No matter where you have traveled, chances are you have stayed in your fair share of hostels along the way. Shared accommodation is one of the hallmarks of travel, and the longer you’re on the road, the more “hostel characters” you’ll meet and come to recognise. After living in various dorm rooms across Australia the last two months, I have become well-acquainted with a few “hostel characters”.
The backpackers who never left
I’d never met the “long-termer” until my current trip. With Australia’s wildly popular Work & Holiday Visa, 18-30 year olds from around the globe head Down Under to work and see the country. Most start out in a hostel and transition to a sharehouse once they are ready to base themselves in one location and find a job. A few never leave the hostel. In my favorite place in Sydney, there are several massive plastic storage boxes in the kitchen tagged with things like “HEATHER’S FOOD. LONG-TERM. DO NOT TOUCH. I WILL FIND YOU. :-)”
Why stay at a hostel long-term?
By living in a hostel, you don’t have to buy soap to wash your dishes or toilet paper. The one in Sydney is the only I know that offers free wifi. FREE. And a decent free breakfast. Their weekly cost is average for what you could expect to pay for share house/apartment in Sydney, so if you can welcome a revolving door of roommates in your more established routine, it’s really not that bad of a deal.
The backpackers who won’t leave your side (or, the one who falls in love with you)
There’s always a few people you meet in hostels who become life-long friends. More tend to become travel partners for a day or for several weeks. And once in a while, there are one or two who attach themselves to your side and follow your every move.
In Adelaide one of my male roommates decided I was his new best friend when I smiled and said hi. When he learned I had booked a day tour, he called and booked the same trip. Not a problem! The next day, he asked if I’d like to join him on a trip to a beach suburb. Sure thing!
Then he started sitting right beside me whenever I would pull out my computer. So close he was actually reading my screen I tried to find a way to politely say “would you mind?” without upsetting him. I never quite figured it out.
The night before he checked out, he offered to sponsor my visa if I ever visited his country. “But can’t I just get a tourist visa,” I asked, to which he replied, “No.” I know that’s not true. He then asked me to sponsor him on a visa to my country. He seemed deeply offended when I explained this was not possible. When he checked out, he left a note with hearts dotting the borders!
The backpackers who wake everyone up…and keep them awake
The mob of guys who woke up the entire hostel at 4:30am in Barcelona. The one guy who repeatedly threw himself at full force against the wall neighboring our room in Dublin. The two sets of girls I’ve shared a room with in Brisbane, who returned in the middle of the night, chatting loudly and laughing incessantly. They top my list of “Heather’s worst hostel nightmares.”
I’m not naïve. I don’t expect everyone to be in bed with lights out by “quiet hours” (if the hostel has them). By self-selecting into shared accommodation, I know I’ll probably be one of the first in bed most nights and expect to wake up briefly when others return. If you’ve had a fun night, I’m happy for you! Just try to show a modicum of respect upon your return, otherwise the rest of your roommates may not be so kind in the morning when you’re nursing a wicked hangover!!
The first set of girls in Brisbane burst through the doors at 4:40am and proceeded to chat as loudly as possible, punctuating every sentence with a fit of uncontrollable giggles. That’s cool for a few minutes. But 30 minutes non-stop? If you’re not ready to return to the room, please don’t. There’s a massive lounge at the end of the hallway for you to pull yourselves together.
The one in the bunk beneath me called her mom and chatted about nothing in particular while the other two continued laughing and stumbling into the 4 sets of bunk beds the hostel has somehow managed to squeeze into a room meant for 3 sets. I handled the situation as passive-aggressively as possible, rolling over in my bed several times and sighing loudly. I was *this* close to saying something in a relatively calm and polite voice, but fear of retaliation (having clothes stolen, waking up with obscene things written all over me) got the better of me. Thankfully they checked out that morning. Unfortunately, they were replaced with another set of 3 girls who returned at 3:00am last night and decided the ensuite toilet was soundproof. I’m pretty sure one fell in her heels and wiped out on the floor. This of course was cause for a 5-minute round of ear-piercing laughter and shrieking, followed by another 25 minutes in the room itself. I want you to have a great holiday, truly. But what I want even more is for me and the rest of the people in the room to enjoy our holidays too!
The backpackers you always see on the computer
By far, the biggest hostel surprise of the last two months has been the percentage of guests who own their own computer – or rather, the sheer number of people who can be found on their computers at any given time. When I walked into the lounge of the first hostel, I blinked in surprise. The room was nearly filled with people cradling their netbooks, doing anything from listening to music, watching TV shows and movies, to checking Facebook.
Instead of fostering an environment of meeting new people, swapping stories, and making plans for the evening, hostel common areas now team with people paying by the day to hop online. I admit, I have largely found myself gravitating toward joining them, but with each passing day I’m spending less time online and more time finding people outside of the hostel who want to connect.
The backpackers who work for accommodation
At first glance, it seems like a great plan. If you’re on the road and running low on cash, why wouldn’t you clean a few hours per day in exchange for accommodation? You would have plenty of time to see the sights after your shift and you could probably hold another part-time job.
As it turns out, you become a recognized face and guests ask questions, request assistance, or file complaints when you’re off duty. It didn’t sound all that bad to me at first, but I’ve been told after a while it becomes quite a hassle.
On top of that, many have seemed thoroughly bored of their surroundings — who wants to get to that stage?! Most lounge around the hostel all day if they’re not on shift, staying in their PJ’s and sprawling across the furniture. Or if you’re like a couple of girls in my current hostel, you’ve decided that you own the place. They storm out of their bedroom and through the lounge several times a day, stomp down the hall, complain on the phone to their moms about how terrible things are, and curse and hurl insults at someone who’s just upset them.
The backpacker who is ready for something new
Now that I’ve become better acquainted with a few types of hostel characters, I think it’s time for my next adventure – finding a job and a share house!
Who are the favourite (or just plain memorable) people you’ve met on the road? The brief list above is only the tip of the iceberg. Share your experiences by tweeting us @travelwithamate