If you’ve never been backpacking before, it’s likely you’ve never experienced the sweet mayhem of hostels.
If you go travelling for an extended period of time to pretty much any country in the world, chances are you’ll wind up in a hostel sooner or later. Before visiting one, many people (my old self included) picture hostels as grim places – cheap, slept in bunk beds, grimy backpackers, grimier bathrooms, no personal space… and to be honest, that’s exactly right.
The thing is, though, they’re brilliant.
The first time you enter a festering dorm room and see five pairs of unwashed feet poking out from under bed sheets at 4 in the afternoon, it’s pretty shocking. So is the first time a drunken pair of backpackers noisily have sex in the bunk above you. At 7 in the morning. They’re not for the faint hearted, but backpackers hostels are the social hubs that can make or break your trip.
I first walked into a dorm room like one of those terrified fainting goats that have racked up so many views on Youtube (mostly from my chuckling grandad). Almost immediately, however, every dreadlocked surfer dude or genie-pants clad girl would greet me with a smile, asked my name and where I was from and where I was going. In a hostel, that’s just the way it is. Everyone knows that you’ll probably never see each other again, which means there’s no time to waste being reserved.
It’s common to arrive in a hostel at midday, alone and nervous, and two hours later find yourself wondering the streets, beer in hand, laughing with your motley crew of new best friends, half of whom you can barely understand. I’ve had some of the best days and nights of my life with people whose names I still don’t know.
I can’t think of anywhere in the world that stimulates and inspires people to interact so much. Yes, you will be woken up every morning by people leaving for 4am flights. Yes, you will lose yourself in an ankle deep tide of other people’s belongings. Yes, you will be forced to listen to rhythmic creaking at least a couple of nights a week. But if you can tolerate that – and come on, you can tolerate it – you will meet people and have experiences that you will never, ever forget.
Or never remember, depending how drunk you are.