With a sleeping bag slung over one shoulder, a tent under one arm and a lust for adventure, my first taste of traveling was made up of nights wild camping, slumped on the sofas of fellow couchsurfers, or simply roughing it wherever possible, usually under bridges. This was undeniably fun, there’s nothing quite like the freedom of not knowing, or caring, where you are going to spend the night. The thing is though, you don’t tend to make many buddies whilst camping in the middle of nowhere. On my first adventurers, hostels were out of my price range. This trip is a little different, I still camp and couchsurf but now I have also entered the wonderful world of hostelling… Here is what I have learned so far…
1. How to make friends
Being in hostels really goes to show that even the most fleeting of interactions can have a monumental effect on your life. Some of the best humans in my life are people that I met in hostels. Without any of the heavy weight of ‘who you are’, you can cut through the shallow talk and really learn to connect with people straight off the bat. Even if the guests in the hostel are sparse, usually the guys that run the best hostels are incredibly outgoing and friendly. Above is a picture of me pouring myself a pint from the bar at Cheers Hostel in Istanbul; the barman was quite literally my best friend for a week. I sporadically worked behind the bar. I failed at pouring pints without at least five inches of head.
2. How to have fun
Everyday, staying in a hostel offers a stream of spontaneous opportunities that give you a chance to say “fuck it” and go with the flow. With faces, cities and countries coming and going, there is a continuous emergence of opportunities. Opportunities for fun, opportunities for love, opportunities to get wasted and opportunities for growth.
3. How to say no
On the other end of the scale, learning to say no is also invaluable. One of the beauties of solo traveling is that you can group up with people heading in the same direction, but when a different route beckons you to branch out, you can. Ultimately it’s YOUR adventure, so being able to follow your own desires not only gives you a huge sensation of freedom and independence, but also asserts your confidence as an individual.
4. How to manage the riffraff of Backpackistan
On your journey from hostel to hostel, you are inevitably going to come across certain breeds of backpackers that can be found in most hostels across the globe. Getting an earful how a mix of travelling and yogic practices has taken them to a higher spiritual plane, one that you could only hope to reach (thank goodness), is not unheard of in the hostel community. After having bounced through many hostels however, you learn how to out maneuver such characters – a worthy skill.
5. How enter stealth mode
Making your way into a 12 bed dorm room in the midst of the night, after drinking a number of beers, and retrieving the toothbrush from your bag, is most definitely an art of hostel etiquette. If one is not to piss off the entire room, it must be studied in detail.
6. Culture and History
Sometimes the pure history of a city can be somewhat overwhelming. Berlin is one such city that is soaked in history and culture, old and new. Without the friendly guys at East Seven Hostel, accessing this tremendous city wouldn’t have been nearly as easy. Sometimes staying in a hostel central to the main sights can be a blessing. On the other hand, if you’re travelling through more remote lands, a homestay can be unbelievably rewarding. The homemade food and wine (by the gallon) that I was lovingly served at Florian Shkodra Guesthouse is what made Albania truly unforgettable. I don’t often do hostel shout-outs but these guys, well, they became my friends. People are the main representatives of culture, so the more authentic, the better.
7. Learning to let go
When someone stumbles into your dorm room at 3am and ruthlessly ransacks their luggage in search of the loudest noise possible, your tolerance is pushed to its outermost limits. If you are to sustain your sanity throughout Backpackistan, then the practice of letting go is a must. From snoring to puking, the dorm room habitat is the perfect environment for the growth of your tolerance. Recently, whilst in Georgia, the door to my dorm was kicked off its hinges by an angry Mongolian who demanded that we cease with the ‘crazy person music’. It was my birthday. My dorm-buddies rushed to my defence. It could have turned ugly and yet, we all ended up laughing about it. Except the Mongolian, he had to leave.
8. Time is of little significance
As you begin to acclimatise to the (lack of) routine of life on the road, the days, weeks and months begin to merge into one continuous stream of events. You find yourself having to actively seek the date if such a reference is needed. This is a telltale sign of a budding nomad. Living the hostel lifestyle offers you a chance to see how time-obsessed our culture can be and how to live from moment to moment and how, ultimately, to just chill.
9. True happiness is shared
Despite the lack of consideration given to time, the calendar does play an important part in hostel community, as I discovered through a recent festive celebration. Last Christmas, at Hostel Mostel, I experienced the true joy of the hostelling spirit. With faces previously unknown, we all came together to share one of the funnest festive seasons I have ever experienced.
10. How to bag-a-bargain
It may cost you malicious monsoons, or blistering blizzards, but checking in through the off-peak season can save you a bunch. Also don’t be afraid to barter, especially if you’re staying for more than a few days, you may be pleasantly surprised. Somehow I landed myself in the incredibly plush Imperial Cave Hotel. If you have the chance, such unique settings are well worth including in your travel itinerary.
11. Great people are just around the corner
Sometimes it’s hard to imagine a greater group of people than the ones that you’re currently with. All of a sudden, leaving them seems somewhat disheartening. However, lo and behold, after every goodbye is another greeting to yet more incredible explorers. Venturing to the other side of the world to a place where no one knows of your existence, to then find such beautiful people and share experiences that you’ll remember for a lifetime, asserts the magnificence of humanity, at least on a personal level.
My adventures throughout Europe are now coming to an end; I have blasted my way across Turkey and into Georgia. In just a few short days, I shall be pushing on to Iran and then mysterious Pakistan… Whilst in Europe, much of my accommodation has been kindly sponsored by the awesome crew at HostelWorld, a big thank you to these guys. Staying in hostels throughout Europe, it’s been a great experience and heck, I am more excited than ever to plan the grand opening of The Broke Backpacker Hostel… It’s going to be a game changer!