I’ve got friends who have never known the joy, the pain, and the benefits of staying in a hostel.
One thing is for sure: Meeting people in hostels is easy. Over the years, I’ve noticed a pattern that emerged. I tend to meet the same five types of travelers in hostels no matter where I stay.
Hostels are usually the default for budget travelers in places where hotels or private guesthouse rooms are too expensive. Love ’em or hate ’em, I’ve been blessed and cursed to stay at quite a few hostels while backpacking over the years, and despite the discomforts, always met some interesting people.
Although I’m a little too old and grumpy to stay in hostel dorms now unless forced, I usually end up in one or two shared rooms over the course of the year. Especially in places like Singapore where 12 beds stacked on top of each other in a stinking dorm room is the norm. When you travel for many consecutive months, you simply can’t pay $70 a night for a hotel — and that would be considered cheap in many places. The equivalent would be paying $2100 a month for rent.
Open a well-located hostel to travelers of all nationalities and from all walks of life and you’re bound to get some interesting mixes. Every time I book hostels online I wonder what’s in store. A horrific encounter or perhaps a life-changing meeting?
If you’ve never stayed in one before (many Americans haven’t), here is quick sample of the types of travelers you can expect to meet in a hostel:
Every hostel has at least one token individual, the retired regular who has set up camp. Often men, these guys never leave the building and may call the hostel home for many consecutive months.
Many of the long-term resident guys I’ve met were interesting individuals, a few were simply mad beyond words, and all had a serious case of complaining incessantly about what was happening just outside the doors of the hostel.
This past year, I was sometimes the oldest guy staying in the hostel, and I’m sure that at least a few guests labeled me as the resident monkey. I was probably sitting behind a laptop, grunting, and trying to beat writing deadlines.
I just looked at them and grumbled.
The Hostel Couple
Anyone who has traveled knows them all too well: The couple, always intertwined, who probably met on the road, fell hopelessly in love, and know that time together is short. These shooting-star romances can be a beautiful thing, depending upon which side of the fence you happen to be on at the time. If you’re lonely, they can give you a new, unhealthy perspective on PDA (public displays of affection).
The hostel couple oozes affection in the common room, has basically done a hostile takeover of the movie room for snuggling, and either hang their “sex curtain” in the dorm room for pitiful attempt at faux privacy or regularly end up in the shower stall next to you because it’s the most romantic (and private) place in the hostel.
Hostels are good for meeting travelers, however, they are terrible for privacy.
The Young Scandinavians
Actually, this is a stereotype, but it often plays out as a reality in hostels around Southeast Asia. Scandinavians—whom I love meeting on the road—aren’t the only culprit. These 19-year-olds may have been nowhere to be seen when you checked in, but they have a tendency to appear sometime around 4 a.m., still hellbound to finish the party that began during dinner. They are good at what they do, only they do it very loudly.
You have to applaud their stamina. When most guests are crashing at 2 a.m., these guys are getting the cards out to begin four more hours of drinking games.
I don’t mind the good times, but I have to draw the line if at any given time electronic music begins to thump through the walls of the hostel at sunrise.
The Hardcore Traveler
With so many “hardcore” travelers out there, you’re bound to meet one or two in your hostel, particularly in India or on Khao San Road in Bangkok. These dreadlocked individuals are apparently so enlightened and open minded that they have become elitists who look down upon anyone carrying a guidebook, a bag that weighs over five pounds, or people who shower regularly.
It’s OK; hardcore travelers are so experienced that they don’t even have to travel much anymore. Smoking weed and hash in the same place for months seems to be the best way to learn about the local culture.
The Tortured Soul
Visualize too much eye makeup, a few facial piercings, and a perpetual disdain for other travelers, maybe humanity. These tortured types travel to escape. I love ’em. The token tortured souls of hostels always sit alone, never socialize, and are actually good fun once you manage to lure them out from their gloom.
Overall, I get the same feeling when booking hostels online as when I choose the seats on a flight. The potential for either a very beautiful or very annoying meeting hangs in the balance; the deal is sealed with a single, fateful mouse click.
I learned that the hard way when sat between two schoolgirls on my long flight to Bangkok in 2011.