I get a lot of funny looks and reactions from people whenever I express my fondness of hostels.
Why in the world would anyone want to do that when there are hotels, Airbnb, motels, and other accommodations with private bathrooms and more comfortable, unshared sleeping arrangements?
Well, I’ll admit that hostels aren’t necessarily the best accommodations available. Sometimes the shared bathrooms stink and the shower floors can be grimy. And then there’s the issue of keeping your belongings safe since the rooms are shared (with the exception of private rooms), and dealing with people in the dorm who snore, sleep talk, and/or come in at 4 a.m. and don’t care enough to shut the door quietly.
I’ve stayed in at least a dozen hostels over the last few years and even compiled a list of reasons not to opt for hostels in a post called “19 reasons not to stay at a hostel.” It can definitely be inconvenient and uncomfortable.
But I still think hostelling is an experience everyone should get under their belt if they haven’t already. At the very least, you’ll get entertaining stories to tell your friends about what it’s like.
And for those who, like me:
- are introverted
- are (sometimes) shy
- are reserved
- mostly prefer to keep to themselves
- are usually not the first one to approach people
hostelling solo is a must.
The first time I stayed in a hostel was in 2013 during a trip across Canada. It was at a hostel in Victoria, where I headed to after two weeks of work exchanging at a lavender farm on Vancouver Island. I was originally signed up to a four-person shared dorm. But as I entered the cramped, crowded lobby, I became overwhelmed (a characteristic of introversion). I suddenly didn’t feel like sharing a room with three other people, so I opted for a private room at the last minute.
I spent some time in the private room, then went out to explore the city on my own. When I came back to the hostel in the evening, I threw together some quinoa salad for dinner. After that was prepared, I walked out of the kitchen toward the dining room, and that’s when the fun began.
Where would I sit for dinner?
Everyone appeared to be gathered together in groups, chatting with each other, while I stood there blankly with my plate of quinoa. I retreated back into the kitchen and asked one of the guys standing there if we (“hostellers”) were allowed to sit anywhere in the room.
“Yeah, go ahead. Don’t be shy,” he said.
But I was.
Where was I supposed to sit?? With a group of people I didn’t know?? Was I supposed to just approach a random group of people talking loudly and ask if I could sit there???
Nope. No way. That was too hard.
I quickly scanned the area for a vacant table, found one, and plopped myself right into one of the chairs.
Eating my quinoa salad alone amid chatty travelers was so painful. I was hoping someone would ask to sit with me, but nobody did. Several minutes into my meal, I saw the guy I spoke to in the kitchen briefly mingling with others at another table. I think he saw me all by my lonesome self, and I felt a bit pathetic. I ate my dinner as fast as I possibly could, even though my stomach was telling me to slow the heck down.
I just wanted to leave and be alone in my private room. At least in that space, I wouldn’t feel like I was being scrutinized for being so lonely.
I didn’t make any friends while I was in Victoria, but while listening to people around me there talk, I was reminded of something: nobody there knew anybody to begin with. People were asking questions like, “Where are you from?” or “Where are you traveling to next?”
At my next hostel in Vancouver, I started opening up to strangers. I wound up dining some of my roommates, two girls from Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
By the time I hit my third and fourth hostels in Calgary and Banff, I tried really hard to push out of my shell by doing small things like saying good morning to people in the kitchen, asking travelers what they were cooking, and jumping into other people’s conversations.
In Banff, I made my boldest move (as of that time) by asking a guy I had seen about three times previously if I could sit with him at breakfast – something I couldn’t have imagined doing in Victoria. His name was Benny. We’ve become great friends since then and he’s blogging with me here on Backyard Destinations.
The thing I realized through hostelling alone is that you’re the one who chooses if you’re going to be companionless or not. It’s unrealistic to expect that people will always be the one to approach you. If you’re shy/introverted, hostelling forces you to use your cojones and initiate contact with others. If you don’t, you’ll probably just be with me, myself, and I.
The nice thing is that hostellers are friendly 99% of the time. Who’s going to say no if you ask if you can sit with them in the dining room? Would you say no if someone asked to join you for a meal? Travelers stay at hostels because they’re too broke to afford a nicer place to stay and/or because hostels provide an environment where it’s easy to make friends.
So for those who haven’t experienced hostelling yet, especially my fellow introverts, be sure to add it to the bucket list and give it a try 🙂