Tuesday, 5 June 2012

So My Roommate's a Douche (and other facts of hostel life)

Hostels are whole different breed of animal from your traditional housing options. Much like hotels and motels, once you start swapping out letters your selection of amenities changes dramatically. A hostel is somewhere between that dive next to the Interstate and summer camp, but with a hint of psych ward thrown in just to keep things interesting. Before you immediately think, “Oh hell no!” allow me to elaborate on the subtleties of hostel living.

I’ve stayed in many hostels, mostly because I’m cheap and have a certain flair for disastrous excitement. Some people get their kicks from skydiving; I prefer off the wall accommodation. For the record, every example I’m about to give is a completely true and accurate account of my experiences.

Some hostels greet you at the door with a stack of free drink tickets and a beer stein full of condoms. These aren’t good hostels; these are the BEST hostels. It could be the shittiest place in the world, but if you give me free drinks, you’re getting a 5 star review.

Other hostels greet you with the offer to help suck the cocaine they just spilled out of the carpet. These are not good hostels. Offering to share with a stranger is generally considered to be a sign of good manners, but there’s some things that the 5 second rule just can’t cover.

Some hostels forget to mention that they’re still under construction and that they also share a quad with the local gospel singing group. Good luck getting any sleep there.

Some hostels are all night parties, and you will participate whether you want to or not. Others are like sleeping in a crypt.

Sometimes the average age is 15-18, other times it’s 40+. Some hostels even have family floors, so don’t be surprised if you see children running around from time to time.

My point is that no hostel is the same, so I can’t really write about a “typical” hostel experience, but I’ll do my best to explain some of the most common features.

For the most part, every additional amenity will cost extra at a hostel. You want sheets? That’s going to be an extra 2.50. Towels? Same deal. You want a lock for your locker? That’ll set you back a euro. Be prepared and bring you own stuff. A microfiber travel towel is a necessity for a cheap and happy hostel experience.

If you don’t choose a private room (which will cost significantly more) you’ll be in a dorm. You can choose between male and female dorms or co-ed. Either option is fine, and you’ll also be able to choose between 4, 6, 8, and even up to 32 bed dorms. Dorms feature bunk beds and lockers for you stuff. Use your locker whenever you’re out of the room, even if it’s just a quick trip to the bathroom.

The lockers in the most recent place we stayed at.

Speaking of bathrooms, these can also be co-ed, and sometimes you won’t know until the opposite sex exits the shower next to you. That’s ok; don’t freak out. Showers can range from sparkling to … yeah. Bring your shower shoes.

Some showers have this awesome feature where you push a button and the water comes out for 10-30 seconds. What really adds to the fun is that the water seems to be a different temperature every time you push the button. It’s like playing Russian Roulette with ice water and potential scalding. You’ll most likely experience cold water in this situation, as hot water is a precious commodity in most hostels. Some even charge for it, so make sure you have some change available.

Heat is typically free in hostels because they don’t want their pipes to freeze, but air conditioning is completely optional. If your hostel offers free air conditioning, use the hell out of it and don’t be that jackass who turns off the AC when your roommates aren’t looking. We don’t give a shit if you’re cold. Put on a sweater and shut the hell up.

Speaking of roommates, you’re sharing your space with complete strangers. These strangers are the type of people who won’t spring for traditional accommodation and probably enjoy an alternative lifestyle of traveling and not holding down steady employment. In other words, you’re going to meet some interesting characters, and you’d be surprised how many people snore.

If you’re the type of person who sees the glass as half full and believes that the world is generally full of good people, you’ll enjoy the hostel experience. If you’re like me and are a bit more cynical, you’ll probably find the same ratio of cool people and assholes that you experience everywhere else. Look around the subway, then imagine sharing a room with your fellow travelers.

If all else fails, remember that everyone you meet is bat shit crazy, just in varying degrees and ways. This includes you. You are just as crazy as everyone else, so you may as well embrace it.

Most hostels have a shared, industrial-style kitchen where everyone cooks their food. If you’re saving money by staying in a hostel, you’re also probably not eating out at restaurants. Write your name, your room number, and the date you plan on leaving on your stuff in the fridge. Anything that’s not labeled is considered to be free for the community. Additionally, not cleaning up after yourself is a serious faux pas in the hostel world, so wash your dishes.

I’ve met a lot of really cool people in hostels and have had some amazing times. I imagine I’ll be that old person who still stays in hostels during her retirement. This post may seem to bash on the hostel life a bit, but that’s only because I think people generally have a better time if they go into a situation with eyes wide open. The lower your expectations, the happier you will be. If you know what to expect and understand that a hostel is not like staying at the Hilton, you will be fine and you’ll probably have an awesome time. If you’re roommate’s a douche, just avoid him. Either you or him will move on eventually, and it’s just a bed.

Side note: as I write this, I'm overhearing a conversation about one of my hostel mates who drank gasoline. Apparently it makes you very tired, and you should avoid it at all possible. So that's a life tip I can take away from this hostel.

Surprisingly not as refreshing as Gatorade.


  1. The 10-30 second spurts of shower water remind me far too much of 'combat showers' to make even the possibility of staying in a hostel happen... good thing I can just live vicariously through you! :D

    1. I thought the exact same thing! "Well this sucks but at least I've had practice!" :-D


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