Austin and Madison seem often mentioned in the same breath: both are state capitals, home to large university campuses, and bearers of progressive traditions. And both hold a special meaning for me: I attended universities there, and each has its own HI-USA hostel.
In February was my most recent visit to Austin, my former graduate studies refuge, this time for an HI-USA meeting in the aftermath of an unusual winter snowstorm. The HI-Austin hostel sits in a scenic downtown park overlooking a lake. On that chilly night, the hostel’s brightly colored jalapeno(!) patio lights signaled an especially warm Texas welcome.
While Madison has its own set of city lakes, the HI-Madison hostel claims a central, land-locked location a few blocks from a hub of restaurants and clubs called State Street, and even closer to the state capitol building. Walking into the hostel common room has the feel of a college coffeehouse, with smart conversation and relaxed comfort.
Yet this tale of two cities is mainly about origins.
Both share a common beginning: cities with popular appeal, but no history of hostels; and key volunteers in the 1990’s with vision and persistence. And then their stories intriguingly diverge.
In Austin, volunteers worked with the city to find an underused recreation building in a well-located park. With local government support and volunteer labor, the building was transformed into a hostel that has served the city for more than 15 years.
In Madison, a volunteer group began by renting a fraternity house during the summer and operating it seasonally as a hostel. Once occupancy levels were confirmed, they found the current year-round building and leased it at a rate that affords hostel use.
HI-USA has the nation’s largest hostel network, and we built it in other ways too. We also own buildings as an organization (like in Boston, see my January 18th post), and we license private operators to carry our banner.
While the stories may differ, the result is the same: quality hostels serving travelers in cities coast to coast, each with their own unique appeal.