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7 Things I Learnt From My Time In Hostels

7 Things I Learnt From My Time In Hostels

“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away,” Swiss writer and philosopher Pascal Mercier once wrote. It’s definitely true of hostels – I once left my favourite pair of boxers in a dorm in Florence after packing in the dark. But underwear aside, I like to think I’ve gained something from staying in them too, and no, I don’t mean bed bugs. Hostels’ crazy collision of different personalities, cultures and languages mean they’re forever entertaining and educational. Here’s seven lessons I’ve learnt from sleeping with strangers.

#1 There’s no place like hostels

(Photo: Greg Lilly/Flickr)

Sure hotels are nice with their plush beds, water pressure and fancy doors that lock, but hostels offer something five-star forts never can: the rich, random tapestry of humankind. Nothing quite captures the vibrancy, variety, colour and chaos of travel and travellers like hostel life. Yes, it can be tiring and testing, dirty and disorientating, but it offers a window into the world that’s real and raw, inspiring and always eye-opening. You just don’t get that with room service.

#2 People are mostly good

In many ways, it’s surprising hostels actually work. Cramming a bunch of randoms into a room is both a social experiment and one giant trust exercise but it’s one that frequently succeeds, largely because most people are pretty decent deep down. Sure there’s the girl who trims her toenails in the shower or the jerk that hits on anything with two legs, but mostly travellers are respectful, genuine and have no intention of nicking your stuff. Given it’s easy to be cynical about people, it’s a heartening reminder that we can all get along. Even considering the next two points.

#3 Someone will always get home at 4am


Public enemy number one in dorms the world over is the loutish late-comer. Best case scenario, they collapse into bed quickly and just snore. Worse case, they bring home a new love interest and/or drunkenly think your bed is their bed. In Montreal one New Year’s Eve, we had an inebriated intruder wander into our dorm wearing just underpants. Cold and confused, he looked like Gollum from Lord Of The Rings and was hell-bent on getting into my friend’s bed. Turned out he’d had so many Canadian Clubs he didn’t realise he was on the wrong floor.

#4 Someone will always get up at 4am

The cheapest flights are always the early ones so you can guarantee some sly sleep-slayer will be up making a racket when you most need the Zzzs. If they turn on the light to pack, throw shoes and expletives. Often, it will sound like their bags consist of nothing but noisy plastic bags and it seemingly goes for hours. Earplugs are your best friend.

#5 You can get by on six hours sleep, maybe even four*

(Photo: Chris Ford/Flickr)

At home, I’m a mess if I don’t get my full eight hours of beauty sleep, but somehow on holidays you can miraculously survive and even thrive on half that. Maybe it’s the heady high of travel endorphins or just the brain rejoicing it’s not at work, but it’s a sweet relief when left reeling from previous lessons #3 and #4.

* Just don’t do it for too long or you’ll get sick and then have to try and buy medicine from a chemist in a foreign language, using the handful of words you know and a lot of pointing.

#6 Bookings are optional

In the sense that no matter how far ahead you book, it’s optional the hostel will have any record of it when you arrive. More than once, I’ve rocked up to find my reservation lost in transit or cheekily changed. So you booked that cozy double room two months ago? Oh, we thought you might prefer the 20-bed dorm instead – here’s your key! Of course, after a day of flying and walking and getting lost, it’s hard to find the energy to argue, or pick up your pack to find another hostel at 10pm at night. Best to just remember point #1 and embrace the chaos.

#7 In hostels, everyone can hear you scream

(Photo: Gerard Girbes Berges/Flickr)

What’s creepier than a sleepwalker in your dorm? A sleep-screamer. We encountered this rare but frightening creature one night in Budapest when we were violently awoken by a guy suddenly screaming “STEVEN! DON’T GO! STEVEN!” like poor Steven was being disembowelled right then and there (I checked, he wasn’t). He then fell asleep, leaving us shaking and checking our pants in the aftermath. Next morning we quizzed his friends and they shrugged and were like, “oh yeah, he does that.” It’s no surprise Steven left him.

(Lead image: Thomas Hawk/Flickr)

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