Alaska's hostels stretch travelers' dollars

"Can you believe we just ate three nights of lodging?" My Swiss roommate, Susan, and I were stunned that our meal and two Alaskan beers at the Hangar had cost us $30 apiece. That was equivalent to three nights of lodging at the Juneau Hostel, where we were staying for $10 a night, plus a chore (such as sweeping the kitchen floor).

That was in June 2011, when I stayed at the hostel so I could afford more wildlife-watching excursions in Juneau and Glacier Bay. Though the hostel now charges $12 a night cash, plus a chore, it remains a great dollar-stretcher. Your first night can be reserved online by charging it to a credit card, along with a $3 reservation fee.

My wallet liked the bunk bed better than did my over-50 knees, which creaked as I crept over the wood frame into my top bunk. But I loved the price and the atmosphere. Most of the guests that week were over 40, and my second roommate was South African. Two sisters from Pennsylvania were better dollar-stretchers than I was, because they cooked all their meals in the hostel kitchen. They were traveling across Alaska that summer, staying in hostels from Juneau to Denali. Hostels provide a kitchen, cookware, plates and food storage, giving guests a vacation rental benefit at a hostel price.

If you require a nightcap, you might object to the no-alcohol policy at the Juneau Hostel, but my roommate and I enjoyed walking six blocks down to Juneau's waterfront for a drink.

Guests are limited to a five-night stay and are locked out from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Though lockers are available, we opted not to rent locks and left our possessions in our room. It was refreshing to rely on trust rather than locks. Plus, my wallet and cameras were always with me.

Surprisingly, the lockout wasn't a problem, because I left about 8:30 a.m. and didn't return before 6 p.m.

I discovered that Alaska has a great network of hostels, most of which cost more than the Juneau Hostel but don't require a chore. My South African roommate said she really liked the Alaskan Sojourn Hostel in Skagway, which allows alcohol.

I wouldn't hesitate to stay at a hostel in Alaska again to maximize my enjoyment of watching humpback whales doing their ballet or seeing bald eagles soar off icebergs. But for travelers opposed to bunk beds and chores, Juneau has a variety of lodging options, including a great bed-and-breakfast where I stayed last summer. The Silverbow Inn is connected to the historic Silverbow Bakery, touted as Alaska's oldest operating bakery, founded in 1898. Rooms start at $179 a night in peak season, but guests receive a full breakfast, and the bagels are fantastic.

If you go

Juneau Hostel, 907-586-9559,

Alaska Sojourn Hostel, 907-983-2040,

Alaska Hostel Association,

Silverbow Inn, 800-586-4146,

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