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The other day I tried to explain to a date that to me sleeping with someone is the epitome of intimacy. And by sleeping with someone I mean just that: sleeping. Over the years I have slept with plenty of people and even shared a blanket or two: my siblings, my parents, my girlfriends, some boyfriends. People I know, people I love, and people who don’t mind too much if I fart under the blanket (or so I like to think).
Sleeping in close proximity with strangers however is a whole different ballgame for me. I never liked slumber parties much and my first year in college, having to share a room, was not fun. I think it was the time when my roommate brought back a boy from a bar one night, which I only realized the next morning covering my half-naked bum which was on display for her new friend to see as well. I didn’t even mind that the room in my first New York apartment afterward only fit a twin bed and nothing more, at least nobody saw my bum but me and explicitly invited guests.
When I go on press trips, I hate nothing more than being put in a room with strangers and on the few group tours I have done, I gladly paid to have a room on my own. I like to think because it is more comfortable or because I usually work in bed but the truth is I am private about certain things and I think that sleep is intimate. Whether that is an issue I should discuss with a therapist, completely normal or just to blame on this college roommate and her date, I have stuck to single rooms ever since and have never slept in a hostel dorm. In the debate of hostel vs hotel, I knew clearly which side I was on. Yes, that is right, I was a travel hostel dorm room virgin until I was 39 years old.
My friend Patrick couldn’t quite believe it when I asked him a little sheepishly how this whole shared room thing worked when we arrived in Bishkek after the World Nomad Games. We just had one night, there were no nice hotels to be found and since I had splurged on a beautiful room in Istanbul for the next night, I decided this was the time to take the plunge: staying in a hostel and booking only a bed instead of a room was on the agenda. He was baffled, to say the least when I admitted that I was a hostel virgin and I quickly had to defend myself: I was a lot older than him (I want my sleep and comfort above all!!), my blog’s name didn’t include the word “backpacker” and of course, I had been staying in hostels before – just not in a shared room.
He had no advice but kept on laughing at me. The next morning it was me who was laughing though because I had enjoyed a 4-bed dorm all to myself (unlike him) and slept like a baby. I was sold: €12, a comfy bed and nobody snoring next to me. Maybe I needed to rethink my stance on hostel versus hotel, maybe dorm life was my jam after all.
Or so I thought.
My own bravado caught up with me when I came to Greece and had to spend 3 nights for a layover in Athens while traveling from Crete to Meteora, from Meteora to Alonissos and from Alonissos to Malta. My traveling times were horrendous and there was no point to even consider a nice hotel and since there are many nice hostels in Europe I decided to yet again go for it. I didn’t even feel like spending extra on a single hostel room and so I bravely booked myself into two different hostels for the first two nights in Athens. I had high expectations especially when I saw the prices: €30 for the first hostel booking and €20 for the other – surely those beds came with a free side of champagne and a kitten fluffing my pillow?!
Hostel number one was in a somewhat seedy area of Athens as the receptionist confirmed when she advised against me walking to the train station in the morning. The communal areas, however, looked lovely, there was a cool restaurant downstairs and wine tasting on the activities list. After I arrived, I grabbed a bite to eat, drank 2 glasses of wine, answered emails and crawled into my upper bunk. My roommates were still out and so it was just me, my insomnia and the sounds from the street outside ranging from regular traffic noises, joyful shouting to some drunken debauchery. Just when I was drifting off the roommates walked in one by one. Loud, louder, and – did you really not put your phone on silent?!
After an array of bathroom sounds, slamming doors (I mean, really, I know I sound like an old lady but what is it with people who can’t close a door quietly?) and general getting ready for bed noises all should have been quiet. Even the people outside had decided that 2 am was late enough for a Tuesday night. That’s when I heard another sound – a strange sound, a quiet sound, a sound nonetheless. It was my roommate’s white noise machine, she thought would be a great idea to bring into our dorm room. Oh, the joys of staying in a hostel when stuff that should make you fall asleep keeps you up at night!
When I finally did manage to fall asleep, I woke up after 5 hours, cranky and tired. Hostel life sucked. I grabbed my stuff and left as quietly as I could (that I still felt benevolent in my cranky state to not slam the doors in return I am mighty proud of), got in my taxi and went to the train station. On the train to Meteora, I napped. Next to me was an old Greek man with some sort of prayer beads in his hand. The clicking sound put me right to sleep – take that white noise machine!
My hotel in Meteora made more than up for it and so I arrived back in Athens two days later full of optimism. My new hostel was even cuter and my bed cheaper but sturdier. As it was late when I arrived I had arranged all my things I needed to minimize shuffling and settled in for the night.
Why are grown people not able to close doors quietly??
While my bed was a lot more comfortable, the roommates weren’t and door slamming was mixed with bright lights at midnight and re-packing of suitcases early in the morning. Since I actually slept, this wasn’t as bad as hostel number one. The dilemma came when I tried to climb out of my bed. There was no ladder but rather built-in steps into an overly designed cover of the lower bunk. A hostel bed for the young, not for the restless or those who need to pee at night. How people climbed up and down without falling or twisting at least an ankle (as there was only a very awkward way to squeeze my feet into the steps) I do not know. I decided to do the trip as few times as possible, packed my things early and settled in the communal area downstairs to get some work done. Coffee was scarce but I was just grateful that the night was over once again.
I realized while sometimes the financial side makes staying in a hostel a great option other times sleep is more important. I am almost sad that I cracked so young because otherwise, I could soon call myself a 40-year old hostel virgin.
Don’t want to be a hostel virgin?
Tips for staying in a hostel
- Don’t do it! Haha, no just kidding. Know that many hostels offer a variety of rooms including single or double rooms which are a great way to ease into the system. You can still have privacy but take full advantage of a hostel’s social activities.
- Alternatively, I would go for the smallest room and choose a female only dorm. I am not prudish by any means but men definitely tend to snore a lot more, at least from my experience.
- Take earplugs & an eyemask. I like these. They tend to stick in my hair but are really good. I usually have an eye mask from a flight but if you want to do an Audrey have a look at this one.
- Take the bottom bunk! Honestly, I thought the top would somehow give me more privacy and I tend to get a bit claustrophobic but I realized the bottom is so much better. You can use a sarong to make a curtain, you are guaranteed to get in and out of your bed and don’t depend on the mercy of some weird designer steps and any movement you can feel when someone is getting in and out of bed is a lot less at the bottom.
- Hostel booking can be done by designated sites like Hostelworld but you will also find a lot of them on platforms like booking.com which is what I use.
Things not to do
when staying in a hostel
There are only so many things you can do to make your hostel stay better but I do think there are quite a few things you can do or shouldn’t do when staying at a hostel to pay it forward.
- Do not slam the doors. In fact, use the handle to open and close them gently.
- Use the light on your phone not the ceiling light when you come in late or leave early.
- Make sure that your stuff is packed in a way that you can easily grab your PJs and have the things you need for the next day readily available.
- Do not use a white noise machine or any other kind of audio. Honestly, I will forgive sneezing, snoring, and coughing but that is it.
- Say hello to the people in your dorm, maybe even good morning when you see that someone else is awake. What is it with people not speaking in a dorm room??