Going to a foreign country on your own is a daunting and anxiety-inducing experience. You worry that you may struggle to meet people, or even worry about your own safety navigating such an unfamiliar place.
I was eager to arrive in London, but nervous that I would be navigating the city without a friend. I wondered if I would be able to make connections and that eventually led to anxiety around traveling alone the entire time. When I booked my first weekend trip to Dublin, Ireland on my own, I was unsure what to expect. But I knew that my best chance of creating friendships during my time was to book myself a bed in a hostel.
For those that don’t know, hostels are different from hotels. Rather than living in a purchased private room with your own amenities, you are living with strangers in a shared room, usually bunk beds. Residents also share a kitchen space and washroom. While this may not sound exactly like lavish living or even comfortable, hostels provide a connection to others and to our environment that a hotel can’t provide.
Hostels date back to 1909, “when a German teacher Richard Schirrmann recognized a need for night shelter for groups of school children in order to explore the countryside.” Schirrmann created the world’s first hostel in Altena, Germany.
According to the website, 1932 saw the creation of the International Youth Hostel Federation in Amsterdam. Schirrmann was named the first president and numerous European countries joined the federation. Now known as Hostelling International, it is the world’s largest international membership organization with over 3.3 million members.
Hostels have certainly changed since the 20th century, though. Hostels are no longer the dirty, run-down places that people may associate them as. Most are now well-kept and clean. The types of hostels have also diversified as there are some known as “party hostels” or conversely “family hostels.” Many also provide private accommodation for a higher price.
Hostels have been designed since their inception as a destination for young travelers to stay for a short amount of time at a low cost. A side effect that hostels have is their ability to gather individuals from different cultures and different parts of the world together.
Whether you are making food in the kitchen, hanging out at the lounge or laying on your bunk bed, you are encountering someone you have never met before. Every individual shares the similar goal of finding a cheap place to stay amidst their adventures, and oftentimes they too are looking to meet others on their journey. But each person has had their own life and unique experiences that you may learn from. This contrast between a common destination and difference in backgrounds prompts engaging conversations as you learn about someone that can be from an entirely different part of the world.
This exposure to people through shared space sounds socially tiring, but it is also enriching when you learn about other cultures through conversation. Hostels act as an intersection of adventure and relaxation and if you do stay in one, be eager to spark some conversation with your hostel-mates. There is the chance that you may be able to create a friendship and explore the environment around your stay together.
Hostels hold a temporary beauty. They spark meaningful and deep friendships that can help you learn about yourself, but the connections all have an eventual check-out date. The short-lived friendships I have made with people that live thousands of miles away are something that I will always cherish. And if you haven’t yet, think about booking a hostel rather than a hotel, you will be surprised by the people you meet, cultures you experience, and memories you make.
By Jack Underhill, You Press Intern