The Haven Hostel, Thunder Bay, ON

Americans typically don’t stay at hostels. Maybe it’s our love of independence and wanting to have our own private space. Americans are also very security conscious and the thought of sharing a sleeping space with complete strangers is a bit nerve-wracking. There’s also that movie called Hostel that feeds into those security fears. Regardless of security, hostels often have a bad reputation. They are often dirty and cramped with bunk beds. Some hostel goers may party a little too much and either be too loud when you’re trying to sleep or puking off the top bunk on you trying to sleep on the bottom bunk. As you can see, hostels definitely get a bad reputation and it seems Americans just aren’t into using them. I know I had never in a million years thought of staying at one. Now what brought The Haven Hostel to my attention? I was planning a trip to Thunder Bay and was thinking of cheap hotels I could stay at to save a few bucks. I follow Tbaynewswatch on Facebook and by chance saw one of their “MUG”ing stories that featured one of the owners, Holly, holding one of their mugs and talking about the hostel. Judging by the pictures and website, the place looked great! Even knowing the bad reputations of hostels and my American pension for weariness to stay at a hostel, I thought what the heck? The price was right and I’ve already stayed at worse in Thunder Bay. I’m sure they didn’t have bloodstains on their shower curtains like The Shoreline Hotel did. I booked two nights in the male pod dorms. I figured that would offer me a little of the privacy that I’m used to from hotels. Getting to the hostel was a bit tricky the first time I was driving there. The Haven Hostel is located on Ambrose Street, which is effectively a one way street that blends into the scenery very easily. I overshot this street the first time and ended up on the backside of the hostel. In many ways I was happy I did, because I was able to get a picture of the other side. The building looked vibrant and it made me excited to see the rest!

I ironically parked the car next to another car with Texas plates. What a coincidence! I found out she was originally from Idaho and was going to Texas Tech in Lubbock. She was traveling a bit on her break and looking to see some of the world in the very American fashion I do (aka driving).

I got out of the car and went inside. I had been given my key code via email when I booked so it was easy to get in. Also, seeing that you needed a key code to get inside was reassuring from a security standpoint.

When I got inside, Boss the dog came and warmly greeted me.

Holly was at the desk and said, “You must be Cody.” That was pretty impressive that everything was waiting and ready for me. This was a very speedy check in process!

Unlike a hotel, Holly gave me the grand tour of the hostel and told me what to expect. I got to see all the amenities I could enjoy on my stay. The first step, though, was taking off my shoes. It’s a cultural rule of the Northern US and Canada to take off your shoes before coming into a house. The hostel followed this same rule. It’s something I need to eventually blog about, because this is also common in Wisconsin. I took off my shoes and put them on the rack.

By the shoe rack is a calendar of events of what is going on in Thunder Bay.

There’s also a pamphlet rack with a bunch of information on the local area. The Haven Hostel also has its own walking map of local attractions. This is definitely a plus for me because the hostel is located within walking distance of the Downtown Port Arthur area of Thunder Bay. There are tons of bars I love to walk to and that’s why I typically stay at the Prince Arthur.

We started our walk to the common area. The first thing you’ll notice is the #bigassyellowcouch along with a few other couches. Boss has her spot where she likes to lay and take part in the socializing that goes on in this area. The one great thing about hostels is socializing with other guests is encouraged. It’s amazing some of the people you’ll talk to and the stories you’ll hear. There are people traveling from all over the world so it’s nice to talk to different people and get out of my bubble.

If you want to have a more intimate and private conversation, there’s a little nook off to the side.

There is also a full kitchen that is fully yours’ to use. Just make sure you label your food!

We then walked over to the book nook area. This is another more private place to sit back, grab a book, and read.

Next was seeing where I’d be sleeping. We walked past the book nook, opened the door, and went up the stairs.

For additional security, your code is also on the door of the dorm you are staying in.

You’re assigned an enclosed pod and also a corresponding locker.

The window provides a lot of good sunlight (this definitely helped me wake up in the morning).

The room rules are clearly stated on the door. I was also given a set of ear plugs. It’s good things are in order in this regard as people are in close quarters with each other.

I was lucky and the communal bathrooms were right across the hall from my dorm. The sink area is in the open, but the toilets and showers are in their own separate rooms.

In the morning, there is free continental breakfast. I really didn’t expect this as the price to stay here was already too good to be true. This is just added a bonus!

Now that I’ve shown you the hostel, you’re probably wondering what my first experience staying in one was like. Honestly, I was blown away and it was pretty amazing! The first night I had the pod dorm to myself. It was very quiet and peaceful. The second night, another guy originally from Chile but now living in Montreal shared the dorm with me. It was interesting talking to him, as well as some of the other guests in the common area. Being able to talk to other people definitely enhances the travel experience! I was also able to talk to the co-owners, Holly and Paul, a lot during my visit. The sheer level of personal interaction you get with the owners is also very unique.

I got to hear the story of the hectic days of getting the hostel in order. It was transformed from an old railroad building into what it is now. There were tons of long days and hard work put into making the hostel what it is now. Holly has a knack for design and hopefully my pictures show the quirkiness and personal touches that she put throughout every single detail of the hostel.

Holly and Paul are dedicated to making the experience as great for their guests as it can be. Holly actually lives on site and even if it’s past the reception hours, the intercom outside will ring to their phones. Their phone numbers are also listed at the desk.

Holly and Paul aren’t just concerned about making the experience great for their guests, they also want to be great neighbors. They make it a point to throw events for the neighborhood and get to know all their neighbors by name. They are rooted deeply in the local Thunder Bay community and it’s clear if you stay at The Haven Hostel, you’re supporting the local economy. In many ways, Holly and Paul are reinventing the hostel. I know my preconceptions were shattered with my stay. The stay felt way more personal to me. It wasn’t the same as staying in a generic hotel and I enjoyed being able to socialize with many different people. It’s definitely a more unique (and cheaper) way to travel. I was told The Haven Hostel is great for larger groups like sports teams or just a group of people traveling together. It can house around 30 people total and each dorm can hold 4-6 people. I’ll have to get some of my buddies to come travel with me and this would be a perfect place to hang out and stay on the cheap. I definitely approve!

By the way, as a travel blogger I found their wifi to be some of the fastest I’ve found in Thunder Bay. If you need to get any internet-based work done, this is the place to be! You can visit The Haven Hostel’s Website at: