By: Zoe Sedlak
When I was on my summer break after my first year of university, I decided that taking a three day trip down to New York City was within my meagre budget, so I asked several of my friends if they wanted to come with me. At first, many of the conversations went something like this:
“You’re going to New York?”
“Yup. You wanna come?”
“Where are you staying?”
“… Oh. I’ll get back to you on that one.”
Up until then, I hadn’t done a whole lot of travelling without some sort of guardian around – whether it was with family or with school, so there had always been the option of staying in a hotel or hotel-like accommodation. Hostelling was new to me and many of my friends, and apparently to some of them, the word “hostel” seemed to be synonymous with “robbery”, “cockroaches” and “getting knifed in your sleep”. Now I can’t speak for all hostels here, but I can tell you that one hundred percent of the hostels that I’ve stayed at in North America have involved none of these things.
So the problem with taking a trip to New York wasn’t how to get there or even how much it would cost, but whether I could get my friends to warm to the idea of staying in a hostel.
The thing with hostels is, if you can’t afford to rent lavish Florence apartments or stay at the Hilton, they’re pretty much your best option for a few nights’ stay in a city. And if you’ve got a thang with hostels, it could turn your trip from something affordable to mission impossible. So what do you do when the people you want to take a trip with shudder every time you even mention “six-bed dorm”?
First off, you show them a site like Hostelling International. If you’ve stayed in a hostel before, you’re probably familiar with how brilliant this site is. It provides photos and reviews and a list of services offered, and again, I can’t speak for the hostels outside of North America, but none of the ones I’ve gone to have been misrepresented on this site. It served as a comfort to my furtive friends when they could read about other people’s experiences at the hostel, and see that most of the complaints were of the long walk to the bathroom, or the minimal breakfast options available in the adjoining café, and did not mention anywhere about any hooded men standing over their bed and breathing heavily as they slept, or getting robbed blind while they were in the shower. Just normal, non-life threatening problems like towels and breakfast.
Because it’s true, a hostel is not the Marriot. You’ll probably have to walk down a public hallway to the bathroom. You’ll have to sleep in the same room as strangers. But it’s been my experience that these strangers are, in fact, very much like you. They’re travelling, which means they have stories to tell, they’ve got shit they also don’t want stolen, and they’re usually on a budget, too. In the end, of the four friends who didn’t have class and would have been able to come with me to New York, I successfully turned two of them to the idea. Eh, you can’t change everyone. The best you can do is tell them that staying at a hostel is not a day at the spa or one of the fancy apartments in Florence but it’s not a scene from a Quentin Tarantino movie, either.