Spring is coming.
I’m probably in the minority here, but I’m not ready for winter to leave us yet. One more monster storm that gives me a week’s worth of excuses to stay holed up inside, binge-watching Netflix and not shaving, would be perfect. Ready or not, Spring is on its way. Which means we need to lock in this season’s travel plans.
I think Monica and I have a pretty good system once we’ve picked a location. Whether we’re heading someplace exotic that requires updated vaccination records, or returning to a familiar haunt, we split up the chores. This means booking flights, checking for those can’t-miss activities that require reservations, arranging ground transportation if necessary, and finding the right lodging. Of these, lodging is usually the sticking point.
For several years, one of us had unreasonably strict criteria for what constituted suitable accommodations: room with a locking door, bed, and private shower; nearby restaurants (or better still, room service!); and no uninvited bugs, rodents, or reptiles.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail and staying in dozens (hundreds?) of hostels, relaxed my standards. Aside from the bugs, I don’t really need all those extra bells and whistles anymore. (If it weren’t for my “tree-hugger” tendencies, I’d be waging all-out war to eradicate these nasty nuisances.)
Our next big trip will put my newfound flexibility to the test. We’re going to hike the Camino de Santiago through France and Spain. Together! This means staying in hostels, and churches, and if experience is any indicator, even stranger’s homes. It’s gonna be awesome.
I’m not sure what the hostel conditions will be like. I’ve stayed in hostels that compare favorably with 5-star stays in Zurich and Las Vegas (sounds like an exaggeration, but it really isn’t). However, I’ve also endured hostels that were little more than corrugated sheds with no ventilation and moldy remains in corners that even mice avoided. I suspect we’ll be staying at hostels that fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, but I know better than to generalize about hostel conditions.
I’m probably putting my foot in my mouth (again), but while I know not to generalize about hostel conditions, I have a good idea about the types of hostel patrons we’ll meet. Without the locked doors and private bathrooms, we’re going to be surrounded by new people. This could mean forging new connections with amazing people… or avoiding awkward encounters that make for funny stories (much, much later).
Hostel Personalities (not to be confused with “hostile” personalities)
Strong Silent Type
Surrounded by an impenetrable and invisible wall, these hikers are deep in their own world. Whether working through personal issues, homesickness, mentally preparing for the next leg of their journey, or falling squarely into the INJT end of the spectrum, these hikers are tough nuts to crack. But if you do… WOW.
Armed with all the latest gadgets and gizmos they’ve read about in preparation for their first big hike, these hikers still have a world of questions. “How do you like your pack? I LOVE mine. It got it at REI for…” often substitutes for hello. They are blessed with limitless energy and enthusiasm, which will hopefully get them to the right end of the learning curve before the burden of their overloaded packs takes the thrill out of their hike.
Mums are often surrounded by small packs of Students. They’ve been there, been back, and been there again. Now they want to share their wisdom with others. Like any good parent, they can sometimes get a bit intrusive: “You really should think about stretching before you hike in the morning” but their advice, solicited or not, is usually worth listening to.
I wish I could tell you how quickly the mood at a hostel changes when a hiker pulls out a guitar and starts riffing. Especially when it’s something classy like Shaggy or Rhianna. These are things you just have to experience for yourself.
You thought you’d escaped these people when you graduated college. Nope. Hostels are a great place to let off some steam. No work in the morning. No parents (except the Mum’s, who can easily drink you under the table). No bedtime. No worries.
“For Real” Crazy
Let’s face it. Most hikers that take weeks (months) to walk strange paths, stay at strange places, and eat strange things to have enough fuel to get through grueling hikes, are… not normal. However, a very small percentage seen at or around hostels take atypical behavior to the extreme. This has never been an issue for me, which means I’m probably the “for real” crazy one. However, in the unlikely event you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, walk away (preferably with a friend or two), and let the hostel managers know what’s going on. They have more experience handling these unusual situations and can get more help if necessary. Besides, you’re here to have a great time.
Tried and True Backpackers
One of the reasons I enjoy staying in hostels so much is because the bulk of a hostel’s patrons are Tried and True Backpackers. They are experienced, but still have more to learn. They don’t shy away from a good time, but won’t get so carried away that they lose sight of their reasons for trekking in the first place. They are ready to form new and lasting friendships, but also respect the value of quality alone time.
I’m sure I’ve left out a few Hostel archetypes. Even now, two more come to mind, like the Permanent resident (the guy that planned to take a day or two for rest at a hostel, then suddenly it’s a year later, he’s got a job in town and a running tab at the bar), and the Spiritual Guide (hostel guests searching for the meaning of life through travel. Usually recognized by flowing, colorful clothing, vegan lifestyle, and a fondness for emphasizing the profundity of their epiphanies with the word “Dude.”)
Have I missed any other Hostel Personalities?
I never know quite what to expect when it comes to hostel quality. My “bed” may be a plywood slab, and the “shower” may be a garden hose dangling over a tree limb out back. Or I could be pampered by an altruistic family of hostel owners with an addiction to caring for their guests. However, what makes staying at hostels so memorable and rewarding is the chance to meet an amazing, diverse array of people, and to connect in a way that just isn’t possible if I were locked away in a hotel room.