Discover Oregon’s Independent Hostels
Hostels offer an alternative lodging to the standard hotel or B&B, and can be found all over the state of Oregon.
By Cari Johnson
Four bunk beds. Three backpackers. One bathroom.
It’s not a hotel. It’s a hostel.
“The difference between any other lodging compared to a hostel is your going to get a life experience,” said Marilyn Northcross, owner of The Ashland Hostel in Ashland, Ore. “This is your home away from home.”
Oregon is home to eleven hostels. Portland has two youth hostels, both of which are apart of the Hostel International worldwide association. The remaining hostels are all independently run and can be found in the cities of Troutdale, Rockaway Beach, Seaside, Bandon, Cave Junction, Eugene, Oakridge, and Ashland.
Lynda Kamerrer is the co-owner of the Oakridge Hostel & Guesthouse, which is a converted Masonic Lodge that now houses two dormitories and three private rooms.
“People have the stereotype of a ratty, cheap flophouse,” Kamerrer said. “And our building is not that.”
A solo traveler can stay at Oakridge for $35 a night in a shared room with individual bathrooms down the hall. The price includes a gourmet breakfast with organic ingredients, as well as coffee or tea.
“We liked the idea of a hostel, where guests were more independent,” said Linda Lanzhammer-Joseph, owner of Ashland Commons in Ashland, Ore. Unlike Oakridge’s private lodging options; each unit at Ashland Commons has a shared common space, kitchen, and bathroom.
“You very much have to be ok with meeting people,” said Owen Craig, the hotel manager of the McMenamins Edgefield hostel in Troutdale, Ore. The Edgefield hostel offers all-women and all-men dormitories for $30 per night.
“It’s a ton of cultures just coming together and hanging out,” said Craig “Mac” Hines, the owner of the Eugene Whiteaker International Hostels in Eugene, Ore.
Hines owns two hostels, the S.S. Whiteaker Hostel and the quieter Whiteaker Garden Hostel that’s located just a few blocks around the corner. Travelers can utilize a shared kitchen, a communal bookshelf, and common space in the backyard for socializing with others.
“I get all ages here,” Hines said. “Anywhere from 18 to 80.”
French citizen Charlotte Traeger and her friend stayed at the S.S. Whiteaker Hostel for several nights while traveling from Los Angeles to Canada. The two girls shared a private double room for $50 altogether.
“If you’re traveling alone you can meet a lot of people,” Traeger explained.
Many hostels, most notably with Ashland Commons and The Ashland Hostel, offer group discounts for organizations and student groups. For the past few years, Ashland Commons has hosted University of Oregon students from the honors college who take an annual visit to Ashland’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
“Its affordable for a group of 50 people — that’s hard to find,” junior Michael Sugar said. Sugar has helped organize the honors college trip for the past three years.
“It’s very, very affordable,” Northcross said. “Im open 365 days a year and never change my price.”
Northcross typically books a number of groups at the Ashland Hostel, many of whom are Americans intending to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. However, Germans and Australians are a common occurrence along with many other international backpackers.
“There is this amazing friendship that you can feel and see,” “[Guests] may never see each other or talk again, but you can feel the magic.”
Heart, Art, and Soul
Eugene International Hostels are located in the heart of the funky Whiteaker neighborhood in Eugene, Ore. The S.S. Whiteaker Hostel is home to the front desk and offers a range of private rooms to mixed gender dormitories. Guests who wish for a more peaceful atmosphere (or if the S.S. is booked) can enjoy private rooms in the Whiteaker Garden Hostel located just a few blocks around the corner. Owner Craig “Mac” Hines and I arranged for an overnight visit where I was able to witness a true hostel experience.
By Cari Johnson
I dropped my backpack to the wooden floors of S.S. Whiteaker Hostel.
‘How is this not an art gallery?’ I thought to myself.
Paintings clung to each wall, many of them attached with affordable price tags. Before I even reached the front desk, I had experienced more multimedia art than the first hour of the Eugene Last Friday ArtWalk.
My friend Michelle and I slowly meandered out of the hostel. It was difficult not to become mesmerized by the brilliant colors and sociable guests. As juniors at the University of Oregon, we were some of the youngest guests as far as the eye could see. Our room was located just three blocks down the street at the other building, the Whiteaker Garden Hostel. Pretty little houses with eccentric flowerpots and occasional yard art passed by us. Tibetan prayer flags were strewn across almost every roof and porch. I ducked slightly to pass through the house’s elegant garden trellis. I looked back at Michelle and giggled. It was like we were living a fairytale.
The room was simple and clean, consisting of a single bunk bed and a small desk. The vibe was much more clean-cut than the S.S. Whiteaker Hostel building. Michelle flipped through a book lying on the desk. It was about dinosaurs.
