A well known and reputable website like Hostelworld can do a lot of good when it comes to planning your travels. With guest ratings and comments, lists of available facilities, prices, location and directions on how to arrive, Hotselworld really helps you choose the best hostel for you. I’ve made good use of it for a while now. In Peak seasons it’s obviously a good idea to book when you find availability, but since my trip through Bolivia and Peru was during low season I used it as a way of sussing out potential hostels and then pitching up when I got into town and crossed my fingers that they could find one lowly bed for me. This approach worked 100% of the time (except over Christmas and New Year, don’t say I didn’t warn you). And a ‘don’t try this during peak season’ warning would also be useful. But since I’m not in advertising and Hotelworld is certainly not paying me to push their brand, I’d rather go into the ‘world of hostels’ than any deeper than I already have into ‘Hostelworld’.
You are not a traveler if not someone who can adapt to change. While a few write ups, photos and a score out of 100 might give you some insight into the hostel, you can never guess what your personal experience will be like. I’m not referring to anything along the lines of what you would have seen in the over-the-top movie ‘Hostel’ where people are drugged, kidnapped, die and more, but more along the lines of certain variables that can mould, make or break your stay in any particular hostel.
Staying in Hostels and meeting people might be one of my favourite aspects about travelling. I seldom find myself trying to explain a particular spectacular view I saw, instead I opt for a little anecdote about a crazy Irishman who had his whole back tattooed with religious drawings, while the angel on his arm had sparkly eyes in the form of two piercings and how he drank for 20 hours straight without showing signs of throwing up or passing out. Or a group of travelers who drank the hallucinogenic cactus based San Pedro and while tripping on it in the middle of one of Lake Titicaca’s islands, went ahead and had an orgy
Meeting these fascinating people is one my favourite past-times, but being put in a room with almost all of them is not. While 16 is not nearly all of the over 100 beds at the crazy Irish themed hostel ‘Wild Rover La Paz’, it’s still way more people than you want to share a room with. But when you show up reservation-less you take what you can get.
At the aforementioned hostel there is no such thing as a night off or a quiet night in. Instead, the hostel’s Irish bar (coincidentally adjacent to my 16 bed dorm), does its best to organize events or just rally troupes for nights of endless fun and drinking. However when your bottom-bunk partner drinks too much and throws up all over your belongings, the buzz wears off and feelings of annoyance set in (others may experience more than annoyance but I was proud at how little I seemed to worry about it all). I was leaving early the next morning (or later that day, however you choose to look at it). So you could say her timing was a bit off since I had to pack my puke covered bag and have my clothes take on what I reckon is one of the worst smells in the world. *Note to self; no more 16 bed dorms.
At this particular hostel, as well as other franchised hostels like Loki and Millhouse, You’re given a bracelet upon arrival and strictly told to wear it at all times (They have to have rules due to their size and party atmosphere). The bracelet has your name and room number on it and if you want to avoid the hassle of handing over money for anything, you are more than welcome to charge all booze and food to your account. How thoughtful. As you can imagine, this is a very dangerous way of living, and partying in particular.
These hostels are, first and foremost, businesses. Meaning there’s always a buck or two to be made by them and lost by us. Take for instance, ‘the game’ bartenders encourage guests to play. This sneaky game (read ‘gamble’) involves one roll of the dice by each person who has put their name down to participate. The person with the lowest dice-roll buys everyone else on the list a drink. “You wanna play?” Vicky: “No thanks, I don’t like the odds”. A couple drinks later, “You wanna play?” Vicky: “Surrrrre”. Fuck. Guess who bought 16 shots about ten minutes later. Put that on my account.
What happens when you put large crowds of young travellers together, throw in some booze and a couple hormones? A lot of empty beds in some rooms and others with extra people in them. For those who don’t care for sharing their intimate experiences with handfuls of other people the shower is another popular option. If you are drunk enough/ don’t give enough of a dam/ having enough of a good time, your experience can be shared through the airwaves with the rest of the hostel. *I am almost 100% sure of who the culprit was after watching her in the bar minutes before. I checked her face for any signs of shame the next day, but either she felt none or hid it very well.
A lot of people who have stayed in these party hostels say ‘never again’. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. There’s no doubt you’d need a couple rest days in between at a quieter hostel or even couch surf. But as a young, solo traveller I wouldn’t say it’s the worst thing in the world being under the same roof as 100 fellow travellers looking for good company and a good party. And this is coming from someone who had their belongings violated by vomit, ear drums abused by a screamer and bank account emptied after being convinced to gamble. Perhaps my willingness to return to these foreigner infested, far-from-authentic hostels has to do with the fact that my trip was a sprint when compared to the marathons that are undertaken by other travellers. After months on the road one’s bank account, liver and general patience for such places are probably all depleted.
And of course… there’s no place like home. Unless you’re surrounded by likeminded, fun, worldly people with whom to spend Christmas. A couple bottles of Champaign, a strongly mixed vodka drink, a game of twister and a dorm room. The traveller who doesn’t wish to celebrate the birth of baby Jesus like that should never admit it.