In my recent post on the subject of travel experts, several folks left excellent comments making the point that while many can claim an expertise in one specific aspect of travel it’s impossible to be an expert in every travel-related matter. If I had to list the areas of travel in which I know absolutely nothing, I have little hesitation in putting the world of hostels right at the top of my list.
It’s almost 25 years since I’ve travelled as a hard-core penny-saving backpacker where every drachma (remember those?) spent on a bed for the night was a frivolous extravagance. A hostel was a necessary interlude between nights spent on trains and was mainly indulged in to take advantage of a much-needed shower.
Once I entered the world of work and was able to afford luxuries such as bathrooms and personal privacy on my travels, I never looked back. Barring an occasional unavoidable overnight stay in some remote backwater, I shared a room with my wife and no-one else and we opted for at least a basic level of comfort.
This week I’ll be staying in three Polish hostels. I’ll be in the country to research a few stories and as I’m responsible for organising my own arrangements, every zloty counts. It’s simple economics: I’ll make a modest sum from the commissions around the trip so need to spend an even smaller amount for the exercise to be financially profitable. Those fancy bathroom-boasting hotels are out of the question. My self-imposed budget for three nights accommodation is a mere £35.
So in a throw-back to my teenage years I’ll be once again sharing my sleeping quarters and washing facilities with strangers. I must admit I’m quite looking forward to it. On the one hand I know I’m likely to meet more people than I normally do on my travels. I may even have a beer or two with the odd stranger, although I am likely to be the same age as their parents. On the other hand I’ll probably be more conscious than ever of the nuisance of a nightly trudge or two down the corridor to the toilet (that’s me, not the kids). I hope I can get away with not having to sleep in a top bunk.
I’m utterly rubbish at this budget travel business and I have no doubt I’ll behave like a complete budget travel novice to all I encounter this week. That’s probably no bad thing, as the young guns who I bump into can teach me a thing or two about the culture and etiquette of hostel dwelling. Perhaps the experience will induce flashbacks to nights spent in youth hostels in the 1980s, trying to sleep while listening to people snoring (or worse).
I might enjoy it, but I have no doubt that however I describe the experience to my wife on my return home, she won’t be asking me to book us into dorms on our next trip together.