When I think long and hard about it, I must have shared bathrooms, bedrooms, leftover food, travel tips, (and countless germs) with close to 1,000 people.
If you are a nomad hopping from city to city or just a traveler on a budget, you may have considered staying in a hostel a time or two. And if you haven't, you probably should.
Hostels are budget-friendly sociable accommodations where you can rent a bed or bunk bed in a dorm-style room. Common spaces like the bathroom, kitchen, and living area are usually shared among guests who are usually travelers too. Hostels usually come at a fraction of the cost of typical hotels, which is why they're a favorite among travelers.
In my largest hostel, I was one of 24 young, sticky bodies occupying a room (Thailand). In my smallest, I was just in a room of four (Vietnam). And the longest period of time I've spent bouncing from bed to bed is three months (Colombia).
Sometimes, I would arrive at a hot new room where the AC didn't work and the air was thick and heavy like nectar, only to offload my dusty backpack onto my assigned bed and find that no one else would be joining me. ($8 for a private room in Costa Rica - not bad, I'd think).
But only a fool would actually crave privacy when they've paid to forgo personal boundaries in favor of crazy experiences with potential new friends, right?
Hostels aren't for the faint of heart, but they also don't deserve the reputation that precedes them; they're actually not dangerous, dirty or difficult to sleep in (if you do your research beforehand, mind you).
Does this look like a hostel to you? It was one of the many beautiful places I stayed at in Morocco with my friend (pictured)
Staying in hostels has nurtured an openness in me that I already knew existed and, given me friends that I can call on for visits in Iceland, Estonia and beyond.
My experiences have also left me with a razor-sharp sense of intuition and taught me a hell of a lot about people -- and myself. Allow me to (over) share what I've learnt...
Alone time doesn't exist.
Every time I embark on a solo backpacking trip, I'm asked by friends and family if I ever get lonely, or scared. I tell them the same thing each time: "You're really never alone whilst travelling." (Although sometimes the loneliness can hit hard at unexpected moments). But when staying in hostels, you're often craving some privacy after a just few hours.
A horse-riding trip that came with my Costa Rican hostel job
Why? Well if you hit it off with your new roomies, chances are you'll be swapping travel tips, hitting up the locals bars and planning a visit each to other's home country before you've even asked reception for the Wi-Fi password.
(Just remember: when you overdo it on the socializing, there's no-where to run in a place where everything's shared and open plan).
I worked at a surf hostel in Costa Rica this year, managing their SEO and social media in exchange for free surf lessons and excursions. Although it was an unforgettable experience, adjusting to the air-con preferences, morning schedules and snoring patterns of a new set of people every few days had me retreating to the office, pretending to work, just for some peace.
Sex happens. Everywhere.
Hostels are a thriving hotbed of young-person activity -- and sometimes this so happens to be of the, er, sexual nature. I've shared rooms where I've fallen asleep to suspicious-sounding moans and groans, turned a blind eye to extra bodies snuck into rooms and over-heard shower sex on several occasions.
I was also nearly caught once myself (with a boyfriend, in a four-person room) when we thought no-one was around.
Sex happens everywhere and those of us familiar with hostels expect to hear/see/smell it at some point. It's kind of just a given.
Me (not having sex) in a hostel in Nicaragua
Hostel workers can out-crazy the guests.
Remember that a high proportion of expats and those who work abroad have moved away because they can't handle real life back home, and whatever problems they've avoided in the monotony of the real world seem to be exacerbated in paradise.
True story. My friend staying at a hostel in the Caribbean recently detailed how a Spanish hostel owner offered her a private room with a double bed after flirting with her throughout her stay. Telling her the room came with a "free massage" should she be interested, he left her the keys and made it clear he'd be joining her in the room in 15 minutes. Her response? She went back to her smaller room, locked her room, and went to sleep. But the next morning the hostel owner was completely perplexed as to why he'd been rejected.
Living beyond the normal boundaries of society for so long, a lot of hostel workers and expats forget how to behave around travellers.
A hostel hang-out area in Leon, Nicaragua
Hostels bring out the best (and worst) in human nature.
Hostels are pulsating with the energy of interesting people from all over the world; interesting characters who will keep you up all evening, dishing out the kind of you advice your parents and friends told you stay clear of, over a never-ending stream of Tiger beer and poor-tasting menthol cigarettes.
I've learned more about alternative cultures and ways of living from late-night convos with strangers whilst swinging from hammocks and talking about home countries and customs, than I would from any blog or history book. And if you're ever really in need of help, your new-found hostel family are usually the first ones to offer a hand.
In Cuba this year, a friend was lent enough money to live off for days by complete strangers she'd met in a hostel, after she was robbed of her passport and wallet on her first day in Havana.
And recently when I contracted food poisoning (before checking into) a hostel in Granada, Nicaragua, surrounded by strangers and throwing up into a bin beside my bed (so not fun), a girl who I'd only spoken to once offered to do everything she could to help me, including carrying my bag and fetching me water. For me, a stay in a hostel always restores my faith in human nature, should I be feeling isolated or travel-weary.
Global friends in Nicaragua
Saying that though, you need to always protect your stuff and invest in padlocks. I remember chatting to a guy for hours (who seemed perfectly sweet) a few months ago in a hostel in Nicaragua, only to hear after I'd left, that he'd taken off with two laptops and three passports. Taking everyone at face value is a huge risk.
However, hostels will equip you with invaluable social skills. Compromising with 2 Italians, 1 Canadian, and an American over the optimum temperature for your shared room? You can't teach those diplomacy skills at work.
Staying in hostels means you'll meet the type of people you thought only existed in movies and you'll foster more global friendships in a few short days there, than you ever did during four years of college. So go. Book a stay using Hostel World or Hostel Bookers and enjoy it. Just remember to embrace the crazy, too.
Have you ever stayed at a hostel? Would you ever stay at a hostel? Where's the next place on your travel bucket list? Let us know in the comments below!