It’s 7.30 PM. You’ve just come back from a long day of walking around the city, or maybe even a day trip to a hidden gem of a place. You freshen up and come down to the common room. The room is filled with travellers from every corner of the world – From Seoul to Shanghai, Boston to Bruges, Lima to Lisbon, and Birmingham to Bangalore – you name the city, they are all represented by a curious traveller, making the room look like a Benetton ad.
All looking for someone from an exotic country to begin a conversation with tidbits they already know about your country. Then you move on to telling them things they may never read about in any travel book. The tone for the evening is set – talk a little bit about yourself, them, then your country, their country, your culture, their culture, find out how different you both are, yet sharing similar values and traits – apparently missing making the daily phone call to your mother results in severe consequences across the globe – a missing report filed with the police, not too out of the ordinary.
A third person comes in and joins your conversation, then a fourth, and soon you are a group chatting around a table, travel stories being exchanged galore, as the evening warms up toward an introduction to the local culture – in this case a Sangria-making and Sangria-tasting session.
By now the boundaries are invisible, you are talking about your day-to-day life vis-à-vis their day to day life. You are so similar. Your fields of interest may be different. The guy from Boston is a professor, the girl from Paris is a writer for a fashion magazine, the elderly couple from Hague have just retired, the young teenage girl from the USA has Indian roots, the engineering student living in Prague is actually from Kerala, but there is an invisible thread binding all these souls in the room – the thread that is woven out of shades of wanderlust, an interest in the history and culture of far away places, the excitement and belonging you feel with the world even when you are halfway across the world from the place you call home.
Sangria session has just begun, you are so engrossed in conversation, yet wanting to learn something different – how great would it be to make Portuguese Sangria at home for family and friends? So you watch, learn, joke, laugh, and help pour Sangria out in glasses, each one gets a glass of freshly made sangria to taste. Sangria- now a big thing all over the world – is red or white wine mixed with chopped fruits and orange juice.
The conversation continues, now the bond is strengthened. You are no longer strangers from different countries, you are friends for the rest of the days you’ll be at the hostel, Facebook requests are exchanged with a promise to keep in touch, with an open invite to visit or call each other when you next visit their country. Tips are exchanged on the best places to visit in Belgium, on what you can do in Boston, on how to book tickets for Wimbledon in advance. And of course there is no dearth for travel stories exchanged in the common room at hostels.
It’s dinner time and you are a bit hungry. You talk about the restaurants you came across during your day and debate on what looked good and what didn’t. Finally a group of you decides on a place, and goes on to have dinner. More conversation, authentic local cuisine, more travel tips, lots of memorable stories later you come back to the hostel, ready to hit the bed.
The host sees your group near the reception and says the night is still young, how about I take you guys on a Pub Crawl – a visit to three or four pubs with great music, maybe even live singing, and always a chance to shake your leg if you feel like it. What better than a new city halfway across the world to let go of your inhibitions and sing along to some jazz numbers, a shake a leg to hip-hop or trance. You choose to go, or you choose to go catch up on your beauty sleep because you have to be up at 5 am the next day setting off to a new city, a new hostel, more new faces, more new friends, more stories and more memories made for a lifetime.
This is the story of just one hostel in one city, but there are thousands of such hostels across the world, waiting to be explored, each one carrying its own brand of charm, its own stories, its own theme. While hostels across Portugal and Spain introduce its guests to Sangria Night, hostels in Salzburg play the Sound of Music movie every night, hostels in Budapest take you on a Pub Crawl, hostels in Amsterdam show you how alive the city is at night.
Every city, every hostel has something new to offer, a different set of stories to tell, a different tune for people to dance to, a different atmosphere, a different crowd. Yet holding it all together is the kind of people they attract – curious backpacking travellers hungry to see the world, to make memories all over the world, to share a part of themselves with strangers from across the globe.
If you want to have a fantastic and full travel experience I suggest you to try a slice of the hostel life. I believe that hotels are for tourists while hostels are for travellers.
(Most of the pics and the video are from the best hostel in Lisbon – Lost Inn Lisbon)