I’ve got friends who have never known the joy, the pain, and the triumphs of staying in a hostel.
In short, hostels are a way of life for budget travelers in places where hotels or private guesthouses are too expensive. Love ’em or hate ’em, I’ve been blessed and cursed to stay at quite a few over the years and one thing is for sure: you meet some interesting people.
While I’m a little too grumpy to do the dorm thing 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.
I typically opt for a private room in hostels. Sometimes you can get lucky enough to lure another guest — preferably someone cute with an accent — out of the dorm to share a private room; often the cost of two dorm beds is more than what a private room costs. And then you don’t have to wake up to a bunch of jerks walking around in their underwear.
Open the door of a well-located place to people of all nationalities and walks of life and you’re bound to get some interesting mixes. Every time I book hostels online I wonder what’s in store. Perhaps a life-changing meeting?
If you’ve never stayed at a hostel before, here is just a small sampling of the types of people you can expect to meet:
Every hostel has at least one token individual, the aging regular who has set up camp, never leaves the building, and calls the place home for months on end. Many of the long-term resident guys I’ve met were interesting individuals, many 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 monkey’ sitting behind his laptop trying to meet 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. It can be a beautiful thing, depending upon which side of the fence you happen to be on at the time, or it gives you a new unhealthy perspective on PDA.
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 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.
The Young Scandinavians
Actually, this is a stereotype, but it is often a reality in hostels around Southeast Asia. Scandinavians — whom I love dearly — aren’t the only culprit. These 19-year-olds were 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.
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.
The Hardcore Traveler
Simply a matter of numbers, 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 contrarians who spit upon anyone carrying a guidebook, a bag that weighs over five pounds, or people who shower regularly.
It’s OK; hardcore travelers are such pros that they don’t even have to travel anymore — smoking weed and hash seem the best way to learn about the local culture outside of the hostel door.
The Tortured Soul
Think: too much eye makeup, facial piercings, and a perpetual disgust for humanity. They travel to escape. I love ’em. The token tortured souls of hostels always sit alone, never fraternize, and are actually cool as hell once you cut through six layers of doom and gloom to meet the real person behind the black clothes.
All in all, I get the same feeling when I book hostels as when I choose the seats on my flight. The potential for either a very beautiful or very annoying meeting is in the fate of a single mouse click. I learned that the hard way when sat between two schoolgirls on my long flight to Bangkok in 2011.