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During a three-month tour of Europe, marketing specialist Chad Fish hit 15 countries, 55 cities, and stayed in at least 65 different hostels. Hostel-hopping taught Fish that hostels don’t have to be utilitarian places to crash. They also aren’t just for kids—during his travels, he made friends of all ages at the places he stayed, and he began dreaming of opening a hostel. 
 
Nine years later, he has applied his travel learning to the opening of his Hostel Fish, a self-dubbed "premium hostel" in Denver.
 
"A lot of baby boomers that have come and stayed here have seen a different side of what a hostel can be," said Fish of his new venture. At the luxury hostel, guests sleep on 12-inch pillow-topped Sealy mattresses and enjoy access to free iPads, breakfast, and daily housekeeping.
 
"My goal was to create a space that helped change what the word hostel means," said Fish.
 
Independent travelers are coming home and opening their own versions of the hostel, and the influence is taking hostels far from their clinical, bare-bones origins. 



Hostel Fish, Denver
 
The HK Austin opened its doors in Texas this past July, but its co-owner, Matt Kepnes, has been in the travel industry since long before then. After a life-changing trip to Thailand in 2005, Kepnes quit his day job to travel the world, turning his passion into a career as an influential travel blogger. Today, Kepnes gives travel advice to more than 800,000 readers a month at his influential website nomadicmatt.com
 
He has stayed in "probably close to a thousand hostels" over the course of his travels and brings the resulting travel preferences to the HK Austin, which he opened with business partner Brent Underwood, who is also an experienced traveler.
 
While Hostel Fish is advertised as an "upscale" hostel offering the same quality amenities one expects to find at a hotel, the HK Austin less like a place to grab an anonymous bed for a few bucks and more like a communal home, a quality of some hostels that Kepnes learned to value from his years away from his family on the road.
 


HK Austin, Austin, Texas

Guests staying in Kepnes’ historic Victorian mansion can expect free breakfast, free Wi-Fi, and a fully stocked kitchen—standards at any good hostel today. But he and his co-owner added a garden, loft lounge, and a co-working office to create a welcoming, social atmosphere, and organized activities provide plenty of opportunities for guests to mingle.
 
"I really appreciate when a hostel offers more than a bed," Kepnes writes. "Leaving a hostel and feeling like you just made a bunch of international traveling friends is the greatest feeling a traveler could have."
 
More than offering comfortable accommodation at an affordable rate, Kepnes and Fish both maintain that the best hostels provide their guests with a sense of community—be that through bar crawls, activities, or even just a common space where travelers can meet one another—a big reason, Fish suggests, that we travel in the first place.  
 
"It creates a space where people from all over the world can gather and share stories and become friends and then go out and see the world together."

Selecting a Good Hostel

Not all hostels are the same. Some are immensely clinical and offer none of the luxuries or camaraderie that are being added by the current wave of travelers-turned-owners. First-time hostel guests and new travelers should keep an eye out for these standard amenities:
 
• Free Wi-Fi
• Free breakfast
• Sheets and towels included in the room rate
• Lockers 
• A common area, bar, or restaurant
 
When it comes cleanliness, comfort, and safety, reviews are your best resource. Sites such as Hostelworld and Hostelbookers combine opinions and booking into a single website, so check those to make sure the hostel is really delivering on its promises.