Hostels are simultaneously the best and worst thing about travelling. These little holes-in-the-wall save you money, they give you shelter, a place to put your backpack, a semi-dependable internet connection, and they only very rarely end in bedbugs.
When you hand over that $35 nightly fee, you know you’re sacrificing some degree of comfort, but there’s one thing you can’t be so sure about: the people.
An unruly mixed bag of the wide-eyed, the exhilarated, and the exhausted, hostels always offer you a bizarre cross-section of the regular world. Like some kind of trans-continental purgatory, your experience in this place can dictate an entire holiday. Your hostel is a breeding ground for friendship, frustration and in some cases, tinea.
Here are a few of the frenemies you’ll make within its hallowed walls.[related_articles]41297[/related_articles]
1. The Cheapskate
While everyone in the hostel is generally there because they’re low on funds, some are worse off than others. You’ll easily be able to spot a few of these cheeky types milling around the complimentary breakfast buffet each morning. After months in hostels around the world they genuinely don’t care that you can see them stuffing bread rolls and sugar sachets into their pockets. This is a no judgment zone.
2. The Long-Haul Backpacker
Usually sporting a few knotty braids, a henna tattoo and at least one fading paper band on their wrist from a festival you’ve never heard of, the long-haul backpacker is both a wellspring of knowledge and an absolute nightmare.
Since they’ve been roaming around the globe for at least six months more than you, they have hundreds of stories to tell. Once you buy them a beer, it all comes pouring out (mainly because they’re flat broke and straight-up grateful for the freebie).
Included in the long-haul backpackers repertoire of stories is at least one experience related to (real) absinthe, one stint of self-righteous woofing, three electronic music festivals, a few financial or medical emergencies, and one moment of intense self-discovery.
Though they may cause you temporary blindness from excessive eye rolling, they’ve definitely got one thing going for them – after ten countries worth of budget hostels, they have that whole roommate shtick down. This new friend won’t require any awkward 4am shushing.
3. The Stage-Five Clinger
Though travel is all about taking chances and meeting new people, sometimes you get stuck with someone less than ideal. In the regular world, you can blank a call or purposefully flake on plans. In a hostel, there’s no escape. This eager beaver is by your side from dawn to dusk (and sometimes longer). Hope you like small talk, you’re now committed to seeing once-in-a-lifetime sights with a total stranger.
4. The Guidebook Tourist
Travelling overseas has become such a rite of passage these days that people now expect it to be life-changing. The guidebook tourist is someone who has very high expectations. Following every tip in Lonely Planet like it’s a proven guide to self-enlightenment, this person has their day/week/month PLANNED.
Don’t feel offended if they don’t have time to hang out with you. They’re kind of occupied with their seven-hour walking tour of the Louvre. While it’s great to be organised, these people are the perfect reminder of the need to be impulsive. You know where you really “find yourself”? In the strange and surreal moments that pop up in between your perfect plans.
5. The One Who Seems A Little Too Old For All This
While the median age of your hostel buds would be about 21, there are always a couple of outliers who stand out. Watching a 55-year-old dude hang out with 19-year-old girls isn’t normal in any culture but this kind of person is more than likely really excellent.
There shouldn’t be any age restrictions on travel, and the fact that you can’t pony up for a month of exorbitant hotel fees doesn’t mean you don’t deserve a vacation. Whether they’re fulfilling long-lost goals, easing their empty nest syndrome, or just finally getting around to some sightseeing – you can’t blame them. The golden oldies bring a refreshing sense of knowledge and experience to the otherwise heady mix of Red Bull and post-pubescent testosterone present at the hostel bar.
6. The Newbie
Another fiend for travel guides is the token newbie. Usually an 18-year-old fresh out of high school, this person is more than likely feeling totally bewildered from the onslaught of the unfamiliar. They’ve smashed their phone, been mugged at least once and seen more naked people in the past week than they had in their entire lives. You can usually find them desperately trying to Skype their parents from the hostel common room and if you spot one, buy them a drink. They really need one.
7. The One Who’s Abandoned All Physical Hygiene
Somewhere between trekking through Nepal and hitchhiking across Cambodia this guy just gave up on showering. And it shows. While everyone else makes a morning beeline to the bathrooms, he’s just kicking back in the sun. Letting it all fester.
Try to avert your eyes as he props up his blackened feet on a deckchair. If he talks to you, it’s best to politely hold your breath for the duration of the conversation. Most importantly: it’s best to try and forget the fact your bed sheets have likely circulated through at least 100 more people like him.
8. Your New Best Friend
It’s experiences like this that let you bond with other people in record time. Unlike the real world, where making adult friends is rare and frankly super awkward, people in hostels just naturally stick together. Maybe it’s the adventurous spirit in the air or the fact you’re all sleeping within a few metres of each other’s faces, but it’s surprisingly easy to make new buds.
This is great if you’re travelling alone. Need some company on that canal tour? No worries. Want someone to talk to while strolling the streets? Sorted. Think drinking alone is super depressing? Here’s ten people who are feeling the same way.
In each hostel, there will be one person you just naturally stick with. It might be because you checked in at the same time. Maybe you just have the same sense of style. Or it could be that you’re the only ones who speak fluent English. Best case scenario: the strange and impromptu nature of this friendship makes it stick, and you have a foreign couch to crash on for the rest of your days. That’s pretty good value for just $35 a night.
(Lead image: Chris Goldberg/Flickr)