Feet to move, places to roam
If you haven’t figured it out already, I prefer to travel alone rather than with another person or even a group of people. I have traveled with a best friend, in Contiki tour clans, taken road trips with a handful of other people, and none of those experiences were negative however, once I decided to turn to roaming around the world alone, to travel with another person never seemed appealing. So I stopped doing it.
This past week in China was the Mid-Autumn Festival. On the 15th day of September in the Han calendar, it is the night of the full moon which falls right around the Autumn Equinox on a day between September 8th-October 7th (in the Gregorian calendar). Which basically translates for me that I had a long weekend and the chance to travel so I ventured out to Hangzhou and Shanghai. This adventure was slightly different in a few ways. I took a chance and decided to travel with a friend that I work with, Paul. He was traveling to Hangzhou and Shanghai for business and invited me to tag along knowing I was eager to get out of the city for the holiday. The appealing aspect of this weekend getaway was Paul was doing business and would be occupied with his own schedule so we would not be obligated to spend heaps of time together. So I lucked out with being able to do what I want, when I wanted and without him holding me back. We flew into Hangzhou together and out of Shanghai together and shared one meal. That is why it worked traveling with another person this time around. HOWEVER, since this was a business trip, I was fortunate enough to receive the same perks Paul did, which meant I got to stay in a hotel. At first I thought, “I cannot even remember the last time I stayed in a hotel, so why not go for it?” and accepted the offer. What I did not think through was how lonely it can be to be isolated in a hotel alone.
I have always gravitated towards staying in hostels when I travel alone. People think I am crazy for it. “Why don’t you stay in a hotel?” “Hostels are gross” “Don’t you want some privacy?” The people who ask these questions, are the same people who have also never participated in staying in a hostel or welcomed the idea with an open mind. The first hostel I ever stayed in was in London and it was far from a 10/10. I was cramped in a small room with 6 other girls, an old woman tried to fight me for my bottom bunk because she claimed she was too old to climb up to her top one, and we all shared one tiny bathroom . It was the middle of a heat wave rolling through London and the room had no air conditioning. I was jet lagged, cranky and ready to check out and never check back into a hostel again. That was one negative experience and now just hilarious to look back on. I could not even tell you to this day how many hostels I have stayed in that have provided me with so many positive memories. So this weekend, when I stayed in a perfectly pristine white and gold hotel in Shanghai, I missed my cramped up hostel life. I did not feel at home in a five star hotel with middle aged business people staring at me. I am 22, walked into the revolving doors of the hotel, fresh off the subway and completely exhausted and disoriented. I felt like I did not belong. I was not welcomed in broken English or multiple other languages at reception like I would have been in a hostel and speaking to someone my own age with a genuine smile. Instead, just a regular 30- something man that was ready to check me in and hand me a key to the 23rd floor.
Here is why for a young, solo traveler, hostels are favored over a hotel:
It is easier to interact with other solo travelers in a hostel: Hostel dorms can range from 2, 4, 6 and even 20 other people in one room. Living with other girls, guys, or even both automatically provides you with the advantage to make easy conversation with another traveler. You do not have to like the people in your dorm, however you can at least make the effort to exchange a friendly “Hello”, ask where they are from, or make the initiative to ask if they would like to grab a meal together. I have found more times than not, other travelers are looking for a friend to tour the city with as well, which means you have no reason to be nervous when striking up a conversation! Keep in mind, every person in that hostel is there for the exact same purpose as you; to travel. You already have that in common and can use that as a conversation starter.
If you are not keen on spending time in your dorm to meet people, head down to the hostel bar and you will find countless other people mingling over half priced beverages. Participate in the tours the hostel provides and spend the day with someone new.
Me, myself and I: Unless you are looking for ultimate privacy, hotels are isolating and lonely. The moment I entered my hotel room in Shanghai, sat on the bed, then peered out the window (to a very mediocre view), I only regretted my decision to commit to a hotel. Although it was just one night, I sat in the room, alone, bored, and reminisced on all my previous hostel experiences. I was in a new city for the first time and had no one to share the excitement with, to get ridiculously lost in the streets with, and try to navigate a paper map or the subway system with. I kept repeating the thought over and over again “What would I be doing right now if I was in the hostel I booked and then cancelled for a hotel?” I will never do that again.
Around the world in one night: Hostels will continue to pleasantly surprise you. You want to talk to a middle aged man from Italy? You want to know what Peru is like? You want to go skydiving? Want someone to french braid your hair? Without hesitation, I can honestly tell you that you will find someone in your hostel to answer all those questions, to have those conversations with, and to do all those activities you are itching to do, with you. I have made life long friendships with people I knew for an hour in a hostel. Without those people, I would be someone with a lot less stories. Someone who doesn’t have a person to message on Facebook when I am itching to go somewhere, and they are willing to meet up. The people you meet while traveling are irreplaceable.
Hotels are for old people: Okay, that is not true. But while you are young, get out there and immerse yourself in what the world has to offer. Get to know people from a variety of different cultures, listen to their travel tales, sit on the pavement with them until 4 A.M talking about topics that make no sense. Sit in a hotel and fall asleep wrapped up in white bed sheets with the TV playing the local news in a language you do not even speak. Check into a hostel and get to know someone you usually would not in your hometown. Be that person that someone goes home after their travels and says “Wow, you will never believe who I met while I was I was gone!” When you are 75 and cannot crawl up onto your top bunk, then check into a hotel.
I choose to travel alone so I can take the time to get to know other people from around the world. Traveling with a best friend from my hometown does not give me the same opportunities. Although I ‘travel alone’, the world has way too many good and interesting people for me to sit back and completely isolate myself from getting to know a new friend. The next time you are planning an adventure, take the time to consider checking into a hostel and see how much your life will change for the better.
Out of 7.4 billion people on this planet, go make a new friend!