Stay in Hostels

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.

With regards to going out: sometimes the hostel staff will also be plugged into the local club or bar scene and arrange structured pub crawls. But really, the best hostel parties are the impromptu ones. My second night in Brussels, a big group of guys from Liverpool came in, boisterous and already fairly drunk, inviting us all to a party down the street. Half an hour later, we were dancing to live music in a massive warehouse. It was loud enough that you couldn’t hear the beer bottles shattering on the cement, and it was dark enough that you couldn’t see the red wine stains on the clothing, and it was way more fun than it really ought to have been. You don’t need companions to visit the Louvre or to enjoy the view off of Pulpit Rock, but nightlife is best experienced with a group – even better if none of you happen to speak the same language.

Hostels aren’t the right place if you need undisturbed rest, high thread count sheets, or a romantic getaway. You’ll want to pack light and bring a padlock. But if these concerns are outweighed by your desire to meet other travelers, they’re highly recommended. In particular, do your research beforehand and scout out the ones with a common room and bar. You’ll discover that socializing at a hostel is actually much easier than in real life because there are so many solo travelers looking to do exactly the same thing.

Best of all, the transient nature of the clientele means that interactions are casual. Made a fool of yourself in front of the cute girl two bunks over? No problem, there’s another one checking in right now. Accidentally stepped on someone while climbing into bed?

Eh, he lives in Dusseldorf.

-Robert