The seven people you ALWAYS meet hostelling
1. The lifer
He seems to have been in the hostel forever. Was he born here? Is he secretly the owner? Where does his money come from? Nobody knows, and he has such an aura of wisdom and experience that it seems rude to ask. Slightly older than the rest of the dorm crowd – though not so much that it’s, y’know, weird – he claims to have lived all over the world, and has the dishevelled hair and weathered complexion to prove it. He won’t join in with the wilder nights out and views your youthful antics with friendly amusement, but he’s always up for a long, deep conversation about travelling the world and living a free, interesting life. He’s a mystery, but you can’t help sort of looking up to him…
2. The personal space cadet
Every traveller’s different, and you don’t hit the road expecting everyone you meet to be a social butterfly. But this common hostel character seems to have been misinformed about what a shared dorm actually is. They studiously ignore every conversation, sit alone in the dining room, and would sooner run naked through the town square than lend you a squeeze of shower gel. Best case scenario is you get a greeting in the morning. Stay polite, invite them along on nights out even when you know they won’t come, and whatever you do… DON’T TOUCH THEIR STUFF.
3. The cosy couple
See ‘personal space cadet’. Except there are two of them, so it’s doubly annoying.
4. The encyclopedia
Often students on an overseas placement or an educational trip, these hostel-dwellers seem to know EVERYTHING about the city and the region. They speak the language, and pepper your English-language conversation with local terms. They understand the context and history of every custom and every notable building, and they can explain the front page of today’s newspaper. Certain cities are crawling with them – think Florence, with its vast population of absurdly clued-up American fine arts majors.
5. The gossip
Though you left the high school common room behind? Think again, because this backpacker has a god-given talent for turning your globetrotting escape into a cauldron of petty rivalries and social jealousy. In dorms there’s always a fine line between shared space and doing your own thing; it isn’t that our friend doesn’t see that line, it’s just that they enjoy pouring petrol on it, setting it alight and dancing in the ashes. If you’re planning on doing anything you’d rather keep secret, save it for another hostel.
6. The wandering minstrel
It could be a uke, an acoustic guitar or a harmonica. Either way, there comes a time every day when they decide to whip out their secret weapon and entertain the dorm. It’s magnetic the first time round and fun for a few more performances after that. You might even sing along a bit. After a while the first hint of a familiar tune will send you scurrying to the bar or the kitchen for some respite.
7. The breath of fresh air
It’s not all bad, of course. While you’re out there hostelling you’ll also meet people you just click with. You like the same tunes, crave the same food, have similar travel plans and share a sense of humour (a fact you’ll probably discover while giggling at hostel characters 1 – 6). Hang onto these guys. Twenty years from now, when the gossips and amateur musos are a distant memory, you’ll still be in touch. This is what travel and hostelling is all about – dorms might be a social lottery, but when you get lucky you get friends for life.