One hostel experience that is forever seared in my mind is from my time in Shanghai. From precariously stepping around loose floorboards to making new friends while brushing my teeth, I made some of my craziest memories in China this past summer. I was fortunate enough to stay near the famous Bund, a source of nightlife and fine dining in one of the most spectacular parts of the city. I spent an entire day exploring the French Concession and surrounding areas with five other hostelers — one from England, two from Norway, one from Sweden and another American. We all came from different backgrounds, yet found ourselves in a foreign country together.
The beauty of hostels is without a doubt in the connections you make with other travelers. I find that the best moments I have had involved smoking a Cuban cigar in Havana with a Brit (who was utterly ripped off, I might add), discussing veganism with a Frenchman in Montreal, exploring the Shinjuku Gyoen gardens in Tokyo with two Singaporeans and dancing the night away to kpop with a mix of internationals and locals in Itaewon in Seoul. I can’t help smiling as I write this, because these are hands down some of my craziest stories that I will most certainly not be sharing with my kids one day.
Hostels are sometimes regarded as a “less than” way to travel. Images of people roughing it in dark corners of the world with gross communal showers and co-ed dorm rooms that smell like endless hours on a plane is sometimes painted as a less than ideal way to spend your time abroad. However, there’s much more below the surface that makes these hit-or-miss places a must-have experience. Some of my best memories have been made in various hostels around the world, and these (mis)adventures have undoubtedly shaped me into the person I am today — a smart, independent woman that enjoys kicking ass and taking names.
The world comes together in a hostel. You learn about other cultures and countries that you may or may not know much about. With a high turnover rate and a constant flow of conversation, you will never find yourself bored. As someone who has traveled both solo and with friends, I was always extremely grateful for the communal spirit encouraged by the hostel youth culture. I never felt lonely, and honestly thrived on the frequent influxes of new travelers. If you’re looking for a way to combat homesickness, this is the answer to your prayers.
While I have stayed in some stereotypically grungy hostels (I’m lookin’ at you, Cuba!), I have gained so much more life experience from those stays. The memories of showering and air drying on warm Havana nights, hosing myself down with soap on a boat dock in Norway, and washing my socks in a sink in Osaka never fails to make me laugh. I have undergone the ups and downs of traveling in hostels, and I can confidently say I laugh the most at the times when I was forced to take myself less seriously. Traveling is not perfect — and never will be — if you are doing it right. The bus delay, lost luggage and dead phone battery all make up a unique experience that you cannot get any other way. So take a chance! Live a little. Opt for the cheaper way to travel and I promise you’ll have an experience you won’t soon forget.