I Hate Hostels. I Love Hostels.

These past few weeks I found myself back in hostels for the first time in awhile.

I hate hostels.

When I walk in the front door carrying my suitcase, I have to navigate narrow walking spaces and doorways, side-stepping to people can get by, and doing nothing less than leg presses as I walk up the stairs.

Then I walk into the dorm. Other people’s backpacks, towels, sheets, and shoes seem strategically placed to be directly in my way. There’s no air conditioning, but there’s a fan in one corner going on full blast. There’s already a green, wet towel hanging down over my bed, placed there by the guy who showered this morning after coming back to the hostel at 5 am.

It’s hot and muggy in the dorm room. It smells like mildew and sweat. There’s not a lot of space to do anything. The only good thing about this process is Hostelworld, where I can choose the best-rated hostels to stay in… At least I’m not staying in a complete dump.

Staying the night in a hostel is always a combination of navigating my way in the dark to not make too much noise because I consider other people, only to be awoken later by dorm mates who turn on the lights and make too much noise because they don’t consider other people.

And by the way, what is it that guarantees the bathroom floor of the hostel will always be soaking wet after 7 pm? I do not understand why people can’t dry their feet when they leave the shower.

Gradually I make my way to the common area. There are two couches, one looks slightly less worn, the other is a loveseat that has seen more mileage.

There’s no desks with comfortable chairs to sit and get some work done. But I suppose this is logical… I mean, what backpacker has thought hard enough about their life to work on significant web-based projects to achieve location independence?

The other people in the hostel look the part of backpackers. Some of them are on the patio smoking, drinking a beer, or checking their email on some tablet or smart phone.

Many of the guys are classic traveler types… Some of them have creative hats or beads in their hair. Some of them have indigenous-looking necklaces or colored twine wrist bands to accentuate their rugged individuality. I see cargo pants like they are suddenly the new style.

And the girls… dear lord…

I mean, at what point does a backpacking girl think that a loose-fitting flannel shirt will be attractive? Or cargo or sweat pants, or bandanas in their hair?

You might say the girls never intended them to be attractive. They are “traveling the world”, not “trying to be attractive.” They have a limited wardrobe, aren’t trying to impress anybody, were just in the jungle or whatever… blah, blah, blah.

Usually it’s the American girls that dress like this. Frequently they’re fat, too– not a good combination. I’m not too excited to be in a foreign land.

But…

After awhile I sit across from some people and strike up a conversation… Almost everyone seems really affable, and a kind instant camaraderie develops. For example, I don’t really know Rio de Janeiro, so I ask people what they’ve done, where they’ve gone, where they are going the next day.

I love these informal conversations. Travelers will talk, and it seems like they actually enjoy being friendly because they are in a foreign land, meeting foreign people. I always seem to learn something new, just by listening to where their from and what they are doing with their lives.

And at meal time, whoever happens to be around just all goes out together. I really enjoy having lunch with other people. Someone should write a book about not eating alone (cough, cough).

At some point, I ask is anyone has plans to go out tonight. Usually someone has heard of something going on, and there are a cluster of people who are thinking about going. Loose plans are made, with the pre-party festivities going on at the hostel.

Now, who ends up going out turns out to be kind of funny because it’s so eclectic. Here are some recent combinations I’ve had:

2 French girls, 1 French guy, 2 Paraguayans, 1 American, and me.

2 Irish guys, 1 Swiss guy, 1 Argentine guy, 1 Brazilian, 1 Englishman, and me.

4 Brazilians girls, 2 American guys, 1 British girl, 1 Frenchman, 1 Canadian guy, and me.

Sometimes the groups get rather large because people find out where a group is headed. They want to join in on the next best thing, so they hop on the bandwagon… 4 Brazilians, 3 Americans, 2 Swiss, 2 Germans, 3 Belgians.

Now, getting a random selection of 14 travelers to all leave at the same time is like herding cats. No one want to be the first to leave, and people are always saying “Hold on, let me go get more money from my wallet.”

Nevertheless, we finally arrive at your nightspot with a posse bigger than most of the ones I’ve been able to put together back at home… which makes it interesting because within the last couple hours I’ve just joined my very own posse in a foreign country, who care just a little bit to also get safely back to the same place later.

Now, when I circle around the club, I will run into people I know and give them a cheers, maybe dance near them for awhile, maybe get introduced to whoever they are talking to. Later on, everybody makes sure everyone is going to the right place, and a cab that would have cost $15 just for me now costs $3.

The next day I go on a tour or to the beach with some of them. They help me with taking pictures, I help them. We laugh at how we can speak the language, or at weird sights we see through the day. I know that I probably won’t keep in touch with them for very long after our short time together.

I really like shared experiences, and a hostel very often provides them.

I just imagine how lonely traveling would be like if everything were so solo…

I love hostels.

Go figure.

  • You know, I’ve always thought the best compromise to make would be to definitely do the hostel thing but get your own room, what do you think?

    I’m also surprised you said they don’t tend to have AC, I really thought they would have (at least the better ones as you indicated you had picked out).

    Cheers,
    Andrew

    • Agreed. If you can afford a private room in a hostel, I think it’s the way to go… Unfortunately, they are nearly always 2x the price of a dorm room.
      Air conditioning should be listed on Hostelworld, but it isn’t always, and some places turn off the A/C permanently for months at a time. It’s really the sweat and body odor smells that have me rolling my eyes.

  • Your post reminds me of some hostel memories I’d like to forget. ;p

    As a former study abroad peer advisor: If you’re ever traveling with a friend (friends) and you guys don’t want to stay in a hostel, you should totally try alternative lodging. Pros: private rooms or sharing a private apartment with friends; your own kitchen which prompts you to live the local experience; can be cheaper than hotels/the same price as hostels

    I encountered some shady people during hostels (not to mention some shady hostel workers), and had I known about sites like Airbnb, I would have definitely tried it in some countries.

    • Yep! Often a lot better to travel with someone… But if going solo, hostels tend to be the cheapest route, not to mention the easiest to book with sites like hostelworld.

  • So hostels are that bad and ghetto? Do they have private rooms? More luxurious ? Do you share a room ?

    • Some are better than others. They have private rooms available, but most people just stay in dorms, which have anywhere from, say, 4 to 12 bunk beds in one room, with a couple of common bathrooms. You really should give it a try if you haven’t done it before, so you know what it’s like.

      • Probably not, I need privacy because I’m brining home the girls. I can recall the annoying college roommates distracting me from my female companions, won’t happen again! Lol