A lot of people have preconceived ideas about staying in a hostel, especially dorm rooms (some of which are justified). However, I’ve spent most of my travelling life sleeping in hostels and they’re the prefect place to stay. People have a lot of different concerns about using hostels. It usually centres around their stuff getting stolen, being used to the comfort of hotels or panicking about having to share with four or five strangers. Having slept in a 20 bed dorm I can tell you it’s not as bad as you’d think.
Before I left on my first trip I was unsure what to expect from hostels too. For my first two nights away, in Calais and Bruges, I had booked private single rooms just until I settled into the travelling lifestyle. It wasn’t until I reached Amsterdam that I was going to be actually sleeping in a dorm. However my first hostel was in Bruges and from the moment I checked in everything felt good.
It was on the day of the French train strikes so it was already late when I arrived. There was a small group stood around outside the hostel when I finally got there, some having a smoke and chatting. One of which was the person doing the check-ins who guessed I was a late arrival they were waiting for. He explained how he’d not locked the front door yet as he was waiting for me to turn up. He was a really cool guy and gave me all the information about the hostel, where I could still find food and was very understanding about my situation and the journey I’d had to get there. It’s still one of my best check-ins while travelling, even though he just did the simple things, mainly because of the difficulties I had in getting there. Although he also recognised me when I came back a month later at the end of my trip, which was cool.
After my check-in I headed to the room to drop my bag. I was pretty tired by then after the day I’d had but went back down to the lounge area to see what was going on. I took a seat on one of the couches scattered around the room. There were backpackers sat all over, chatting in their groups.
This was my first time in a common room like this and everything seemed very friendly (no smart phones in 2010 so people were actually talking). After a minute or so I was just deciding whether to go in search of something to eat when the girl sat next me asked if I wanted some food. They’d cooked a load of pasta that evening (because that’s all backpackers eat) and had lots left over so she offered me a bowl. I was pretty sure I’d seen her outside when I arrived so she must have known I’d got there late, plus everybody seemed to be aware of the problems with the French trains by then too. This was a girl I’d never met and hadn’t spoken to before this moment.
That’s one of the cool things about staying in hostels. So often people will offer you some extra food they have, or you get together to cook a meal with people you’ve only just met. It’s like being part of a community and one of the main reason why I love travelling so much. So often when I arrive in a new hostel I’ve met someone and within a few minutes we’ve gone for a drink or something to eat together. You get talking, asking the usual questions. It’s not until a few hours later that you actually realise you have no idea what their name is. In fact, generally it’s the last thing you find out. I’ve spent a few days with people, enjoyed great nights out, found out so much about their life and still have no idea what they were called.
Obviously it can’t always be a great experience. The more you travel the more likely you are to have a bad experience sooner or later and it’s happened to most travellers somewhere down the line. Whether it’s the hostel itself, the people in your room or something that happens while you’re there. Yes, they don’t always have the best facilities, sometimes there’s a funny smell, or the beds are harder than rocks. And occasionally you meet that weird guy who’s just a little too intense. But there’s a familiarity about them for me now. No matter the country I’m in, the language spoken or the various nationalities I meet. It’s pretty easy to get into the ways of hostel life. That’s what I got to experience for the first time in Bruges and from that point on I have never been worried about staying in hostels or even dorm rooms.