Too Old for Hostels?
Travel is the great equalizer between ages. Maybe you can’t teach old dog new tricks, but you can teach it to pick a point on a map and go there. Just think how many people use retirement as their starting point for travel. Travelling is open to people of all age because it’s only as comfortable or hectic as you make it. You can find travellers in strollers or in wheelchairs.
So if you’re never too old to travel, is it possible that you can ever be too old for hostels?
Hostels are (technically) affordable accommodation with a social element. Sometimes you luck out and find a beautiful one hidden down a twisty lane; simple but clean. More often, though, hostels are the sum of guitars, watery pancakes and faded sheets.
Hostels are the best or worst things to happen to travel, depending on who you ask. You might be lectured on the mould, bugs and binge drinking that plagues these party centrals and destroys the tranquillity of a place. Or you might be told that hostels make travelling more accessible; that they offer an alternative to chain hotels and expensive lodging.
Hostels may not be the quietest (or cleanest) places you’ll ever stay, but you’ll find that they have a passionate enthusiasm for travel that creaks out from their stairs, and sputters from their showerheads. The people who are there really want to be there. They’d rather stretch their money as far as it will take them than dump it into a king-sized bed at the Holiday Inn. They’re there because of a driving force to break from the norm and experience a new place, even if they pick up a few lice along the way.
And hostels are the Grand Central for meeting fellow travellers. The typical hostel dormitory holds maybe 15 people. You’ll inevitably find the group of college students travelling together on summer break, the couple who won’t leave each other’s sight – or bed, the girl who’s weirdly into telling everyone’s fortunes, the guy who’s amazing at guitar, the aspiring travel blogger and the brothers whose accents you can’t understand, and your friends – the ones you love immediately and become your best friends abroad. And yes, they’re almost all young. How young? Well, let’s put it this way, at the ripe old age of 24 I travelled alone through Central America. I was an anomaly in the hostels I stayed in; one of the few of us who had left the comfort of college and actually entered the forbidding ‘real world.’ Several of my homesick roommates (affectionately?) called me grandma. Great.
But “old” as I may have been, I had a ton of fun in those hostels. I met people from all over the world who dragged me along to see ancient ruins in Honduras and go night fishing with paper clips in Belize.
It starts in the hostel dorm; a room so full of honest excitement and open-minded curiosity that it bulges on the sides. Ok, maybe that’s just the poor building design, but the energy is undeniable. These are travellers who care less about what souvenirs to buy and more about how to make friends with the locals (the ultimate bragging right of any traveller). Sure they might get a bit too swept up in the cheap beer and play the music a bit too loudly, but their hearts are in the right place.
Before deciding whether you can ever be too old for a hostel, consider what you should and shouldn’t expect to get from one.
- A communal guitar
- Handwritten signs reminding you to clean up after yourself, typically with reference to your mother and her absence
- Spelling errors in the handwritten signs
- A Che Guevara poster
- A surf board (even if there is no water around)
- Several hundred comfortable old couches
- Several thousand cockroaches living in said couches
- One incredibly good looking guy who calls himself the manager
- One hung-over guy who actually is the manager
- People trying to (poorly) imitate each other’s accents
- New friends
- Encouragement to quit your job at home and travel forever
Things you won’t find in a hostel
- Shower curtains
- Air conditioning
- Suit or tie
Maybe at a certain age your tolerance for filth falls and youth hostels lose their appeal. Maybe you manage to earn enough money to travel like the other half (which, to anyone staying at a hostel, is anyone who doesn’t stay at a hostel). Or maybe you’re uncomfortable getting further and further away from the median age of hostel guests.
But even if you feel you are too old to stay in hostels, never let yourself be too old for what they represent. Even if you one day find yourself checking in to the Plaza, keep your inner pancake-flipping, guitar-strumming intrepid traveller alive.