I’m a traveler. I may be young at heart, but I’m anything but years young. My AARP card is wrinkled and worn. My current passport has six pages and three years left. So far, I’ve visited thirty countries, Not that I’m counting, but it’s my frequently asked question.
Back around circa 2000BT ( before texting ), my friend who works for United Airlines gave me a buddy pass for Christmas. ” You can go anywhere in the world you want.” Anywhere? Whoa! I chose Thailand. It was my first time in Asia, but definitly not the last.
Unfortunately, unbeknown to me, it was Chinese New Year. Apparently, the Chinese don’t celebrate their New Year for a long weekend, regardless if it’s a dog, rooster, ox, or sheep year, they keep up the festivities for weeks. Bangkok must be on their celebration route. While i was trying to figure out were to go, a Canadian couple I’d met walkng off the plane said they were going to Singapore. As it turns out, I, too, could go there if I wanted. “No, problem, Singapore, Miss, seats avail
able,” said the sweet, Japanese desk clerk.
It was one or two o’clock in the morning when we landed, but Ellen went to a pay phone. Using her budget travel guide-book, and advice on how to use the phone, from a friendly guy passing by, she found us a hostel, the first of many for me. The hostel consisted of several rooms above an Indian restaurant in the Hindu part of town. My small room had two twin beds, but I was the only occupant at the time, a door, and a balcony that looked over the main street. The well-worn sheets had a Mickey and Minnie Mouse pa
ttern. The pillow was a hard lump; the mattress slightly fluffier than the floor. The shared bath was huge. Several toilet stalls sans doors, or seats lined the wall. Each had a bucket of water in the corner with a large spoon or ladle. The trick was to dip it into the water to wash oneself after..well, you know.
On a small table near the balcony door in my room was a wicker basket with a sheet of paper, pencil, and a small bell. A wooden chair sat next to it. Upon further inspection I realized the paper was a menu. All I needed to do was check off the stuff I wanted and drop the basket down from the balcony and the food would be sent up to me. I love room service! The problem was I didn’t recognize the food. I would learn soon enough. For the moment , I sat on the little chair and watched the street vendors set up for the day. I was happy. The room cost about 6.00 US dollars a day.
Since then I have stayed in many hostels around the world. They vary wildly according to culture, price, and comfort, but compared to hotels, for independent travelers, they are inexpensive and much more interesting. In a hostel you get the latest skinny from backpackers on places to eat, buses, routes, sights on and off the beaten path, and nightlife. If you are traveling alone you usually can find someone to share expenses on local day tours and taxis. It’s likely you will find friends for traveling and even life.
Many hostels have private rooms and bath, but most people sleep dormitory style in bunk beds. Breakfast may or not be included, but usually there is kitchen where guests can store and cook food, and a common room with one or two computers, a TV, video games or movies, a bar, and maybe a pool table. There might be bikes to rent, and tours at reasonable prices, city maps, and local advice. The Hospedaje Golondrinos in Iquitos, Peru had lovely, warm water pool.
Through the years I have adopted a few methods for convenience and privacy. I pack a few sarongs, a couple of 8-10 foot cords, and a package of plastic and metal clips designed for paper, but the triangle inside allows me to slide the clip along the cord. I tie the cord from end to end along the top of my bunk, and hang the sarongs as curtains. I also carry an extension cord. It’s
invaluable for charging phones and laptops where there is only one outlet across the room or on busses. On some busses the outlet is up above the seats in the back of the luggage rack. I run the cord along the top and down the side, hooking it with the clips on the curtain line.
As there are everywhere, there are thieves in hostels. I never leave my small pack with iphone, pad, money & passport out of my sight. On busses, these things go under the seat ahead of me or under my feet-NEVER above, out of sight. On my last trip one of my favorite sarongs was stolen. It was irritating, but not crucial to the trip.
There are many sites on the internet for hostels. I use Hostelworld.com most of the time, but Tripadviser.com and hostelbooking.com are popular. This allows you to read the reviews of travelers-and we are an honest lot. The main gripe these days is wifi & water, and cleanliness. The last few years we’ve seen an out break of bedbugs in motels in America and Europe, and although I’ve heard of them in hostels, I haven’t had the experience. Ask. Don’t be shy. Are water and wifi reliable and available 24/7? Wifi might just be available in one room, or not at night. The same with water. I personally hate cold showers so the water will make or break the deal for me no matter how cheap the bed is.
All this aside, what makes a hostel exceptional is the staff and the people you meet. Many young folks ignore me. I understand. Who wants to hang out with someone who could be your grandmother. Fortunately there are those who appreciate having a person with a different perspective and stories to tell. I’ve taught yoga in hostels and cooked big pots of delicious soup, but mostly I’ve learned from the youth. A few weeks ago I was joined in my morning yoga routine by a Martial Arts Master/Teacher from France. We each learned some new moves. The photos are from some of my favorite hostels during the past two years in Brazil and Peru.
I can’t wait to visit some of the folks I met on my trip: Ireland, Italy (Tuscany), South Korea, England, and of course, back to Peru.