I’m back from my trip, and it was short but amazing. In the 4 days I’ve been home, I’ve been falling asleep where I sit as if I’d been bitten by a tsetse fly. I’d love to tell you about all of it, but I’m going to focus on one thing that happened my last night out.
I’m a lifetime member of Hostelling International. Given that the majority of hostel users in North America are over 40, it’s no longer correct to say “youth hostels,” they’re just hostels now. And many of the older guests request a bottom bunk in the dorms. In the online reservation form, you make this request in a box at the bottom where you’re allowed to type freely. Well, except for punctuation. It won’t “swallow” your comment if you include any punctuation. I’m used to typing in “Bottom bunk please extensive shoulder damage NOT whiny old lady who just doesn’t want top.” And until last Thursday, I always got my bottom bunk, and usually the offer of additional services I don’t really need.
Last Thursday I checked into the Painted Turtle Guest House in Nanaimo, BC, one of the cleanest, most pleasant hostels in the system; it definitely has the best beds. It’s kind of my happy place, even though the stairs to the third floor dorms are steep enough to challenge a mountain goat. The desk clerk handed me the key to Room L, Bed 4. I had Bed 2 the previous Monday, so I assumed Bed 4 was the other bottom. Nope. I had a top bunk. I stumped all the way back downstairs to get reassigned. The clerk wasn’t able to move me, as all the bottoms had been assigned first. It was only 5 PM and apparently half the female guests had already arrived. I said, “Let me get this straight, you don’t look at disability accommodation needs until check-in?” The clerk, an international student working on summer break, stammered, “We don’t get a lot of disabled guests at hostels.”
This was the first time I’d been overlooked this way; usually I have to shrug off offers of help to carry my bike bags upstairs for me. I questioned the clerk to make sure I understood correctly, that it was strictly first-come first-serve, and all the bottom bunks got assigned before the top ones.
Now, I live in a tiny house and I sleep in a loft; I’m no stranger to the awkward movements of making the bed and all, and this hostel pre-makes your bed. (That’s not typical; you usually get handed your sheets at check-in and make your own bed.) My storage loft at home has a ladder, but it has wide wooden steps angled like stairs, and it can be easily climbed with bare feet. The problem for me with a top bunk at the hostel is not getting up and down anymore, it’s having no place to sit when I’m not in bed. There’s no casual up-and-down, you’re in bed or you’re up. My spine needs the freedom to change positions and move around before bedtime. The common areas offer seating that I can tolerate for maybe 20 minutes at a time, moving between straight dining-room style chairs and too-deep-and-soft couches, with no Goldilocks zone.
The ladder to the top bunk is made of narrow metal tubing and I have to put on shoes to get in bed. I leave them wedged into the frame at the foot of the bed and hope they don’t fall to the floor as I thrash in the night. The ladder is placed at the foot of the bed, beyond a high curving footboard. It would be easier to move it to the low side rail, but that would block the passageway on the floor between the beds. As I lift my leg over the footboard, I’m overcome with a charley horse and dive onto the bed to try to stretch it out with 3 feet of headspace. The two women assigned to lower bunks are both lithe young things who could have easily dealt with the top bunk.
I choose to stay in hostels for two reasons: one, because I travel alone and hostelling gives me the opportunity to make new friends from all round the world, and two, because I couldn’t travel at all if this low-cost option weren’t available to me. Hostelling is no longer “youth hostelling,” but it’s still meant for fit, active travelers, and I am a fit, active traveler. I just have physical issues that need to be accommodated. Canada’s counterpart to the USA’s Americans With Disabilities Act is still under construction, and places like Free Spirit Spheres, the treehouse resort I also stayed in, simply can’t be adapted to accommodate all users. I don’t expect anything unreasonable. I don’t think, though, that a guaranteed bottom bunk is unreasonable. From now on, I’m calling in the morning to ensure that my bunk is reserved (and I’m writing to them about this incident to let them know that wasn’t acceptable).
This is kind of a gray area in disability accommodation. What gray areas have you encountered?