Local Austin hostels provide eclectic community vibe

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Photo Credit: Hyeyun Jeong | Daily Texan Staff

Austin is known for keeping it weird, and there is no better way to encapsulate that reputation than by staying in one of Austin’s hostels during the city’s famous entertainment festival.

 Given the influx of visitors during SXSW, alternative housing accommodations, such as hostels, are a traveler’s best way to circumvent the issue of overpriced or fully booked hotels.

 “It’s a cheaper form of accommodation, plus you get a real Austin feel,” hostel owner Seonaid MacDonald said. “We all know that SXSW accommodations book up, and that some places are astronomical, so I feel like hostels cater to an audience and make it accessible for them to be a part of this amazing festival without breaking the bank account.”

After three and a half years of backpacking, Seonaid MacDonald opened Austin’s Hostel 512 in October 2016. She said she knew couldn’t travel forever but wanted to remain a part of the traveling hostel community. So, she decided to open a hostel in Austin. 

 “I’ve always enjoyed traveling, and, for me, staying in hostels was one of the key components,” MacDonald said. “I’ve stayed in hotels along with hostels, but I really liked the vibe and the people in hostels.”

 History senior Kevin Lefkowitz said he appreciates hostels like MacDonald’s because they accommodate for low-budget travelers like him.

 “Hostels are great places to stay if you have a tight budget because they are just as nice as most hotels, but they’re likely a fifth of the cost,” Lefkowitz said.

 Lefkowitz typically travels in larger groups but said he also enjoys meeting new people at the places he visits and appreciates the shared nature of hostels over hotels.

 “With hotels, you only see the people in your room, and sometimes you’ll leave the room, but in hostels you have to move around more,” Lefkowitz said. “You get more interaction with the other people staying there.”

 After traveling to 30–40 countries, Andy Ward, owner of Drifter Jack’s and UT alumnus, said he developed a great admiration for the communities that form in hostels. Ward opened the hostel in 2013 from the culmination of his two favorite things: his time abroad and Austin.

“We have a focus on communal interaction,” Ward said. “We’re a hostel that really believes in getting people together.”

 Ward said the hostel community encourages many guests to return to the friendly environment because of the connectivity it fosters.  

 “If you’re staying at a hostel, you probably are there to make new friends and see the city with other people,” Ward said. “So we do a really good job of bringing people together so that they can meet new people and experience Austin in a really awesome way.”

 In addition to their homeliness, hostels mirror the culture of the city it resides in, which Ward said inspired him to hire over thirty local artists to paint murals around Drifter Jack’s.

 “The reason we did that is because we are so in love with Austin, Texas, and what Austin represents,” Ward said. “Austin has a huge love for art, and we wanted to make sure we had that in the hostel as well.”

 At all of Austin’s various hostels, Ward said each tries to capture the city’s eclectic vibe while incorporating their own personalized atmospheres to ensure guests’ enjoyment. Another aspect of this emphasis on comfort is hostels’ attention to security.  

“It’s a tight-knit community,” MacDonald said. “(When I stayed in hostels as a traveler), I always felt so safe; you never know who you’re going to meet, and I found it to be very helpful in a new city.”