I used to think that hostels were for meant to house extreme budget travelers. You know, the person who is essentially poverty stricken but doesn’t see why a lack of disposable income should prevent him from seeing the world and having new experiences. The dude that scoops up a $49 error fare from New York to Budapest and takes a 10 day trip with $50 spending money. This money will go very far since the lower half of his travel pack is filled with Energy bars and beef jerky, a bit of salt and a bit of sweet that adds up to a balance diet on the road. His collapsible water bottle, BPA free of course, is easily refilled in public restrooms and will protect him from dehydration. This was the type of traveler I thought hostels were designed for.
But then I moved to Europe. I live in France on an artist’s salary, which is to say, with not much disposable income, yet I don’t see why this should prevent ME from having new experiences. In October when I found a $49 return ticket to Berlin I opted to stay in a hostel as part of the adventure.
In Berlin, like almost all European cities, there were many hostels to choose from. Some had nightly rates as low as 10 Euros, though this price was for a bed in a 16 person unisex dorm. For 16 Euros per night, I reserved a bed in a 6 person female dorm at the Cat’s Pajamas Hostel, a boutique Hostel in the Neukölln neighborhood.
After a long day of exploring and touristing I checked into my room and noticed open suitcases and clothes strewn across unmade beds, but there was no-one in sight. Excellent, I thought, now I can settle in in peace. I took a shower and then got under my assigned covers preparing myself for a good nights rest. Just as I was on the verge of dreaming I heard a loud crash of a door slamming and then shrill laughter and incomprehensible chatter. The first set of roommates had returned. A flash of light prompted my eyelids to flash open like one of those dollies whose eyes shut when you lay them horizontally and spring open when upright.
I turned a bit, just so they could know that someone was trying to sleep. This probably encouraged them because they continued their conversation even more lively. It sounded like they were speaking Russian but I wasn’t sure. Would I be able to fall asleep again? I closed my eyes and tried not to hear the continued laughter, chatter and loud stomps. Eventually the noise died down, everyone was in bed, it was time again to sleep.
Just as I started getting comfortable the door opened and slammed again. More roommates arrived – these ones for the first time rolling their cases loudly behind them. The light went back on, seemingly brighter this time. I hit the home screen on my phone and see it is 1:30am. Being on the top bunk seemed a good idea at first, but now with the light so close the lightbulb might as well be on my forehead, I silently kick myself for not taking the bottom bunk.
These girls are loud. So loud that my curiosity gets the best of me and I sit up to look at them. They are quite young. One girl looks at me and looks away quickly. I pull the covers over my head and vow to switch rooms tomorrow then tell myself it probably will not make a difference. I am getting what I paid for, and I paid to share a room with five strangers.
The thing with hostels is that no matter how cute and well equipped they are, at the end of the day you are sharing a bedroom with a complete of strangers who may range from the most considerate friendly people to the complete opposite.
As a budget traveler, when deciding whether or not to stay in a hostel, it’s really a matter of deciding how to allocate scarce resources.
Yes I am an introvert. I don’t like strangers being too close to me and in the night I need silence in order to sleep. But I also like to eat good food when I travel and maybe buy a least one souvenir that could be a scarf, a coin purse or a pair of shoes. I did my calculations and concluded that if I want to enjoy my favorite aspects of travel then hostels are indeed worth it. That is, as long as I invest in a good pair of earplugs and I try my hardest not to take anything too personally.
What about you? When you travel what is your trade off?