Hostels, for those of you who may not know, are budget accommodations whereby travelers stay in dorm bedrooms of anywhere from 2 to 12 beds that come with either an en suite bathroom, or 1 for the entire floor. Some Hostels provide many amenities, some do not. And you pay a fraction of the price for a hotel or private lodging.
The first time I stayed in a hostel I was 20 years old. It was one of my first times traveling completely alone in a foreign country, in a new city where I didn’t know a soul. I was amazed at how easy it was to meet new people. The whole experience was exciting and I went on to stay at a dozen more throughout Western Europe. I had discovered a great way to see the world.
But three backpacking trips and somewhere over 30 hostels later, my views have started to evolve. I still agree that it is the cheapest and most unique way to see the world, meet people, and have adventures.
But I am 25 now and I’ve started to realize that it does require a certain mentality and spirit to stay in hostels. I’m not an elitist, I don’t think I am better than the other people staying in hostels, but I wonder if my mentality has changed. I wonder if the sun is setting on my time on this type of travel.
You meet a lot of people in hostels, people from all over the world. Mostly you meet other Americas, Canadians, Australians, Germans and people from the UK. This is not a bad thing per say but they just tend to be the people who travel most. People from Europe seem to stay in hostels well into their 40s and even beyond, but the Americans you meet in hostels tend to fall in the 18 to 23 age bracket. And I really noticed that more on this trip than any other
Perhaps it is because I am 25 now, in my 4th year out of college, that I became so aware on this trip. Generally the Americans you meet have just finished college, or are on a break, or taking a year off etc. Sure I meet people like myself taking 2 weeks off of work to see as much of the world as possible, but with each trip I take they are fewer and further between.
I am pretty comfortable with the whole hostel experience; I know the routine of checking in/out and how to go about making friends. But staying in a hostel is an exercise in tolerance. It is absolutely exhausting. The quality of a hostel itself is measured up against your desire to see that city on a dime. The more you want to see a place, the more you’re willing to put up with to see it.
You’ll put up with things like, bunk beds crafted by incompetent masochists that upon first glance, appear to be made of broken shards of used IKEA furniture. Or living out of the same backpack for days on end without doing laundry so that the smallest article of stinky clothing infiltrates the entire bag to create tour de force in revulsion any time you open your bag.
You begin to get very comfortable with yourself as you don’t really have a choice. When you don’t have a private place to change, being in a room full of strangers all in their underwear seems as natural as though you have been doing it your whole life. (Maybe you have, I’m not trying to judge)
I’ve already mentioned the snoring before, but oh god. It is a wonder any of these people will ever get married considering the sounds, moans, grunts, whistles, and wheezing that escapes them during sleep. Some nights I would open my eyes expecting to see a room full of baboons, or hyenas around me. But no, these were in fact human beings.
Walking into the bathrooms in hostels is always a hold your breath experience.
You hold your breath because you’re not sure how bad the bathroom is going to be once you get in it.
You hold your breath because it is either going to smell like the inside of a septic tank or some unfathomable assortment of chemicals used to kill the sense that you are inside of a septic tank.
And the bathroom is wet. Not just damp, but wet. The floor is soaked like the last 20 people to take a shower in there had pointed the nozzle straight up at the ceiling instead of towards the drain. Like the bathroom had JUST finished filming a raunchy Britney Spears video before I showed up.
I realized I had kind of hit a turning point with hostels on my last trip with the hostel in Uruguay where I spent 2 nights. I walk in and immediately the men’s bathroom smells like a severed foot left in a moldy locker full of expired hummus. There is water dripping everywhere of course, but despite all this I strip and get into the shower.
I am in there for about 3 minutes before I notice what appears to be a large piece of gauze stuck to the wall. I decide not to get a closer look. So I turned my head to the left to avoid looking at it, and I noticed what appeared to be a soaking wet pair of used blue briefs hanging on a pipe sticking out of the wall.
It was at that moment that I realized I might be done with hostels.
It’s not that that I don’t love traveling. I do. It’s very much a part of who I am and I value every trip I’ve taken. The opportunities that hostels provide are incredible. I have seen more of the world staying at hostels than I would have staying at any other hotel or budget accommodation.
Plus as an individual traveler it has allowed me to meet people that create unique experiences and incredible adventures that I wouldn’t otherwise just sitting on my bunk reading the complete Lord of the Rings Trilogy or an Ayn Rand novel.
But as I cross the hump from my early 20s into my late 20s, I find myself wanting more. It’s not just wanting to stay in nicer places where I can have a guaranteed good nights rest instead of playing Russian Sleep Roulette. It’s more how I experience these places that I crave more out of.
When I first started staying in hostels I felt like I had been let in on some incredible community of travelers. And I have enjoyed being a part of that community.
But a different need has surfaced within me, a desire to travel with a friend or group of friends close to me. I have always said that I traveled by myself because I got to see whatever I wanted whenever I wanted and I had no one to rely on but myself. And I loved that. There is so much to see though, and sharing it with someone changes the experience.
My sister and I still talk about the trip we took to the south of France for a week, and the funny things that happened, and how I thought I won 400 dollars at the slot machine when I had actually only won 40, and the markets, and the hilarious fish dinner. That’s what I love! I love being able to paint a canvas of memories with my loved ones that we can always go back to and relive.
Currently many of my travel memories are wrapped up written stories and in the memories of people whose names I can’t remember and will never see again. And that is all well and good because I have always loved the independence I felt while traipsing the globe on my own. But I have proved to myself I can do it. I know I am capable of such things. I crave more.
What I seek now is to continue to experience the world and laugh and drink and be amazed with someone close to me. So that we can relive it at my Wedding, at my 50th birthday party, wherever.
If nothing else, if one day I am traveling in some far-off country with a friend and I find myself in the shower staring a pair of underwear… at least I’ll know whose it is.