Hostels can be places to meet the best people. They can also be places to meet the worst people…or perhaps they bring out the worst in people. Small rooms, shared facilities, blended cultures, language barriers and different schedules can all be factors contributing to discomfort. The things that make hostels excellent places to stay can also make them hotbeds of discontent. Perhaps they should be called ‘hostiles?’
It’s been awhile since John and I went backpacking and stayed in hostels, but not so long that we’ve forgotten the basic premise: in exchange for cheap digs and the chance to meet other travellers, you sacrifice privacy, space and sometimes cleanliness. We’re a lot older than we were on our last backpacking trip and perhaps that has made us either more intolerant or just more aware of other people and expecting the same courtesies. But we’ve seen some shocking behaviour these last seven weeks in New Zealand, not just towards us but also towards other travellers and hostel owners. We'll continue to stay in hostels, of course, but I'd be lying if I said that some of this stuff isn't affecting my mood.
Here are some highlights:
The scene: Kitchen in a large hostel during peak dinnertime hour. A five year old boy is tearing around the kitchen yelling, “Mommy, mommy, mommy, mommeeeyyyyy!” Where is this Mommy you might wonder? She’s certainly not minding her little boy. Nor is she worrying about the eighteen to twenty-year olds who can barely avoid spilling their pasta down the drain as they burn their fingers trying to play ‘clever without a colander,’ much less navigate past a barely visible fast-moving child. This continued intermittently for at least ten minutes before the mother appeared and moved the child to be babysat by a portable DVD player in the living room.
We were staying in a tiny double room that shared a kitchenette with another tiny double room. The first two nights were excellent as we shared the kitchenette with a friendly, sensible Aussie guy. On returning after a day out on the third night we discovered our new neighbours: two girls in their twenties who had unloaded their car in our common area. They took up every shelf but one in the tiny fridge (thank goodness we left a bottle of soda to signal our presence) and spread the rest of their groceries and belongings across the countertops and all over the little shared table. We were friendly at first, learning that one of them had the flu and they were there to recover. Germs, excellent. Retreating to our little dogbox we thought we’d hide out and get some work done. An hour later their dinner preparations began and Frank Sinatra music was cranked up nice and loud. No worries. We asked them to turn it down a little because we were working and they obliged. But when dinner was over and the dishes were done, did they move on to their room to allow us to use the kitchen? Nope. We didn’t need to use the kitchen that night so it was okay, but they were still up until just before midnight with all their things sprawled out in what had become their own private living room, the one girl sneezing and coughing all over the place. In the morning, bright and early, banging and talking at the top of their lungs commenced again so that I could hear it right through my earplugs. We opened the door to find more suitcases blocking our door, sleeping bags being rolled up across the kitchen floor and a sandwich assembly line in motion. Their bedroom? Empty. Why use that room when you can terrorize your neighbours. The piece de resistance? Hygienic activities like face washing and tooth brushing going on in the kitchen sink. Nice.
Where’s My Phonebooth?
Sometimes your hostel door leads right out to the great outdoors. So it’s noisy sometimes. It’s the hostels' fault for poor design (a lot of that going on in New Zealand). But why, may I ask, would someone with a loud booming voice come and sit right in front of our door to chat on his mobile phone at midnight? Not sure what was wrong with the space in front of his door. Probably too noisy for him. And when I stuck my head out the door to ask him to please move on, I was met with a look of incredulity and not obliged. Lot of mysteries in this world.
Midnight Solo Guitarist
It’s always nice when some talented musicians rock up to your hostel and entertain the crowds with a little guitar and nice singing. I can even handle the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears covers (okay, not really, but I’m trying here - really I am). The concert started around eight and a few people were enjoying it. When it was still going on at midnight and most of the hostel seemed to be going to sleep we thought, wow, it’s gotten louder down there. Must be about ten people being entertained. Maybe we should set sleep aside and join the party. One look out the window revealed one solitary man, strumming and singing at the top of his lungs, not another soul in sight.
The Pressure Cooker
We were on the phone with family members one evening. Unfortunately the public phone is in the common room and you don’t have much privacy as it is. But most people are respectful of the space and sit to wait at one of the tables that was several metres away from phone. Not this young woman. She entered the common room and planted herself pretty much right on top of us and proceeded to glare at us every thirty seconds while making a big show of flipping her wallet and keychain around. Yes, we know you’re there, mate. We’ve only been on this line fifteen minutes and we’re almost finished. In fact, there is another phone in the adjacent room that you could be checking out if you weren’t so busy being up our arses. It was only our second night in the hostel and we had a few days so we didn’t want to make a big deal about it, but if we hadn’t been about to finish the call, there might have been a more entertaining end to this story.
I’m posting this not to have a good bitch session, but to find out how the rest of you are faring out there in hostel land. I understand that these situations can happen anywhere and aren’t just limited to hostels. But I seriously think that some of the people currently travelling in New Zealand have leapt from the warm acceptance of their parents’ living rooms into the public arena, with some unpleasant effects on everyone else. More than anything I’d like to learn how other travellers cope with offenders and take the temperature on what is now acceptable behaviour in hostel common areas.
What are some of your worst experiences in hostels? How do you cope?