Youth hostels: an interesting mix of cultures, goals, experiences, ages and personalities. When you first check in, there’s no way of knowing what the strangers you are about to live with will be like. But within a short time, you’ll work out which of the following four categories they fall into.
1. The wide eyed traveler
This person is usually under 25 years old and on the trip of their life. They have worked hard in school and saved as much as they could to travel. They stay for 1-3 nights before continuing on a bus or train to the next place. They are fantastic company because they are always smiling and laughing and want to talk with as many people from all over the world as they can. Last night I had two such room mates and it was midnight before we finally turned out the lights on our conversations and stories.
2. The working holidayer
These are the long term travelers. They are often on their trip for one year or more and have been in your country almost long enough to seem like a resident. They often stay in the hostel for one month or more, going to work during the day and partying at night. They know all the cheap places to eat and the best places to drink. Their food shelf is overflowing with half full jars and their meals are often big enough to feed the small crowd they eat with every night. They have a routine going. I have found these to be the most common guests in Australian hostels over the years. They tend to be less social with those who are passing through because they see so many of us. But they always seem to have great fun with their new working holiday friends.
3. The local looking for cheap accommodation
At more established hostels, this group is increasingly common (and is the group I have most fallen into over the years). They love the vibe of young people traveling who tell stories in the kitchen. These guests are usually incredibly social and fun. Often aged 35-60 they like to share stories of their previous travels but mostly like to give hints and tips about the best places to go in their home towns. They travel light, attend business meetings or conferences during the day and hang out in communal area at night.
4. The permanent hostel resident
This small group are often pensioners or people down on their luck who are using the hostel as cheap accommodation. The less I say about my experiences with this group the better because they have rarely been positive.
So last night I checked into the youth hostel for a night before today’s travel to the snow. I started by offending an older lady who is in the fourth group who reacted poorly to my attempt at being friendly. She then proceeded to muscle in on everything anyone said. She had done it all bigger, better and badder than anyone else (apparently she cycle toured fully loaded at 48 years old covering 80km every morning before lunch and implying that she did more in the afternoon). When I didn’t react in competition (I said that I was probably a bit soft) she turned the television up so loud no one could talk and settled in. Not a great start to my stay.
Fortunately, things got much better. My room mates turned out to be cool guys from Germany, Italy and Canada. In the second kitchen was a group of friendly nurses who fell into the third group. They were enjoying a wonderful meal engaging everyone in conversation making the kitchen feel like a home away from home. I spent the night chatting in my room and in the kitchen. I laughed until midnight and I got some great tips on things to do next week when I return to Melbourne. It’s been a long time since I stayed in a proper travelers’ hostel and it was a breath of fresh air. There’s nothing like the pure joy of someone raving about the fantastic meal they just ate or seeing someone’s eyes light up when they hear they can see penguins. And it’s lovely when there are others around who create an atmosphere of respect and friendly conversation.
Personally I think it will be a sad day when hostels become impersonal cheap accommodation for long term residents. The coming and going, mixing and matching, swapping and sharing is what makes them a joy. They run on laughter and exploration for all no matter their age. And as I make my way to the youth hostel at the snow, I am left to wonder what my next experience will be like.