What do you feel when you hear the word hostel? Do you immediately recall sharing memories with 10 other strangers from all over the world? Or does nothing come to mind but fear of the unknown?
I feel lucky to say I have experienced both of those reactions.
My first hostel experience was in the beautiful country of Costa Rica. The word “hostel” had seemed so dark and scary after the movie Hostel came out in 2005; I and many others began to see travel and staying in hostels as a hugely dangerous thing. With that in that back of my mind, I booked a private room that first stay.
I had a giant room with one bed all to myself. As I set my bags down and sat on that one bed, I thought to myself, “Okay so.. what do I do next?”
I walked around the hostel and saw everyone interacting with each other. Then there was me, just observing, trying to find my place. Unable to connect for some reason, I ended up going to the beach and watching the sunset by myself. Of course there’s nothing wrong with that, but I felt alone.
The next morning when I woke, everyone else seemed to be connected, making breakfast together and laughing about the last night’s stories over morning coffee. It was then I realized my mistake: because I was scared and stayed in private room, I built a barrier between myself and everyone else in the hostel. It was hard for me to approach others, and I learned a valuable first lesson about putting myself out there.
After many hostel experiences, I have come to realize that there is absolutely nothing to be afraid of in staying in a room with others. That’s what staying in a hostel is all about. We meet new people and learn about other cultures by putting ourselves out there to complete strangers.
Of course—of course—we need common sense as well. If you have valuables, then bring a lock. You can’t trust everyone you meet along the way, so follow your gut. Intuition was my second lesson: always listen to it.
My best memories involve exchanging smiles with unknown eyes and conversations shared over late-night beers or early morning coffees.
As my travels have continued over the years, I have stayed with people from all over the world, making friends and staying connected with them—from circus performers from France to a gourmet chef from Spain, to an absolutely wonderful mermaid who goes by the name of Marcela, originally from Columbia.
I now live in Mexico, where I stayed in nothing but hostels in my first three months here. I have been here for a year now and have built a beautiful life, surrounded by a beautiful beach, people and love. I teach, create, laugh and get to dance every week.
Here, my life has come alive.
I just came back from a month in South Africa, where I only intended to surf and do yoga—but the universe had more in store for me (thank you again, universe). After working with one of the local communities, I am now putting together a project called “Hope for A Generation.”
These beautiful experiences are all over the world, just waiting to happen to you.
I made these memories by making no plans at all. Waking up in the morning and just talking to other people and going with the flow—that’s what the journey is all about.
Be sure to talk to locals when you stay in hostels; get involved in the community you’re in.
I’ve learned more about myself in the past two years than I had in my entire life .
Stepping outside my comfort zone at that very first hostel taught me to get deeply lost in the moment every single day.
Travel to places your heart has been longing for. In these places, I swear there are people your heart has been longing to meet.
Stay in a hostel, drop your fears, and love let pour out.
Author: Kaitlyn O’Connor
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Toby Israel