In a word: Interesting.
In several: Not as scary as you think.
It’s an experience everyone should have. It’s exciting and thrilling to pay something like $15 for a place to sleep and shower and explore a new place when you wake up in this communal living area. We’ve met people in their teens and in their 50s in hostels. We’ve met Australians, Germans, Americans, Canadians, Mexicans, Italians, and Grecians. We’ve met students and full-time workers and unemployed people and people who are just starting out in a new place. We’ve met people we liked and people who weren’t so pleasant.
And we wouldn’t have met any of them if our initial fear of staying in a hostel had stuck. But luckily, it didn’t. And now, we’ve stayed in nearly 10 different hostels.
I’ll be honest: The first time we stayed in a hostel, we were terrified. We stayed at a place called the Antigallican Hotel on the outskirts of London. We had to book it super last minute, so it wasn’t the best option for us but it worked. We took the tube and then the bus to get there and arrived to a locked door. We buzzed in, waited for a while until someone checked us in, and found our way to our room, which was full of our roommates — a bunch of men.
Now, before we had gotten there, we were scared. We didn’t know what to expect, but upon arriving and realizing we were the only females in the room, the fear heightened. We’re both tiny women. What if our stuff got stolen? What if they came home loud and drunk? What if they assaulted us? This isn’t meant to stereotype men in any way, it’s just the honest fear of two women sleeping in the same room as four men twice their size.
We settled into our room quickly and went to dinner. When we got back, I decided to introduce myself — and I’m so glad I did. Once we got them talking, they were a lot less scary to us. Turns out, they were in London for work and all of them were Polish. They were friendly and had chef jobs, so I jokingly asked them to make us breakfast in the morning. We had a good laugh and they were very kind to us. There was nothing bad or scary about them (except that one of them slept naked, which was a nasty shock to me when I woke up in the middle of the night and saw his covers tossed to the side of his bed).
We do this thing in life where we fear what we don’t know or understand. We don’t get why people do what they do or wear what they wear or value what they value, so we decide it’s wrong and we choose to be weirded out or scared of it. But when we try to understand what it is that’s different than us — like sexual orientation or religious practices or even just being different than what I thought my first roommates in a hostel might be like — we might find that it’s not so different from us after all. We might find that we can love those who are our polar opposites and find in them a friend we always needed. Or if not a friend, maybe just a lesson.
Staying in hostels has taught me a lot. It’s taught me that travelers help each other out. It’s taught me that serendipity is a beautiful thing. It’s taught me that there is almost always free pasta in the hostel kitchen. That towels cost money. That a hot shower is a good one. That having good wifi in your room is probably better than having an awesome atmosphere. That we’re all just wandering around looking for what we think are answers but are actually more questions. That trusting a stranger can sometimes be the best decision you make.
And that hostels are seriously awesome.
After London, we stayed in YHA Liverpool, a super hip place with a bar and a lounge. The entire hostel was decorated with a Beatles theme, and everything was like green and white. There was loud music playing in the lounge all the time but the rooms were quiet and just chilly enough to sleep well. The showers were clean and the beds were comfy, and it only cost us about $20 per person that night. That’s where we met Sonia, an Italian living in the U.K., and Ann, and American living in London. We bonded throughout the night and stuck together when a bunch of middle-aged men came into the lounge drunk at the ripe hour of 10 p.m. and started hitting on everyone.
After that, our favorite hostel so far: Edinburgh’s Budget Backpackers. At only about $15 per night for the both of us, it exceeded our expectations. The wifi was awesome, the facilities were clean, there was a bar and lounge area that was always hopping with people. There were so. many. outlets. Which, let me tell you, is seriously amazing. Some hostels we’ve stayed at have like four outlets in a room of six people, so forget it if you have more than one thing to charge. At Budget Backpackers, there were individual reading lights above the bed and tons of friendly people. We met an Australian who went to school in Hong Kong but spent a good amount of time where his dad lived in Singapore and was in the middle of an around-the-world solo trip. We met a Canadian named Lydia who had just finished studying abroad and was doing some solo travel before heading home. And we met sweet, sweet Rodrigo — a man from Mexico, one of our roommates, who always checked in on us and asked about our day. The only downfall of this place was that one of our roommates who didn’t visit with us much snored so loud that I woke up one morning at 4 am and decided not to even bother going back to bed. It was a long day. You win some, you lose some.
In Glasgow, we stayed at a place really far from the city center that smelled like feet and had ice cold showers. In Dublin, we had to make our own beds but the sheets were pink and I really liked that. In Galway, there was construction going on in the entire hostel that was kind of in the way. In Belfast, the wifi sucked and there were not enough bathrooms but we witnessed a bunch of Americans trying to teach Germans how to play flip cup, and that was comical. In Sweden, we stayed at a hostel that felt a lot more like a hotel because it was so fancy and we had an Italian roommate named Jeff who was very chatty and another roommate who meditated for 45 minutes before bed. In Amsterdam, we stayed at a hostel that was actually a train and had very little space but a really cool experience.
When we first started out, we were crazy about locking up our stuff and organizing everything perfectly. Now, we check in, toss things on our bed, and go explore — because like I said, sometimes trusting strangers can lead to unimaginable results. And usually, it’s not nearly as frightening as you might expect. Though we seldom lock our stuff up anymore, we’ve never had anything stolen.
All different and unforgettable, our stays in hostels around Europe have added color to our trip that otherwise might not have been there. And that is something we will never forget.