8 Important Things You Learn About Life, Love, And Hygiene When You Stay In Hostels

I spent the better part of my early 20s in hostels. I had adopted this notion of myself as a backpacking world traveller; an open-minded, up for anything, lust for life person. And I was. Now, many years later, I snap at strangers on the subway to give their seats up for the elderly and pregnant women, clean household surfaces excessively and hand sanitize in public. I wouldn't say I'm surly, but let's just say I often shake my fist at invisible foes while muttering to myself. The old me, however, had many wonderful experiences that are now stories I tell people when I'm drunk, and everyone looks at me in disbelief and says, "Really, you?" It's insulting but also very complimentary to me. I get why my history doesn't make much sense to them, as I have turned into the Monica I always knew I would be.

But back in my days of sleeping in train stations, making decisions like, "This afternoon, I'm getting on a bus to Bulgaria!", burying white wine and beer in sand bars at the beach to make it cold, riding on the backs of strangers' motorcycles and living out of a backpack, I learned many a valuable lesson from staying in hostels. Some of those lessons were gross, and some of them still serve me as a functioning adult who does not think it would be a good idea at all to take drugs from a strange bald Croatian man with a fanny pack slung across his chest while wearing sunglasses in order to go and dance to Carl Cox at a beach rave. No, current me does not think that would be a good idea at all. But the me that would often curl up on creaky bunks in rooms packed 24 strangers to the wall thought it was a just fine idea, and that me has some wisdom from years spent in hostel residence.

1. YOU CAN GO A SURPRISINGLY LONG TIME WITHOUT SHOWERING

After a several days of partying in Rome, I had a hostel employee tell me I smelled like a hobo. I was horrified at myself, but he just shrugged and said, "It's pretty standard around here." When you're living the hostel life, sometimes the following can occur:

  1. You are having way too much fun to find the time for banal things like showers.
  2. You're near a beach and that's your shower.
  3. The shower conditions are so vile you can't bring yourself to use the facilities, because you'd probably come out of there with hepatitis anyway.

Like exam periods, hostels will teach you exactly how long you can tolerate yourself without a shower, and you will be very surprised at how far you can push it.

2. AT LEAST ONE DRINKING GAME YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF BEFORE

When I was 21, I learned beer pong for the first time in a hostel. I also learned Shithead, Kings and various other card games people play in order to get drunk. Again, you will be shocked and awed by just how many drinking games exist that you've never played or even heard of before.

3. EVERYWHERE IS A POTENTIAL PLACE TO HAVE SEX

When you're staying in rooms populated with bunk beds and the strangers in them, getting busy is something you just have to figure out, like having your credit card cancelled in Romania and having to figure out how to eat without it. You do what you have to do. Everything becomes a potential place to have sex: the bathroom, stairwells, empty common rooms, closets, your own bunk with someone asleep in the bunk above or below you. When you're a horny backpacker in a hostel, places you would never even consider having sex in your regular life start to look like huge, rotating, heart-shaped beds with silk sheets and ceiling mirrors.

4. YOUR TRUE FEAR OF FOOT-BASED DISEASE

You will never understand exactly how terrifying the prospect of foot fungus is until you stay in a hostel and have to use a communal shower that's rarely cleaned, or at least rarely cleaned thoroughly. Hostel showers are hot beds for foot disease, and also for throwing up a little bit inside your mouth when you see a used bandaid or a hunk of human hair floating in the water pooling around the blocked drain. Foot disease in a hostel is to a backpacker what bed bugs are to New Yorkers—You never really think about it until it's possible you might get it, and once it's a possibility, it becomes literally the worst thing that could befall you, so you go to extreme lengths to avoid it.

5. HOW MUCH YOU LOVE OTHER PEOPLE

Staying in hostels will remind you how wonderful and generous other people can be. When you're down and out, the kinds of people that stay in hostels will have your back. People will really pull for you. And even moreso, people seem BETTER when you're traveling because they're not weighed down by the trappings of their every day life (and neither are you, which helps also). People are inclusive and positive and open-minded. People don't have their clique or their reputation to get by on, and everyone seems very genuine and very fun because all they have to bring to the table are stories and jokes, rather than gossip and complaints. It's a very freeing way to experience yourself and other people, and you'll find you can fall in love (even in a platonic way) with strangers very quickly when they're stripped of all the things that might burden them in the every day.

6. HOW MUCH YOU HATE OTHER PEOPLE

At the same time, backpackers are the living end. They are the worst. Oh yeah, you went with a tour group to Chernobyl. Do you feel HARD? Do you feel TOUGH? How many beers can you shot gun before you throw up? Sometimes, terrible, awful bros will be so drunk, they'll pee on your bunk while you're asleep in it, being so off their heads that they think it's the bathroom. Sometimes people will be weird or creepy or douchbaggy or make a terrible rape joke because they're an idiot. And you're stuck with them in dirty, close quarters, which exacerbates everything, like the girl who seemingly rises every morning at 6AM just to rustle a plastic bag near your head for 2 hours. For every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction. So as much as you find you love people, you will hate them in equal measure.

7. THAT WHEN YOU'RE TRAVELING, IT DOESN'T MATTER WHERE YOUR BED IS

Traveling isn't about where you sleep—it's about everything else you experience. You'll learn very quickly that you're more than OK to pay 4 Euros a night to sleep on a hostel's roof in Crete because aside from a few hours a night, the rest of your time you're going to be shooting around the island in a drop-top Jeep and drinking tsipuro on the dock with locals. The most important lesson you learn at a hostel is that the hostel does not matter.

8. THE MAGIC OF TRANSIENCE

The best thing you learn in hostels is that people come and go. That every day is new. That every experience is different. And that all of that is very beautiful. You can become best friends with someone for a week and never see them again, but that becomes a really wonderful thing. Because you know, even though life and everything that goes on during it is fleeting, there are people that will always be part of your stories, and that there are people who will always tell stories about you.

Images: Danica/Flickr; Giphy (8)