I recently did a weekend trip to Brussels and stayed in a hostel for the first time. It was a unique experience: much like backpacking, hosteling has in recent years entered the verbiage, connoting not only a particular type of accommodation, but a certain culture – twenty-something Lonely Planet types trying to transcend the mundane, bonding over late nights and early departures. In the past, for convenience’s sake, I’d always booked hotels (or not traveled at all), and certainly, hostels are short on that quality – with twenty bunks to a room, it can be hard to get a shower in edgewise. But I discovered that you meet people at hostels in a way that you simply can’t when you rack up Starwood points at the Hilton.
Especially for those traveling alone, hostels can mitigate the feeling of being an outsider in a foreign place, and they are immensely social. Minutes after my arrival, I was with several other guests, trying samurai sauce on Belgian fries and dodging cyclists. On a free walking tour the next morning, I met several girls from Iowa who were studying abroad in Valencia (in hostels, everyone is coming from somewhere cool and going somewhere cooler). When the tour ended, we continued sightseeing, eating croissants, and generally behaving like tourists. They were very welcoming, and a lot of fun, but maybe one of the best parts of traveling with strangers is that there’s no commitment of any sort, no expectation that you will continue to spend time together. So after dinner, I went back to the hostel, sat by myself, and learned about parametric architecture from a Brazilian exchange student. Read the rest of this entry »