Before we headed back to the main hostel building, we made sure to grab our microbrews from the car. Since the Ninkasi Brewing Company was just two blocks away, I figured a six-pack of Ninkasi’s Total Domination I.P.A. was a reasonable choice. We approached the S.S. Whiteaker Hostel once again – this time being greeted by several people of different ages who were lingering on the front porch. A warm smile and a friendly nod will go a long way, we discovered. Beyond the front desk was a whole new world. We passed by a communal bookshelf packed with novels, travel guides and miscellaneous treasures. Two refrigerators marked the beginning of the kitchen. We cracked some beer open and headed to the backyard.
Two French women in their mid-twenties greeted us warmly as they popped open a bottle of white wine. The aroma of fresh fish, oil and a hint of lemon flooded out nostrils. “We are from France, so we will eat like the French tonight!” declared one of the women as she placed two steaming plates of fish on the circular table. The two men at the table ushered us to join them. We quickly learned that Ben and David were temporary workers at the hostel in exchange for room and board.
After finishing the elaborate French meal, David excused himself to build a fire in a pit just a couple feet away. I asked the owner, Mac, if they made fires often. “Just when we have wood,” he explained with a grin. A neighborhood tree had fallen several days ago. Lucky us, I thought.
We transitioned away from the outdoor table and made our way to the enticing fire pit. I grabbed a seat on a smooth wooden stump. Colorful tapestries surrounded the backyard, and a small patch of grass and garden had become visible in our new location. Michelle and I had only been at the hostel for three hours, but we already felt at home. Dusk hit the sky as several more hostel guests joined us at the fire pit.
The night was a pleasant blur of personalities and music. Ben, a native from Hawaii, whipped out a guitar and began to strum softly. “Someone ought to sing,” I blurted out loud. Cries of encouragement from my peers made me blush. I shook my head with embarrassment.
It was a classic hostel experience. Michelle chatted with an Australian woman who was trekking across the U.S. on her bike. I met a couple from Austin who were just visiting the West Coast. Smiles and stories were exchanged as the warm glow of the fire flickered throughout the night. By the stroke of midnight, my head was buzzing with Ninkasi and tales from my new friends. Michelle and I bid everyone a good night and stumbled our way back to our quaint little home. The Whiteaker Garden Hostel was peaceful and silent. We climbed into our bunks and chatted quietly about our exciting day before dozing off to sleep.
Many would compare our experience to that of hippies, communes, and free-loving liberals. While I don’t consider myself any of these, I have to say – this place has some seriously positive energy.
I popped into the S.S. building one last time to give Mac our keys. He had told me the night before that he was planning to open a hostel in Panama in a few years. I had hosteled in Panama several months prior, so I told him that I would work for him once he started running it.
“See you in a few years in Panama,” I said with a chuckle.
“Until Panama,” he said, waving me off.
The Eugene Whiteaker International Hostels encourage a youthful and friendly atmosphere. While a “melting pot of cultures” may seem cliché, that is exactly what Mac has created. It is his heart, art, and soul that keeps this hostel spirit alive.
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS with Ashland Commons
By Cari Johnson
Linda Lanzhammer-Joseph and Robert Joseph have been co-owners of Ashland Commons in Ashland, Ore since 2007. Ashland Commons is one of two hostels in this cozy tourist city, and located just 10 minutes walking distance from downtown and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
CJ: For someone who knows little to nothing about hostels, how would you describe the hostel experience to them?
LLJ: Staying in a hostel isn’t the same everywhere but in general it involves a willingness to meet other travelers. Those staying in dorms of course also share bedrooms with others. Most offer private rooms with the common areas shared by other guests. Many find hostels to be a fun, casual form of accommodation; offered to those wishing to have a less costly place to stay while still having amenities to make their visit comfortable.
CJ: What rooms/accommodations can guests get at your hostel?
LLJ: Guests can book a dorm bed or private room. The units each have shared common areas, kitchens and bathrooms.
CJ: Are large groups common at your hostel?
LLJ: Yes; we actually are set up well for groups. Many school groups come to Ashland for the theater and stay at the Commons. Depending on the size of the group we can give them one of the smaller units or all 3.
CJ: What previous jobs have you have prior to Ashland Commons?
LLJ: I’ve been a metal-smith for almost 20 years, worked as a substitute teacher, collaborated with Rob with pottery, co-owned and managed a B & B. I’ve had several retail jobs (mainly since in Ashland).
RJ: Made and sold pottery over a 30+ year period. We owned a B + B in Ashland when first moving here. I’ve been manager of the Lithia Artisans Market in past years as well as participant. I’ve also been a school bus driver for the past 12 years; actually this will be my last full year.
CJ: Why did you choose to take on Ashland Commons? In particular, why not a hotel or a guesthouse?
LLJ: At the time I had been working in a retail shop for several years and was receptive to some change for the future, having been self-employed most of my adult life, mainly in the arts. Rob and I had been also participating in the Lithia Artisans Market for years displaying our pottery. We met Stuart and heard of his desire to sell Ashland Commons; it seemed like a good opportunity for us.
