By Rich Kemp
Whether you have seen the "Hostel" movies or not, anybody knows that nothing can get the heart pounding and adrenaline racing like the true horror of an overpriced hotel room when trying to travel with friends for a cheap weekend away.
Now, those choosing the OSU area as their getaway destination have additional option. Well, that is, if you can forget about all the movie references.
"It doesn't help that people watch horror movies and believe them to be a fair depiction of reality," said Matthew Dietrich, owner of The Wayfaring Buckeye Hostel, the first hostel in Columbus in over a decade. "People have this ridiculous misconception of [hostels] being dirty, dangerous and awkward."
Despite the misconceptions, Dietrich has had a good start with his $22-a-night hostel located on Indiana Ave. in the OSU area. Within the first few weeks of opening in August, Dietrich had nearly all of his beds full on a nightly basis. That doesn't mean he has had too many locals referring their friends yet.
"People in the US are scared," he said of the myths surrounding hostels. "Canadians aren't this paranoid about hostels, nor Europeans."
Dietrich argues that the bad name hostels have is unjust; they can actually be safer than hotels. He muses that if both a hostel and hotel are located in the same rough neighborhood, the hostel will come out safer.
"A Holiday Inn, where you might stay alone, would not offer the same security as a hostel (because) there is always someone around to stay in or go out with," he said.
The Warfaring Buckeye Hostel, however, in amongst row upon row of modest family and student housing. The casual observer would not realize it was a hostel at all unless they were actually looking for it. Dietrich, a business information systems student, bought the house when he was 19 years old and rented it to friends. He later noticed the gaping hole in Columbus' hostel market and when a friend left four months early without paying his rent, Dietrich became an entrepreneur. He decked the place out with IKEA, remodeled the basement and installed new beds.
Because of their pricing, hostels are often popular no-frills choices among college-aged travelers. The Warfaring Buckeye, for example, is modest with wooden panels covering the floor, sofas scattered about the living room and musical instruments as decorations. The hostel has two large shared bathrooms, a dormitory, a communal kitchen, a laundry room and even a mascot: Ziggy the dog. Quite the contrary image to the horror movies to be sure.
In addition to being motivated by unreliable housemates, Dietrich took inspiration from the travelers' community organization CouchSurfing.com, a website listing both "hosts" and "surfers." CouchSurfing seek to "participate in creating a better world, one couch at a time."
A CouchSurfer himself, Dietrich shares many values with the organization. Through hostelling and CouchSurfing, he was able to develop communication, socializing and teamwork skills that may never have been used if he had stayed at a posh, expensive hotel.
At The Wayfaring Buckeye, Dietrich plays the role of both hostel owner and entertainer. He will personally show guests around the city if they wish and take them to nearby events and bars.
Hostels make the perfect choice for a myriad of occasions, Dietrich insists.
"I've had apartment hunters come here. The last ones stayed a week while they looked for a new place. Grad students stay here too, as they're only in Columbus for a day or two and then they leave. A hostel is a much better place to stay in as you get to know the city better with people in the same boat."
Dietrich is unsure as to what the future holds for his current hostel, though he and a friend have even talked about a 60-bed hostel in the downtown area.
Originally Published: September 22, 2010
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