Introducing a new breed of young, elite, travellers: the flashpackers.
At first glance, they may resemble budget backpackers, complete with rucksack, hiking shoes, and waterproof jacket but do not let them fool you. Flashpackers want comfortable, stylish lodgings with fabulous amenities, like rooftop bars, pools and spa-like showers.
Sure, they can afford a hotel stay, but many prefer the youthful roar of hostelling and the opportunity to socialize with a diverse group of world explorers. After all, sharing a toilet with strangers will do that.
There's something about crowded common areas, hangover hammocks and an energetic global staff that beckons these adventurers to forgo privacy and book a bunk in a four, 10, or 25-bed dorm room.
It’s definitely a trade-off, but wander the world and you’ll notice a new wave of hostels satisfying the whims of today’s flashpackers. Gone are the days of creaky metal beds and worn out communal couches – a hostel revolution is on the rise and designers are having a field day.
Call it what you want -- boutique, designer, upscale -- but there's a growing global trend of posh hostels with affordable prices to stash your backpack. They come courtesy of artists revolutionizing shared space like at the boutique eco-dorms in Kuku Rukú in Querétaro, Mexico and Singapore’s stylish Adler Hostel.
Canada, for its part, is slowly catching up. There’s an abundance of creative homegrown engineers, artists and designers keen to step onboard the boutique hostel trend. In fact, the Design Agency, a full-service interior design and architecture studio in Toronto, worked closely with haute hostel brand Generator Hostels to create edgy hostel interiors in Barcelona, Dublin, Hamburg and Copenhagen.
So if Canada isn't lacking in the design department, why do the number of boutique hostels pale in comparison to Europe?
“Canada is more risk averse and low key. There’s nothing too flamboyant. That’s the typical mindset,” suggests Gabor Forgacs, an associate professor at the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Ryerson University in Toronto.
Then there's the cash factor.
Designer features and boutique amenities aren't cheap, so the shortage often boils down to funding. “Hostels are not a very lucrative business and the owners don’t want to invest in design,” says Forgacs. “Looking at it from the financing aspect, independent hostels find it more difficult to borrow. Banks want to work with a known set of variables. If your hotel has a brand, it’s easier to borrow money.”
It's a theory that applies to for two of Canada's few boutique hostels. Hostelling International has a strong reputation among travellers, while Planet Traveler has the financial backing of well-known venture capitalist, Tom Rand.
To find out more about some of Canada's designer hostels and their international brethren, rouse through the gallery below.
Boutique Hostels That Could Pass As Hotels. Gallery text follows for mobile readers.
HI-Whistler, British Columbia
As one of Canada’s newest hostel, the HI-Whistler is turning heads. Originally-built for athletes for the 2010 Winter Olympics, HI-Whistler remains a stunning, mountain lodge with slick, urban facilities, complete with wood burning fireplaces, industrial neon seating and contemporary media room. Shared rooms start at $31.50/night.
Planet Traveler, Toronto
Toronto’s Planet Traveler features an eco-chic rooftop deck overlooking the sprawling skyline, shaded by solar panels. The minimalist green and white interior, will catch your attention but it’s the environmental initiatives that take the cake, such as geothermal heating and solar-powered electricity. In fact, the hostel’s entire lighting system only takes 1,500W -- roughly the same amount to run a hair dryer at home. Shared rooms start at $31/night.
Auberge Alternative, Montreal
The cozy, eclectic common areas of Auberge Alternative represent an unconventional spin on designer hostels. Forgoing minimal and contemporary for an arts-and-crafts look, the restored warehouse in Old Montreal features exposed brick, retro second hand furniture and inspiring art pieces throughout. Shared rooms start at $22/night.
Some International Examples
Kuku Rukú Green Boutique House, Mexico
Conceived and crafted by Kuku Rukú's creative staff, this hostel makes sustainability look oh-so-good. Bold text art grace the walls of this upscale hostel north of Mexico City and the washrooms are seriously spa-worthy. Shared room start at $12.75/night.
Adler Hostel, Singapore
Regarded as the first luxury hostel in Singapore, Adler Hostel treats flashpackers to a sophisticated shared space. It took one-and-a-half years to renovate the traditional Chinatown teahouse to achieve the modern, art-deco style. Privacy curtains, rich dark wood and a golden colour scheme fit for a queen, this hostel just oozes class. Shared rooms start at $44.58/night.
Generator Hostels, Various European Cities
Who knew Europe’s quintessential backpacking experience could be so luxurious? Generator’s Copenhangen hostel packs some serious artsy punch. Naturally, the hip design goes hand-in-hand with Denmark’s cultural hub and liberal city. The lofty hangouts are outfitted with timeless wood, leather textures and pops with vibrant colour. Shared rooms start at $23.55 /night.