We had owned a Bed and Breakfast when we first moved to Ashland in 1995 and ran that for almost 3 years. We liked the idea of a hostel where guests were more independent. We don’t live on site and each unit has a kitchen so guests are in charge of their own meals. We also like the idea of budget travel and since there are many B & B’s already in Ashland as well as higher-priced lodging we like offering comfortable lodging at a lower cost.
CJ: How is this running a hostel different to that of your past experience?
LLJ: I like the idea of guests being independent. We greet them and go over rules and amenities and then they are on their own. The Bed and Breakfast was more demanding since we made the breakfasts and also lived on the premises.
CJ: How do you market your hostel to potential customers?
LLJ: Since Ashland is a tourist town we are listed with the Shakespeare and Chamber websites. Also there are other travel sites that we are listed with. Most find us through the Internet.
CJ: Who would you suggest should visit or experience hosteling?
LLJ: Really anyone who likes meeting other people/travellers. Even those who like more privacy can choose to engage with others or not. Many of our guests like the homey-ness and good value for what we offer. The option of having a kitchen for guests gives them the flexibility of eating in if they wish. Hostels generally offer lodging at a lower cost.
CJ: Can you describe your experiences in other hostels? (i.e. Oregon hostels, US hostels, hostels abroad….)
LLJ: We’ve had pleasant experiences at the few other hostels we’ve stayed in, although varied. Some were in older homes and more rustic; others were in converted motel. One overseas hostel in Thailand was very well-run, comfortable, full of travelers of all ages, and of course the price was very low.
CJ: Would you say that Oregon hostels (or in particular, Ashland Commons) are different than hostels abroad?
LLJ: Not enough experience with hostels abroad; only stayed in one in Thailand and it was terrific. We had a private room; our daughter shared a dorm with 4 other friends. Ashland Commons is in a tourist town so people are already coming here. Our facility is designed well for groups since our common areas also function as dorms. Individual travelers stay in rooms, some which are dorms, others as private rooms. The Commons was not built as a hostel, more as apartments so the layout is different from one large house. Each unit has it’s own kitchen and commons areas.
CJ: What is the best part about running a hostel?
LLJ: Meeting travelers from other parts of the world. It gives me a sense of other places, insights to people’s experiences as well has how they see us.
CJ: And the worst?
LLJ: Dealing with dramas; some guests really should not have stayed in a hostel due to difficult personalities or other issues that make sharing space not realistic.
CJ: What kind of people have you experienced in your hostel?
LLJ: Mostly congenial, easy-going guests; many school groups coming for plays. All ages really; often couples who like having a kitchen and don’t mind sharing with strangers.
CJ: What’s one of your favorite memories at Ashland Commons?
LLJ: One of many- one of our school groups left a wonderful handmade card that all signed. It is on our on- going bulletin board. Then there was the group that wanted their photo taken in front of our sign. Some older guests have invited us to join them at the dinner table, offering wine. That is a good feeling knowing your guests are comfortable at the Commons.
CJ: And worst?
LLJ: We had a guest that was extremely sound sensitive but that wasn’t conveyed clearly at the time of booking the room. Once they arrived they found the heating system too loud; it became somewhat of an issue since we had held that room and were full at the time I think. We gave him a refund to avoid negative feedback.
CJ: Do you think hostels have a stereotype/s? If so, can you explain what they are and why you think they prevail?
LLJ: For some, hostels imply a young, loose group of travelers, not a place where older travelers would be comfortable. Yet the hostel setting is becoming more accepted by all ages. The image I think is based on young backpackers traveling around the world, often in less modern settings. Some people think hostels are not clean or kept up, and that description fits some establishments of course. People are opening up to the concept more, perhaps due to economics, or because the image is improving. We have a great reputation locally and most say the Commons is very clean (cleanliness seems to be a major concern).
CJ: When we last spoke, you mentioned that a group from the UO Honors College rented out the entire hostel. Can you tell me more about what that was like?
LLJ: The group arrived and I met them at the Commons for check in. They arrived in several cars so came within a 1-2 hour time frame. I helped them get settled and did an orientation to make sure guests knew our amenities and rules. Being college students, they were more mature and didn’t require much help. I give them instructions to follow when checking out since we are usually not on the premises during check out.
CJ: What is a typical day like running Ashland Commons?
LLJ: For me it mostly begins with home office work, checking emails, answering phones. Check in is in the afternoon, around 4, so if there is someone checking in that day I or Rob will arrange to meet at the Commons. If a group is arriving I will usually go early to make sure the unit is set up for how many are coming. I do an orientation with guests to make sure they know about parking, re-cycling, WiFi, laundry, etc.
CJ: What would you like to see in the future for the hostel industry?
LLJ: I would like the image to be improved more and we are doing our part to help with that. As more people are introduced to the hostel way of travel and have positive experiences the industry will grow.
AUDIO SLIDESHOW: Oakridge Hostel & Guesthouse
Hostel co-owner Lynda Kamerrer talks about amenities, food, and people at the Oakridge Hostel & Guesthouse in this short audio slideshow.
By Cari Johnson