Last week I found myself in a Nottinghamshire pub garden, watching a performance by the Mikron Theatre Company. The West Yorkshire-based team perform theatre ‘for everyone, everywhere’ and favour more unusual environments such as by rivers or canals. Their current touring show, Best Foot Forward, is a story about the Youth Hostelling Association (YHA) and, as a huge YHA fan, I was quick to book tickets.
My YHA journey began four years ago in Boggle Hole on the Yorkshire coast, and since then I’ve notched up double-digit stays, with three more booked in for the rest of the year. You could say I am hooked. But what was it that sparked this love affair with the YHA?
Although I enjoy the great outdoors, I am not a fan of sleeping under canvas or striding across a field to reach the facilities in the dead of night. Camping is not for me, but I am a fan of a wallet-friendly weekend get-away. After a little research, YHA seemed to fit the bill. YHA’s Create Your Own Adventure motto sounds particularly appealing to millennials who, research has shown, crave an authentic experience and immersion into a location. Although I may not fit into the go-getting, adventure-thirsty millennial generation bracket, I am passionate about shared experiences.
During the last four years, I have completely bought into the YHA brand, but I wasn’t always such an advocate. I remember my mum’s friend, a passionate cyclist, used to tell us about her coast-to-coast adventures and her nights in youth hostels. In the late 1990s, I had just ventured into the world of events – in particular, travel incentives and high-level meetings – which allowed me to journey the globe and enjoy the luxury offered by five-star hotels. The idea of my mum’s friend enjoying a youth hostel seemed somewhat alien to me. I just wasn’t part of that world and even turned my nose up at it.
Now we are in 2017 and the landscape is very different. Times have changed and event professionals cutting their teeth on upmarket incentive travel are now redefining what luxury means and what will resonate with today’s globetrotters. Does it mean a chocolate on your pillow or is it having the freedom to indulge in your passions and seek out new experiences? The same could be said for conferences and small meetings. A pleasant environment, helpful staff, good connectivity, healthy food, modern AV facilities and a comfy bed are considered basic requirements for a residential meeting so a hotel is likely to be the preferred venue. Why would you even consider a hostel? Bunk beds in huge dorms, shared facilities, cold showers, being assigned chores and hanging out with the walking boot brigade, right? Wrong. It’s true to say that you will find bunk-beds and some communal bathrooms but most, if not all hostels, offer private rooms with double beds and en-suite facilities.
YHA Cardiff is an excellent example of how YHA are investing in their venues to appeal to the corporate client. Not only do they offer meeting space with built-in AV equipment and purple beanbags (or funky green chairs if you prefer a more conventional seat) but their premium rooms are all en-suite, have proper beds (not bunks), a dressing table that doubles up as a desk and the usual facilities you would expect to find in a hotel. Within walking distance of major attractions and transport links, the hostel also provides free Wi-Fi and on-site parking (yes, in the city centre). What’s more, YHA Cardiff was recently awarded five-star hostel status by Visit Wales – the first in the network.
New to the YHA portfolio is The Sill At Hadrian’s Wall, set in the dramatic Northumberland countryside. Having taken inspiration from a nearby geological feature, this glass and timber structure complements the environment in which it is set. You can even take a stroll on its green roof! The 86-bedroom hostel offers meeting facilities and open-plan sociable living. Food is available from the restaurant but the use of a self-catering kitchen (available in most hostels) offers flexibility.
Speaking with the owner of YHA Kettlewell (now privately owned but still operated through YHA, and one that I highly recommend), I discovered that a corporate group had recently booked the entire hostel for an office weekend away. The kitchen was used by managers who were tasked with cooking up a feast for the rest of the delegation. The whole activity created a relaxed and informal atmosphere and, from hostel owner Saul’s point of view, it looked like they were bonding as a team and having lots of fun. Exclusive use is available at over 100 YHA venues.
There are many other things I could tell you about YHA; their philosophy of #LiveMoreYHA, their social impact, green ethos, continual re-investment into their hostels, the 850-bed super-hostel in Stratford that’s due to open in 2019, their diverse accommodation offerings from camping pods to shepherd’s huts, their pooch-friendly venues and how they are changing the lives of millions of young people through one stay at a time, but I’ll let you embark on your own voyage of YHA discovery.
If you have never ventured into this world, the one thing you need to do is clear your mind of any preconceptions. Then, you will be ready to create your own adventure, best foot forward!
Photos (top to bottom): YHA Cardiff, YHA St Davids, YHA Boggle Hole, YHA Cheddar, YHA Malham and YHA The Sill At Hadrian’s Wall.
If you enjoyed this, check out Ewan Jamieson’s blog: Flashpacking & The Reimagined Hostel Experience.