Hostile Hostels?

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.

Shideh Ghandeharizadeh | Daily Trojan

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.