As a family traveler writer and a youth group leader, I got voted to plan our trip to New York City for a handful of high school girls. Packed with an itinerary full of museums and must-dos, I needed budget-friendly lodging for a group. My go-to for Europe, a HI hostel, provided what I needed for planning a NYC trip for a youth group on a budget.
Our mission, to learn urban travel skills so the girls had the skills they needed to travel the world as young adults.
Urban Travel Skills
What are urban travel skills? Knowing how to travel in urban areas using public transportation along with budget-friendly lodging options.
Traveling in the U.S. is a bit different than traveling other parts of the developed world. Travel can be expensive in the U.S. especially for young adults and college students who don’t have reliable cars or are too young to rent cars.
Traveling exclusively by air is expensive and cumbersome. Just think about hauling yourself and your luggage to-and-from airports without the use of a car. Train travel, like Amtrak, is inconsistent throughout the U.S.
I wanted to teach our girls how to travel using different modes of transportation, like subways, ferries, commuter trains, trams, ride-share and cabs. To do that, New York City topped my list for destinations more than any other urban center.
With transportation figured out, I wanted to show the girls where to stay when traveling on their own as young adults. During my 20s, I strapped on a backpack and explored Europe with a rail pass and hostel membership card. It was fun and I wanted to give the girls the confidence to do it on their own.
A hostel is an inexpensive place to stay that provides basic lodging for all. Some are private and others are part of a federation, like Hosteling International.
Hosteling International (HI) is a federation of 70 national youth hostel associations. Formerly known as the International Youth Hostel Federation, Hosteling International began in 1932 and is classified as a charity.
Years back, there was an age limit for hostels but that’s been eliminated at most hostels. Open to all, though it still appeals to college-age students.
Planning a NYC trip for a Youth Group
According to HI, a group is 10 or more people traveling together. For students under 18, the group must be in a room of their own and have adult chaperones staying at the hostel.
Hosteling International caters to groups with a special reservation line to handle groups sales. For our nine-person group, we bought out a ten-bunk room.
Breakfast can be prearranged for a reasonable cost. Sack lunches can also be prearranged. Luggage can be stored before and after the stay. Free tours and entertainment are available at the hostel too.
HI Hostel NYC
Located in the Upper West Side between 103rd and 104th Streets along Amsterdam Ave., the HI Hostel is actually an historic building. Designed by Richard Morris Hunt, the famed architect of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty and the Biltmore Estate, the hostel was built in 1883.
Originally for the Association for the Relief of Respectable Aged Indigent Females, the building offers dormer windows and a mansard roof along with rich architecture details throughout the building.
The HI Hostel NYC offers free Wi-Fi, free linens, a coin-operated, self-service laundry, a kitchen to use, a café, a game room, along with an outdoor courtyard. Space for your group to meet is also available. The hostel can assist in charter bus parking too.
Our Dorm Room at the HI Hostel New York City
A reasonably sized room featured five sets of twin-sized bunks with sheeting and a couple of fleece blankets per bed, think basic linens. Daily towel service was available though we had to grab towels off the laundry cart. Used towels are deposited in the bathrooms.
Our room was dim with just a single light fixture but it featured two large windows with black-out shades. We had air-conditioning with the controls in our room. A bonus since we visited in the summer and New York is hot and humid.
Each bunk features an overhead light with a couple of standard 110-volt household outlets. I plugged in my phone and left it on the light fixture and charging station.
Each bunk also has a standard school-type metal locker though I forgot to bring a lock. I purchased one in the registration area for $4. The locker fit my standard carryon-sized rolling luggage with no problem.
The Shared Bathroom at the HI Hostel NYC
I found two bathrooms on each floor. Each was newly renovated with white tile and individual stalls for toilets and showers.
The vanity features several sinks with lots of lighting and plugs for hair dryers. I never had to wait for a stall or sink though other people were always in the bathroom.
Shared Space at the HI Hostel New York City
The main floor of the hostel features a registration and reception area open to the public. A set of locked doors to the rest of the facility require a key card to open, just like a regular hotel.
The café serves fresh coffee drinks along with assorted pastries. Cold and hot sandwiches are available along with salads, yogurt, fruit and cold, bottled drinks. I found the prices reasonable, especially for NYC and it offered extended hours.
A large dining area, game room, computer room, and lounging room completed the first floor. I also found restrooms, stairs and an elevator.
The HI Hostel New York City features a large outdoor patio. Guests gathered under the party lights and enjoyed talking with several tables and chairs. I even found a Ping-Pong table and hammock outside.
My Take Away from the Hostel
Our stay was a great experience for the girls. For girls who have attended camp, it was very camp-like. And I called it Urban Camping.
It was a bit like college dorm living too. So that gave them a taste of what’s ahead. None of the girls had any complaints and fought over the top bunks.
For a Mom, the beds were OK. My bunk mate, my 14-year-old, made the bed squeak and shake each time she flipped over in her sleep.
Walking down the hall to the restroom got old after several days. After a week, I was ready to have some private space. But this trip wasn’t about me, it was teaching kids how to travel within their budget.
The location was great. Two blocks to Central Park and one block for the 1 subway train. We used the subway to get around extensively.
The area was safe though we were aware and traveled as a group at night.
Things to Think About:
Some of the guests were under-dressed for the public spaces. Think college-aged dudes roaming the halls without shirts and girls in tiny shorts. But my Mom googles were on and we really saw more flesh in Times Square.
Hostel Must Haves:
- Flip flops for shower and walking around the room.
- Earplugs and eye mask. NYC is noisy.
- Electronic chargers and even a small surge protector if you have multiple devices.
- A lock for the locker.
- A plug-in air freshener if staying with students for several days.