That feeling of sitting atop a single bunk in a shared dorm and looking out over the sea of sleeping faces, the strange sense that each of you is experiencing the same moment in uniquely different ways. The quiet rustle in the early morning of people going about their morning routine. Spilling suitcases and overpacked duffle bags, backpacks squashed at the foot of the bed.
Sometimes people arrive in pairs but, more often than not, people arrive alone. Sometimes they are confident travellers, dragging their cases into the space as though it is their home, other times they look around the room, concerned to find their bunk and escape into it. But each of them leaves with new experiences. You will share the dirty shower floor, and the chipped ceramic sink. You will share the strange dusty smell of the room, the yellowing ceilings, that disconcerting rattle of the air vent. Some of them will talk to you, some of them will struggle through a language barrier, others of them will simply smile toward you in the early evening, before turning their light off.
Hostels are what you make them. They can feel like a challenge, and they can feel like a privilege. Some days, after the rain has poured down in great waves from the grey skies, you will return to a hostel dorm and thank the roof above you. In the heat of summer you will open the small window, which looks out onto no view at all, other than some lonesome trash cans, and you will simply be grateful that there is a window to open. The people in the hostels will be too loud, or too invasive, too sweaty, arriving too late or waking too early. They will be flawed and complex and wonderful, and you will be one of them too.
If hostels have taught me anything, it’s that the people in them aren’t simply lonely backpackers looking for a bed- they may be that, for the fleeting minutes before you truly know them, but they are also just like you, they have lives outside the single bunk in that shared dorm. Vastly different luxurious lives, knowledge of the wider world outside the dorm, friends and family and life experiences which are, at once, beautifully mundane and also endlessly captivating.
We often think that luxury is defined by the space of a grand hotel room, the privacy of the en-suite bathroom, those little bottles of shampoo which we don’t even use but we think we might take them anyway. Luxury can be that. But luxury is also sitting on a dusty hostel dorm floor, sharing cookies with a French girl who tells you about her life for three hours, and waking in the morning to the sun coming in through the dirty glass of the window.
Have you been solo hostel travelling? What are your favourite memories of travel?
Featured image: Marcus Loke via Unsplash.