The Glamorous Retrospect of Youth Hostels

San Franciso, Youth Hostel

There are many reasons why I love to travel, but accommodation has never been one of them. This is because I have a habit of spending as little as possible on accommodation to ensure I can scrape together enough money for flights. I think most of us have done this, right? and many of us still do. I mean what’s the point of shelling out for a fancy hotel when you’re going to be sightseeing all day? (The CEO of Mandarin Oriental must thank God not everyone thinks like me).

Although I don’t usually stay in hotels, this doesn’t mean I’m entirely fond of youth hostels. I have a love-hate relationship with them. On one hand, I’ve had some of my worst night’s sleep at the mercy of hostels, but on the other hand, it’s where I’ve met some of life’s most interesting characters, and that’s something I can’t put a price tag on.

When I reminisce about those nights spent chasing morsels of sleep on squeaky bunk-beds, I can’t help but laugh. It’s the type of laugh that can only be acquired through time, like when you think about a situation which drove you insane but somehow over time it manages to bury a place of affection in your heart. They say distance makes the heart grow fonder, and this is also true for the not-so-glamorous aspects of travel, like those times when you felt worn out and destroyed (that’s the melodramatic voice of a sleepless backpacker), but actually, in retrospect, they are what you remember the most and wear like a badge of honour.

Lost in LA

Lost, hungry and in need of sleep. This was the moment when I documented my friend as she reached ‘breaking point’. I refer to this night as ‘Lost in LA’

But then the next day went something like this…

Venice Beach

Some of my most unglamorous times in youth hostels were in America and Australia, the latter in particular stands out for how cold they can be during the winter. A lack of clothing didn’t help either. I was foolish at nineteen. China stands out for having some of the best and worst hostels I’ve stayed in. One of them didn’t even have a toilet (not even a squatting toilet!) instead there was a plastic basin in the room depressingly offered as though it were a form of compensation.

Youth Hostel in China
Stop smiling Toby. There’s absolutely nothing to be smiling about! I think the basins were supposed to be used so we could wash ourselves down in. However, they reeked of urine so people had other ideas…

I recall the time I slept in a dorm in Harlem with twenty girls and woke up to the sound of a girl vomiting over the top bunk onto another girl’s backpack – I’m not sure who I felt more sorry for; the girl who was projectile vomiting or the girl who owned the backpack.

In the end I decided my sympathy rested with the girl who had another girl’s puke on her backpack.

Youth Hostel in New York City
This one in New York reminded me of a prison. Harriet, nonetheless sees the bright side – after all, we’re in NYC!

If I hadn’t stayed in a hostel then I would never have been able to afford a visit to New York, and although I didn’t sleep well it was a small price to pay for so much fun and my first real taste of Manhattan cheesecake!

Youth Hostel in New York
Oh how quickly the mood can change!

There was also the occasion my friend, Lily, and I slept in a dorm with four German lads in Amsterdam. It was a warm and sunny day when we arrived at around 3’O Clock in the afternoon and opened the door to our 6-bed dorm, we didn’t expect to see the curtains closed and four guys fast asleep. We asked each ourselves, ‘Who would be sleeping on a day as sunny as this?!’ But we were in Amsterdam… and the penny soon dropped!

Amsterdam street art
I’ll say it again, what’s the point on spending lots of money on a hotel when you’re going to be out all day?

Lastly, there was the hostel in Oslo where Lily and I shared an 8-bed dorm with six other men ranging between the ages of 20 – 80. Everything was going well until I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth before sleeping, and as I climbed back into bed I saw a note on my pillow with the words ‘Will you kiss me?’ scrawled across it. I looked around in the dark room and noticed a man peering at me as he sat upright in his bed. Creepy. I just casually pretended I hadn’t seen him and rolled over and went to sleep. If you’re travelling solo as a female it can often be a good idea to select a female-only dorm if you have the choice, that way you should avoid awkward situations like the one I just mentioned.

Apart from the creepy guy, there were no complaints about staying in Anker Hostel in Oslo, it was clean and comfortable!
Apart from the creepy guy, there were no complaints about staying in Anker Hostel in Oslo, it was clean and comfortable!

On the other end of the spectrum we met a super Aussie called Jonny who joined us for some sightseeing and chess playing. Who won? The photo says it all! :D
On the other end of the spectrum we met a super Aussie called Jonny who joined us for some sightseeing and chess playing. Who won? The photo says it all!

Now that I’ve shed some light on the less desirable aspects of sleeping in youth hostels, I want to say that all the positive experiences made the crappy times worth it. Including the 10-month episode of bed bug bites I had on my legs. Most of all, using them has allowed me to travel exponentially, as well as meet fascinating people along the way, all of which have enriched my life tenfold. Sometimes the friendships are fleeting, lasting just a day. But for that day we bond over our experiences of travel and live in that very moment together.

Hostels have a way of connecting people from all over the world who want to engage with one another. That’s not something I’ve ever experienced in luxury hotels… not that I get the opportunity to stay in them often…

What are your thoughts on hostels? Have you made a life-long friend from a chance meeting in a hostel?

A travel & culture blog specialising in Scandinavia and the Arctic, peppered with the rest of the world in between.

Copyright © 2016 Shing Lin Yoong | All Rights Reserved | Designed by Paradigm Creations | Links