Sometimes, things go wrong, but sometimes things go so right, it's hard to believe how lucky you are. I once checked into a hostel late at night in Hawaii, weary from a turbulent flight from New Zealand, and not only found myself being upgraded to a more spacious room for free due to over booking, but also that one of the girls in my room was flying out the next morning early and was happily giving away all her food. I managed to score a pair of sandals and her lilo too.
Here's ten things, good, bad and weird, that you're likely to experience in a hostel -
1. You'll check in, hopefully be greeted by a friendly member of staff and then sit on your bunk for at least half an hour, unpack and either chat awkwardly to your new room mates or if there's no-one around, wonder what exactly to do with yourself first.
2. You'll meet so many different people, you probably won't remember anyones name but that's fine, it's likely they won't remember yours either. You'll definitely meet someone from somewhere you've never heard of, meet someone that knows someone that knows someone that went to your cousin's school, and meet someone who's been everywhere you want to go, making you sick with travel envy.
3. You'll bump into a group of random people either in the common room or knocking on your room door, begging everyone to come out and "party". You'll turn them down but end up going anyway, becoming fast friends with these strangers and probably have a really great night. And then never see them ever again.
4. You'll realise that you can be both a party animal and a social recluse. Sometimes, it's ok to not want to speak to strangers, introduce yourself for the hundredth time and tell the story again of how you quit your job/got that bruise/also got ripped off at that shop down the road. Other times, you'll be raring to get out and sample the night life, rolling in at 6am the next morning even though you promised yourself you'd be up for the free 7am walking tour of the city.
5. If you stay in a co-ed room, you'll probably hear/witness someone having sex at some point. Unfortunately, some people just don't care and are (usually drunk) exhibitionists.
6. You'll see people eat things that will either disgust or delight you. Those with a budget and an imagination can make a dish out of almost anything. Anyone for tuna on crackers with tomato sauce? How about bananas on toast dipped in yogurt? I've also seen some very interesting ingredients make their way into what I can only imagine was a soup.
7. No matter how hard you try, someone will steal your food. You can label it, hide it, tie it in a bag with so many knots it would be impossible to undo in under five minutes, but someone will still "borrow" something. Someone else's food always looks and tastes so much better than your own, and if you're using the communal kitchen, expect something to disappear, especially if its delicious. It's ok though, a lot of hostels have a sharing cupboard, full of spare food like pasta and spices so you can always create a weird dish to tide you over till your next supermarket adventure.
8. Hostels are in all kinds of locations, and some are really cool converted buildings,whose original purposes are nothing like their current ones. Want to stay in an old train coach in Sydney? How about a spooky church in Edinburgh? An old 1920's bar in downtown San Diego? I've stayed in all three of these, and there are amazing ones all around the world.There's also usually a very enthusiastic staff member/local who'll tell you all about the building too.
9. You'll experience just how different people can be. You might get woken up at 5am every morning by the same person who feels the need to re-pack their backpack and rustle all their plastics bags at that ungodly hour. You might meet someone so like minded, you end up travelling together for a couple days/weeks/months and become friends for life, or simply say goodbye and never see them ever again. Someone might feel the need to wash their feet in the sink or use the toilet with the door open, or simply just fart loudly and without embarrassment in your hostel room with no windows. Someone might decide to cook their favourite meal for everyone in the room free of charge, teaching you the way their mother taught them and giving you a loving, comforting meal you've been needing. It's ok to not want to be everyone's friend.
10. The best and worst thing in a hostel every single traveller will experience..a panicked moment of "what the hell am I doing here?!". Everyone will have doubts, worries and home sickness, but you'll also feel relief, freedom and a sense of independence. A hostel can create all these feelings and at the end of the day, no matter what you experience, it's up to you to make the best of it. If all else fails, the staff are usually very nice and experienced in dealing with panicked travellers.
Edinburgh hostel mentioned - Belford Hostel, Edinburgh
Sydney hostel mentioned - YHA Railway Hostel, Sydney
San Diego hostel mentioned - Gaslamp Quarter USA Hostel, San Diego