Bunk beds and shower shoes, noisy nights and dodgy wifi, lifesaving earplugs and bedroom lockers. To many, hostels sound like a recipe for vacay-hell, to others it is the only way to travel. For some they cannot ever imagine hanging up their hostel hat but, in your mid-twenties, is the hostel expiration date looming? At what age should we be trading in the communal showers for room service and bell boys?
Recently in a DC hostel it seemed that the common room was full of fresh-faced teens and it came to me that perhaps this cheap form of accommodation is a thing of the youth (the 18-25 variety). Perhaps as you near the big 3-0 it’s time to ship out and enter the world of, dare we say, luxury, but what if you don’t want to?
The hostel perks have not dimmed
Despite my climbing age, that innate desire to travel on the cheap and enjoy all the perks of hosteling hasn’t dimmed. The cries of maid service and the double bed are not yet calling and it’s hard to imagine that they will anytime soon.
Speaking to fellow travelers it seems many share the same sentiments. As more and more young people view a gap year as a rite of passage, hostels become staples in those uni years and few want to grow up and let that go. So is there an actual age limit on hosteling and, despite most travelers having had many a bug in the bed experience, why is it that we are so unwilling to drop the back-to-basics accommodation?
Hostels are full of like-minded travelers who share that wanderlust addiction. While they may look like a bunch of unwashed, disheveled vagabonds, travellers harvest intellectual conversation that hostels hold host to. The shared passions for traveling can mean making friends with people from all over the world, and not always just fleeting ones. That the girl you asked for the wifi code or that guy across the hall with a guitar could become a lifelong pal.
The original accommodation
Real grown-ups often enjoy a Marriot or Hilton. They appreciate the generic decor and reliable service, and that’s fine. One of the pulls of hostels, though, is that often they are unique, run by people who appreciate what it is to be a backpacker and be in a place to witness the true culture. This can mean sleeping in place decorated in a quirky but traditional way, living with locals and sampling authentic culture.
It’s fairly obvious that one of the biggest pulls for staying in hostels is the cheaper price. When backpacking, travelers don’t have hoards of money, and a £2 bed in Thailand or £10 stay in Bali is always going to win against astronomical hotel prices. We can furrow away those pennies for the surf lessons and jungle expeditions that rank higher on the necessity list than the multi-channel TV.
But when is enough enough?
It’s this list of hostel highlights that had me thinking that one day I’d be mourning for what would be the loss of my hostel days. Like many before me I’d cry out internally for the mornings waking up next to strangers and the nights climbing into bed in a room with ten new friends.
It seemed this sad farewell would be inevitable until, returning to my DC dorm, ironically, there was a lady mid-seventies lying on the adjacent bunk. The chattiest in our room, she was not fazed by the fifty year age gap between her and her roommates, and had no problem climbing the ladder to her bunk. Clearly a seasoned traveller, the shared bathroom and need for earplugs seemed not to bother her and, at breakfast, she was easily one of the more popular members of the hostel posse.
All ages and all walks of life
This solo super-heroine made it very clear: travellers come from all over the globe and have a variety of different backgrounds. When backpacking, nobody judges your profession or nationality. Backpackers take people for what they are, make friends, share experiences and go on their way without judgment at all, so why should age matter?
It would seem that while society dictates when you should get that grown-up job, move out of home and even stop wearing the crop tops, the call for ‘hostel has-been’ can be ignored. There is no time stamp on staying in a hostel, if you can climb the stairs and pray for the complimentary muffins with the best of them then who cares? My anti-wrinkle cream is now stashed away, I’ve reigned in my internal breakdown and plan on checking in for many more years to come. Lesson learned.