounding benches to watch my first ever baseball game. I later hopped on the subway to the meatpacking district and took the most beautiful walk along the High Line, a beautiful public park/walkway built on an historic freight rail line that runs above the streets. I also made sure to pop into the famous Magnolia Bakery for a cup cake on my way back to the subway!
I felt that going to Ground Zero and seeing the memorial for the tragic attacks on 9/11 was very important while in NYC. I can honestly say it took my breath away. Clear, immaculate water running to the centre of eternal black marble, the memorial is vast, haunting and truly beautiful. I didn’t listen to music on the subway home for once. I just sat with my thoughts.
Chill out cushion caves are #lifegoals
Queens, New York – The Q4 Hostel
I got off the train just in time to watch the sun set over the Queensboro Bridge. You can’t miss the Q4 Hostel as you approach it – an impressively lit and welcoming white building. The lobby felt luxurious and cool, just like the other hostels I’d already been to. The staff at reception were unwaveringly helpful and friendly. One of them even asked if I was still going to be here on karaoke night! I wish! I went to check out the basement immediately, which turned out to be the perfect chill zone, ha! As well as an open plan kitchen area there was a pool table, a movie projector, books, guitars and even a cute little cave lined with cushions and bean bags.
My bedroom was cute, with a big comfortable bed and beautiful covers! Natural light poured through the huge window that looked out over Queensboro Plaza. I was flying out to LA early the next morning to begin touring, so I decided to stay in that night. The Wi-Fi was excellent so I switched on Netflix, painted my nails, and got to know some lovely strangers in the common area! People came and went, and some stayed and watched TV with me. Others brought a book and would curl up with it in the corner for a while. It was the most social and enjoyable experience I’ve ever had with strangers.
The next day I reluctantly checked out and made my way to JFK, ready to begin my tour. The past few days had almost felt like a dream! The hostels all being in different parts of town meant I explored such a wide area of NYC in such a short amount of time. Just like London, the differences between the many areas of New York are massive, steeped in culture and history. I found myself falling hard for this city.
I loved all the hostels so much. It’s so important to feel welcome and safe when you’re travelling alone and so far from home. I know there are dozens more amazing NYC hostels, and I am itching to see them all. I travel so much with the band and stay in a LOT of hotels, but this experience was way better. I wasn’t just excited to discover new parts of town and see the sights, I was excited to check out the different kinds of hostels, and meet new people if only for one night. Feeling that sense of anticipation adds a wonderful edge to your travelling experience, not to mention the incredible affordability of hostels compared with hotels.
I began this journey as a complete newbie, but consider me converted!
Heading to New York? Check out the city’s hostels!
If you liked this article, check out:
- 10 Of The Best Places To Travel Solo