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Five ways U.S. hostels are stepping up their game

A tour of a hostel in Chicago shows how family-friendly and affordable hostels can be. 

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    Chicago is home for a new hostel, an affordable alternative to a hotel.
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You might have heard about the high-end hostel movement currently sweeping through Europe, Asia and South America. But as my tour of the newly opened Freehand Chicago (a high-end hostel with locations in Chicago and Miami) proved, you don't have to go overseas to get a taste of this action.

We've written in the past about why hostels are a good money-saving option for families on vacation abroad, and when we recently posted that article on the Brad's Deals Facebook page, a fan named Beth made a comment that got me thinking:

"Hostels are the way to go," said Beth in her comment. "It's a shame they've yet to take off here in the U.S."

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But they have! I thought to myself. As the daughter of notoriously frugal parents, I knew this from personal experience. I stayed comfortably in hostels with them while touring colleges across the country in 2008, and to this day, if given the choice between a hostel and a hotel room in their stateside vacation destination, my parents will always choose the hostel.

Why? Today's hostels aren't just cheap, their cozy common spaces, comfortable beds, and all-around amazing hospitality are giving big hotel chains a run for their money, and I think it's high time we got the word out. So in an attempt to dispel the many unsavory stereotypes so many people still have about American hostels, I took a tour of The Freehand, Chicago's hottest new hostel located in the heart of the trendy River North neighborhood. Here are five of the biggest hostel myths my Freehand tour busted:

Busted myth#1: Hostels are dangerous

Thanks almost entirely to Eli Roth's highly disturbing 2005 slasher flick, Hostel, hostels around the world have gotten an unfair reputation as great places to stay if you're up for being brutally murdered. This, of course, is about as ridiculous as being afraid of your old VHS collection for fear one of those tapes contains the ghost of a little girl who will kill you in seven days. And yet it's still a pervasive myth, one which I'm happy to report has absolutely no basis in reality at Freehand or any of the cross-country hostels I've stayed at in my life.

Like most hotels and hostels, Freehand has a 24-hour front desk and security staff, and their rooms are accessible by electronic key. They offer both co-ed and single sex four-bunk rooms as well as singles, and all rooms have a private bathroom. If you're traveling in a group of four, you can book a four-person room all to yourselves, and if you're traveling alone, all rooms come with private lockers, so bring a lock and rest assured no one else has access to your valuables.

Bottom line: you should feel just as safe at Freehand (and hostels in general) as you would at any other hotel.

Busted myth #2: Hostels are dirty

OK, so maybe hostels are totally safe, but for $45/night, their cleanliness standards and accommodations have to be on par with a seedy roadside motel, right? Not even close.

The Freehand Chicago offers daily housekeeping, and their four-bunk rooms are lavishly furnished with adorable wooden bunks, colorful art and a mini-couch--all reminiscent of a 1940s luxury train car. Their private rooms come equip with a double bed, a TV and similar decor, and it's all spotless and cozy. While other hostels I've been to aren't as artfully rustic as Freehand, I've always been pleased with the cleanliness and overall comfort of the beds, couches and communal bathrooms.

Busted myth #3: Hostels aren't family-friendly

When you think of the average hostel guest, a disheveled, soul-searching, hard-drinking student backpacker is probably your first thought. And while there are admittedly quite a few of these types gracing the halls of hostels abroad, American hostels are typically filled with an international medley of people, and they're quite family-friendly to boot.

I loved staying in hostels as a kid, because, bunk beds, obviously. Plus there were always kids my age from around the world to play with, and lots of cool places to explore. I seriously wish the Freehand had been around when I was younger, because I know I would have loved the privacy curtains on every bed, and the detailed maps of Chicago plastered under each bunk.

Basically, hostels are as kid-friendly as any other hotel, if not more so.

Busted myth #4: Hostels are always a communal experience

Sure, your cheapest bet for a night at a hostel is to book a bed in a shared dorm, but if you're looking for more privacy and don't mind spending a little more, you can book a private room instead. Freehand, for example, offers private four-bunk rooms as well as private rooms with queen and king-sized beds. They don't have as much room as your typical hotel, but what the rooms themselves lack in space, the city makes up for in innumerable things to do.

Isn't that why you decided to travel in the first place? To explore a new place? To meet new people and have exciting new experiences? Why hole yourself up in a fancy and expensive hotel room when you can stay for less in a smaller, equally comfortable space that inspires you to go check out your new surroundings?

Busted myth #5: Hostels have no amenities

If free WiFi, a daily complimentary breakfast service, a spotless community kitchen, an in-house coffee bar, a luxurious, Wes Anderson-inspired common area, and a trendy, full-service bar, and a weekly events board don't sound like amazing amenities, then the Freehand (and literally every other magical place in this world) probably isn't the right place for you. But if you do appreciate having these kinds of convenient services at your fingertips, you should be quite happy with your stay at Freehand, and at most other hostels around the country.

Wanna book a stay at Freehand? They have locations in Chicago and Miami, and may soon be coming to a city near you! Prices vary depending on the weekend and the room, but if you're a solo traveler, expect to pay between $30-60/night for a room in a shared dorm.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best personal finance bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link in the blog description box above.

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