I am not a good hosteler.
I adore hostels. Let’s put that out there. The unique spaces often in renovated old houses with peeling paint and tin ceilings, the shabby common areas, the kitchen full of mismatched dishes and silverware and pots and lids. The clump of people on the porch all chatting with each other and seeming to enjoy it. That, too. And, of course, the reasonable fees to stay at hostels is another huge draw for any traveler, whether frugal or legit short on cash.
And yet, I do not conform to what seems to be the expected social contract one signs when staying at a hostel.
The accepted and expected behavior for a hostel-goer is something like this: check-in while chatting with the staff, say hi to everyone in the hallway, ask about nearby bars and music venues, dump your gear on the bed, wander down to the kitchen to see who’s cooking and who is going to the store for provisions and who is ordering pizza and choose your team, head out to the porch to sit and gab with whomever else is out there, stroll back inside for a bit of unpacking while planning evening activities with your new bunkmates, whether that’s playing guitar in the common area until 11pm or finding nearby social events to drop in on until well past curfew. Sleep, drink free kitchen coffee, repeat.
Here’s my routine behavior at a hostel: check-in, say a few words to the staff, admire the funky building decor and/or freaky disrepair of said building, deposit belongings on bed while giving a slight nod to roommates, wander down to kitchen to admire mismatched dishes and scope options for meal prep, give a sideways glance to the drum kit set up in the common area, closely inspect the bookshelves for anything interesting, go back to room, get food, cook food, eat food in common area with other people present but reading a book, smile at other people but talk little, play the little portable record player when no one is around, eventually speak at length to the one person who seems compelling on final day at hostel. Leave.
I’m also uncomfortably aware of some of my social pain-points, so when I am staying at a hostel I am doing what feels comfortable to me but also realizing that I am not fulfilling my ‘duties’. I am comfortable but uncomfortable. I engage little, which results in some curiosity from the other residents, I’m sure. Who is this person? Why doesn’t she hang out with us? Didn’t she hear us offer her some smokey treats if she wanted to chill out in the garage? If she’s so antisocial why is she at a hostel!?
There are folks that I do meet at hostels that I like very much. But they don’t tend to be the people you are supposed to meet: those travelers from a different land, a different creed, a different generation, a different worldview. I gravitate toward a specific kind of friend who in retrospect seems a lot like myself, only “better”. More creative, more inquisitive, more accomplished. But still a grounded adult woman, probably white, probably a little shy, probably a little tomboyish.
Many people come away from their hosteling experience with friends from every segment of life and planet conceivable. Shy white midwestern gals become friends with that guy from Argentina, that woman from Singapore, that couple from Senegal. That’s hard for me. But maybe THAT is another reason why I choose hostels: there’s something in me that wants to have the ease with others, the ability to connect, the social grace. And in a hostel the barriers are removed almost completely. No need to approach a stranger on the street. They will come to you. They will be on the top bunk to your bottom. They will see your shower clothes and your disheveled suitcase.
In a hostel, the ice has already been broken. So maybe I stay there, in part, to let myself melt a little.