As a backpacker, I tend to forget that not everyone chooses to stay in hostels, much less prefers them. Nicer hotels offer a great package: daily cleaning service, amenities, privacy...what’s not to love? If the alternative is sharing a room with strangers, making your own bed, and a constant need for shower sandals, the winner seems even clearer.
When I studied abroad in Europe, staying in hostels was as a necessity. Hostels are very budget-friendly. Few college students on a semester abroad ask for much else. And so, as my friends and I would hop around Europe, finding easy getaways for the weekend, we relied on the student-friendly prices hostels offered us and asked little more. We knew one day we’d evolve to staying in the high-rises with pools and quaint boutiques with breakfast in bed-- one day.
Yet as the hostel-hopping went on, I started to wonder why I was meeting such diverse people at every hostel I stayed at. Price aside, I wasn’t sure what brought all of them in each door.
I first began to understand it at the Lisbon Poets Hostel. A friend had recommended the spot, and I was excited to visit a city I didn’t know as much about at the time.
I remember standing in front of the check-in desk, out of breath from carrying my big backpack up the winding cobblestoned streets of Chiado. Everyone had recommended staying in the historic downtown, but the sweeping views came with the steep hills to support them.
I looked around the common area while I waited for someone to help me check in, and I just felt it. People from all walks of life moved between the dangling hammocks, communal dinner table, and bean bags. Some were reading alone, others laughing and eating with new friends...most doing the wonderful activities you never make time for at home. The ambiance of the room felt like an embrace from someone I loved, yet was only just meeting for the first time.
Different time, different people, but a feeling of home that remains.
From that moment on, the same feeling permeated each day at the Lisbon Poets Hostel. I met so many people I had nothing in common with, yet was thrilled to pass lazy afternoons alongside, wandering the streets of our neighborhood, people watching, wondering aloud about the history of what we were seeing. The sounds of fado singers would drift into the windows with the breeze at night, and my roommate and I would sit perched between the curtains, listening. I didn’t know her last name, but I knew I’d never forget the moment.
By the time I left only days later, it felt as if I had made a lifetime friend. Not one other traveler in particular; it was the community the place itself creates that I felt I was saying goodbye to.
I’ve traveled extensively since that short and sweet stay, but my mind continues to wander back. Of the many hotels I’ve stayed in since, my heart feels the tug of that hostel. I know that with a short flight and walk up those steep hills, I could step into that lobby and be transported right back. Different time, different people, but a feeling of home that remains.