Habituating to hostel life

Hostels are an unavoidable part of studying abroad if you want to travel cheaply. Grimy, mildew-y, crammed, filled with hung-over employees and bacteria-laden bathrooms, hostels are something everyone should experience.

I stayed at my first hostel two weeks ago in London. I expected it to resemble the AT&T Techno Twins commercial, where the guy has no cell phone coverage in Brussels and has to hang out in his hostel room with “Zlas and Veder” (no idea on spelling), who both wear tight tank tops, mohawks and chains. One is ribbon dancing intensely while the other holds a giant boom box blaring techno. It sounds so enticing. I actually hoped it’d be a bit like that.

We pulled up to our hostel in Bayswater, London, and were pleasantly surprised. The hostel was part of a row of white, columned brownstones, connected to luxury condos, bordered Hyde Park and was around the corner from a bar called “Whiskey’s.” Jackpot. It had to be good.

We walked inside to the blast of crooning emo-music, a whiff of B.O. and a disinterested girl at the front desk with a lip ring and boyish red haircut. Hostel life, here we come. At least no techno music was blaring.

We learned we each had to pay 39 pounds for two nights, five pounds for a lock, 10 pounds for a security deposit and then five pounds if you want to rent a towel. Note to self: bring a towel and lock next time.

My roommate and I trudged up the grand staircase to our 10-bed all-female room, where a red, jungle gym array of bunk beds smashed together. I mentally looked around for Zlas and Veder, or at least some kind of ribbon.

Nope, we were alone. After jumbling with the lock for our bags for about 25 minutes, asking the hung-over redhead for help, and then fumbling with it for another 15 minutes, we rushed out of the hostel for the non-B.O. streets of London.

We tried to keep our hostel experience to a minimum. But that night, after finding out half our room was sleeping at 10:30, we needed a place to escape. We went to the “common room” where drunk Spanish kids played cards alongside bottles of Jose Cuervo. We sat nervously on a bench and pretended to scour our maps before slipping away to bed.

The next morning, I ate cereal with a French boy and tried to make conversation. He spoke little English. I said, “All I know in French is FIRMEZ-LA-BOUCHE” (which means shut up). He looked confused, so I kept repeating “FIRMEZ-LA-BOUCHE! FIRMEZ-LA-BOUCHE!” So much for perpetuating the loud, obnoxious American stereotype.

It was cool to be around so many international kids, and the hostel wasn’t terrible (at least I had cell phone coverage), but I felt like I needed to bathe rigorously afterwards.

My second hostel experience was considerably cleaner, and cheaper. During the first weekend in February, we stayed at Bath Backpackers, a 17-pound-a-night hostel in Bath, where you didn’t have to lock your things, nor rent a towel. No emo-music or B.O. smells either—they used heavy puffs of citrus air freshener to cover those up.

The front desk had a sign over it listing all the nationality stereotypes, like “Americans: don’t talk so loudly,” and “Japanese: No saying sorry.”

Bath Backpackers' sign at the front desk
Bath Backpackers

The cute Australian at the front desk walked the ten of us backpackers upstairs, next to walls plastered with brightly colored cartoon characters saying things like “Girls Night Out This Way.” Half my friends were in a room called “Divas.” My friend and I weren’t so lucky.

My roommate Shelea outside the "Divas" room
My roommate Shelea outside the

We were placed in a room that read “RIP.” Not exactly a room you want to come home to. Inside our room, there was a decrepit fireplace with peeling gray paint. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Santa Clause or Michael Myers dropped down it. There were ten bunk beds, placed comfortably apart, some labeled “Jeff Buckley” and “Jimmy Hendrix.”

My friend Angela in our "RIP" room, next to the Jimmy Hendrix and Jeff Buckley beds
My friend Angela in our

We toured the rest of the hostel. It was considerably nicer than our London hostel, with granite counter tops in one bathroom and a common room that resembled Gryffindors’ in “Harry Potter.” It had bookcases, a TV (yes!), a kid passed out on the couch and an old bearded man doing a crossword. Such is the hostel life.

Downstairs, they have the “Dungeon,” which is the hostel hangout that’s soundproof. Thank God. We bent down under its low-lying walls and dark arches, and slithered past the dancing pole, discarded chips and two mattresses slumped behind the bar. I thought this was where the hostel kids either do lines or pass out on their way to the bathroom.

Sad to say, we never made it to the Dungeon. We only stayed in the hostel long enough to sleep.

Both the Bath Backpackers and Bayswater hostels may have been creepy, and dirty, and smelly, but they were a great place to acquaint ourselves with the backpacker way of life. And maybe when we travel to Brussels, we’ll run into Zlas and Veeder. Hopefully.