You crazy kids and your plush party hostels!

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Allow me to share with you the depth of my experiences, the wisdom of my years, the precision of my insurmountable intellectual prowess, in this unmitigated burst of rantastical glory, from a cranky old man far past his (admittedly mediocre) prime.

Back in my day, hostels had no Xboxes

I was greeted with shock and awe upon setting foot in Cusco, wherein I found myself plunged into the depths of all-day, all-night Bacchanalian festivities that characterize the modern-day backpacker establishment. Restaurants served up hot meals at all hours of the day; flatscreen TVs brought international sporting events to the unblinking eyes of thoroughly enrapt viewers; onsite bars delighted patrons with endless varieties of mixed drinks served against the aural backdrop of the hip and trendy top 40. Maids cleaned our rooms.

A hostel in Riga, Latvia
“We take the profit, and you get to camp.”

Where were the creaky dorm beds, accented with mattresses whose springs had long since burst forth from their housing? Where was I to find the draconian closing schedule, whereafter the nightlife-loving clientele would be stuck on the streets of a foreign land, shivering and exhausted? Where was the midday-kickout time, whereafter no one could get a decent day’s sleep after arriving via 6 different night buses in the frozen wastes of winter wonderland? What had become of the hostels I so thoroughly hated?!?!

…and we had to walk uphill both ways in the snow

It’s been a long time since I first embarked on my first solo backpacking experience, so intrepid and plucky at 19 years of age, with a twinkle of possibility in my eye, and a spring in my step. Needless to say my world came crashing down on me as I soon found myself repeatedly stranded in the middle of nowhere or locked inside an Italian train station in the middle of a horrifically cold winter night with inadequate clothing and awkwardly inquisitive police officers. Oh, such stories have I!

But you know what? After my very first hostel stay, it was straight back to sleeping in train station waiting rooms for me. Yes, it was that bad. Or rather, it was pointless.

Occupation Museum in Lithuania.
There’s a $1 per night discount if you take the bottom bunk.

Oh, I had a bed, sure. But the services provided at this establishment were so thoroughly problematic that the quality of sleep I achieved was comparable to that of the evening spent sleeping on the concrete floor of the Verona luggage storage room. Oh how I yearn for thee, Verona concrete! Please take me back! I’ll never leave you again!

Let me tell you a thing or two about how hostels used to operate, and how atrociously embarrassing they usually were. Hostels weren’t places to have fun. They were places to sleep. And they weren’t even all that good at offering that to their customers.

Allow me to share a few of the rules at this establishment:

  • Evening lockout time: 10pm. If you want to enjoy the nightlife, it’s either a quick and early drink or two, or an all-night rager.
  • Midday lockout time: 10am. Yes, they’d lock you out for the whole day. If you showed up at 10am after multiple night buses, you were kicked out all over again as soon as you showed up. And if you showed up after 10am, you were stuck with luggage, too.
Museum of the Occupation of Latvia
“What do you mean ‘pillow’?”

Sound awful? It was. And it’s not like they were pushing these rules because they had a spectacular place with awesome rooms. Nope, just cheap and simple bunk beds and no other amenities whatsoever. It also happened to be rather far from the town center. But it was busy, since it was the only hostel in town.

That’s right. Wherever I went, there was one hostel. And it usually sucked.

They weren’t all bad (and none of them were this bad). But even the best were simply a place to stay for the night. The entertainment came from swapping stories with fellow backpackers, buying a bottle of wine or two, and heading out to explore the city, day and night. I loved it. The ones that didn’t have silly lockout times, anyway. They were exactly what I wanted.

But they are now few and far between.

The hostels, they are a changin’

It’s a weird thing to see how rapidly the culture has changed, and how competition has evolved to such ferocious levels that hostels will practically bribe their prospective guests with digital entertainment and alcoholically-infused evening activities the likes of which would put the average American frat house to shame. It’s almost as debaucherous as the typical middle school summer camp.

Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia
Typical hostel entryway, but kinda shabby.

But I recall that bygone era, when the word “hostel” was not a synonym for party mansion. Not fondly, mind you, but I do find the newfangled contraptions you kids are so fond of to be somewhat…problematic. At many of the larger hostels, services were so comprehensive that some people literally never left. They could eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner right there in the hostel, play Halo on the Xbox all day long, watch a million movies from the massive DVD library, and order as many drinks as their livers could handle, right from the in-hostel bar. Party nights were indistinguishable from the scene at the local Irish pub down the street, except that the hostels had no local customers whatsoever.

Um, you flew here to see Peru, didn’t you?

It’s not you, party hostel, it’s me

I don’t hate the party mansions. They have their place. In fact, they probably do more to keep their clientele off the streets than anything else could, since they’re so entertaining and comforting to people who want entertainment and comfort. It meant I found myself in the center of town in the midst of a massive fireworks display with nothing but local Peruvian crowds as far as the eye could see, while the backpackers were back at the hostels getting drunk and watching TV.

Odessa nightclub, Ukraine.
“Guys could you keep it down? I’m trying to be an introvert and not break out of my shell.”

But now that I know better, I avoid them like the plague. I don’t want a massive party place with blaring music and packs of wild dogs intoxicated backpackers hitting on whatever female happens to be in their eyeline. I’d rather be in a tiny place with just a few rooms, and just a single table in the common room where everyone gathers every morning for breakfast, and everyone can meet everyone else. And hear them talking. Drinks are fun, sure, but I’d rather drink with 6 interesting people than drown in a sea of 60 drunken backpackers who haven’t left the hostel in 72 hours. In other words, I want my hostels to resemble the Ravenclaw common room. Shush, don’t judge.

Yes, I want civilized entertainment. Because I fancy myself a civilized man. If I want to make noise and cause a ruckus, I can do so out of doors.

Who’s in?

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