“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” -Bilbo Baggins, Fellowship of the Ring
I never wanted to go backpacking. I had no interest in staying in hostels. An introvert by nature, I found the peace and privacy of a hotel room necessary, not only for the enjoyment of the trip, but for my mental sanity. Then the cheapskate side of me spoke up. I had a trip to Europe planned, and to go everywhere I wanted, hostels were my only option! So, I rallied. And I learned a lot in my five months abroad. Here’s the wandering wisdom I discovered on my trip:
1. Hostels aren’t remotely like staying in a hotel. Hostels offer a social aspect that can’t be ignored. While I dreaded this before I’d ever done it, it quickly became my favorite part of the hostel experience. One of the best things about backpacking and staying in hostels is making friends. While I was staying at The Yellow, an awesome hostel in Rome with a bar on the ground floor and a club in the basement, I made interesting, new friends from all over the world. We hung out during our whole stay in Rome and have all stayed in touch since then!
2. Hostels force introverts like me to be social and talk to people whom I never would have met any other way. I am not a social person. I prefer to be alone or with just one or two people. Staying in a hostel is a great opportunity for me to stretch out of my comfort zone and learn about new things from people all over the world. Even when I travel with friends, I still made a point to talk to new people wherever I am.
3. Hostels are much nicer than people give them credit for. The key is make sure you get what you need before you book your stay. Let me recommend only staying in hostels with lockers. This will keep your possessions safe, so you don’t have to lug all of your clothes while you’re exploring the city.
4. You get more bang for your buck when you travel. You’re staying on the cheap, so you can do that overpriced wine tour through Tuscany! Hostels allow me to splurge on the things I really want to, and save money on the necessities.
5. Backpacking allows you to see more! Instead of flying to a new destination, you take the bus! You see more and get to experience places that luxe travelers wouldn’t because they go straight from destination to destination. You get to see more of the real place, rather than just tourist attractions. This goes for hostels as well. The reasonably priced ones tend to be further away from the tourist destinations. You get to see more of the city you’re visiting as you find your way around.
6. Instead of finding peace in your private hotel room at night, take time to yourself throughout the day. One of my many day trips along my travels was Lucca, a small, walled city in Italy. I spent the morning exploring with a large group of friends and after we had lunch, I was burnt out. I excused myself from the group, found a lovely bench on top of the wall, and proceeded to read Storm of Swords. You don’t need a hotel room to find some peace and quiet.
7. Sometimes, things that sound like torture make the best memories. My friend Kat and I met up in Ireland and agreed to travel to Scotland together. Instead of taking an overpriced flight from Dublin, we decided to take a midnight bus, to another bus, to a ferry, to a third bus, to get from Dublin to Edinburgh by the morning. Now, I will say that I would never do this again, but it is one of those memories of the crazy things that you do once for the experience and can happily recall to other less-gritty travelers.