Friday, October 24, 2008

What is a Hostel?

Most of my friends in the USA think I am nuts. When I travel for pleasure I often save on accommodation by staying in hostels. When many people think of hostels it might be very scary. Sharing a small space with 4-30 others seems frightening. But many hostels are hidden gems.

I was scared the first hostel I stayed in on my trip to Australia in 2002-2003. I didn’t know what to expect. It was Footprints Westend, a mammoth 13 story building nestled between the CBD of Sydney and Chinatown. When I arrived there were people sitting outside hanging out. The staff was young and not afraid to point me to the first bar on the street. Aussie friends, think Scubar.

Staying at Footprints introduced me to a variety of unique individuals. There was the man from Pakistan trying to sell me some rugs his village made. There was the couple from Sweden that thought putting up a sheet would dampen any sound from their nightly sexual romps. There was the Cornish woman (Cornish, not English) that was way too interested in taking me to the naturist beach on the other side of the harbour. Then there was the crazy Swedish man (not the same one having nightly sexual romps), I believe he was called Clink that would steal your marked food and made you believe he was always starving.

Yes, some of these individuals were difficult to tolerate but there was so much more. My fondest memories were of Greg, Dan, Tristian, Amy, Jenny, and Chris the roommates in the Penthouse of Footprints. We had a pink bathroom and nearly full kitchen at our disposal. We would go to the bottle shop and get a cheap box of wine. We would watch Cricket on Channel 9 all day. We would go on a harbour cruise and sing our national anthems at the top of our voices. We would disagree about when to have a party. We would be disappointed when we were kicked out over the holidays because of overbooking and all of our things were removed from the walls.

These simple events put together create an experience we can never relive. It happened at a hostel.

I have vowed not to ever stay at Footprints again (or whatever it is called today) because of the memories of the people and $15.00 all you can eat pizza and sangria night. Wow, that is a memory).

There are all types of hostels. There are fancy, sparkling hostels. There are some you are scared to sleep in. Most hostels have many different types of rooms. Some are singles, doubles, triples, quads, six-bed, twelve-bed, and even up to 30 bed. Some will have televisions. Some will have en-suite bathrooms. Some will have only cold water. Some will only have hot water.

My Suggestions:
1. Read Reviews Online. Go to Hostelworld or Lonely Planet for reviews.
2. Ask Other Travelers about their experiences
3. Watch for Quality Reviews like the Qualmark System in New Zealand
4. Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with another person in the hostel
5. Always stay at a place with the ability to lock your stuff up
6. Always stay in a place you feel comfortable with

There are all different types of people that stay at hostels. My current roommate at Auckland Central Backpackers is a 70-ish guy from Allentown, Pennsylvania. I have shared space with the smelly, hot, chatters, black, white, brown, male, female, old, young, ugly, un-interesting, interesting, musicians, carpet salesmen, doctors, students. You never know who will be around.

Here are a few pictures from Auckland Central Backpackers.

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