I have been traveling for 6 years and have managed to cover 23 countries (and counting). My first experience outside the comfort of a regular hotel was in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. This was the first of many many many more.
Sure, hotels give you a standard experience. But do you really seek a standard experience when you travel? I sure don’t. However, that’s me. Hostels / Airbnb aren’t a cakewalk always. Sometimes you room with an obnoxious host and sometimes you end up being stranded outside the apartment waiting for someone to show up with keys. And the hostel’s resident cat or dog or turtle may choose to room with you too. Yes, this has happened to me. Multiple times. But if you are like me, these end up adding to your memories much more than the mandatory Eiffel Tower selfie.
To make my case, here are few of my weird, crazy, will-never-trade-this-for-anything experiences I’ve had.
A DOG AND MY SHOE IN BERGAMA, TURKEY
Bergama is a little village that is only accessible by bus from Troy in Turkey. Also, the bus throws you out about 5 km away from the village on the highway and you either walk the distance or hitchhike. This village was once the capital of the Ottoman empire, so of course, I went there. I stayed in a hostel run by a family who couldn’t speak a word of English. Nobody shuts their door in this village and our hostel was pretty much this family’s outhouse.
We had to leave our shoes outside and the next morning we opened the door to a sight. A small fluffy brown dog holding my shoe with his paws and his little teeth tearing them apart. He looked up at me and continued without a care in the world. I picked him up, played with him and bought a new pair of kicks from the local store.
ROOMING WITH A CAT IN SEYCHELLES
What do you do when you walk into your room and there’s a cat that refuses to leave? Nothing. This cat decided that she’s not checking out just yet, so we let her room with us. Also, she joined us for breakfast.
MY SKATEBOARDING HOST IN HELSINKI, FINLAND
My Airbnb host in Helsinki was an undergrad student who roomed in the kitchen and sublet his tiny home to us, and a Chinese couple (I love thrifty people). The problem was that he mixed up the door number with the apartment number. Also, we reached Helsinki at 11 pm after a serious delay. Our plan to take the bus which would have taken us to his doorstep had to change into a taxi. We got off somewhere on the street and walked up and down multiple times. We called him and he couldn’t speak English. So we found two guys on the streets waiting for a bus, requested one of them to call our guy. After an animated 15 (International) minute conversation, our guy said he will find. And he did. On a skateboard. He picked up my backpack and zoomed ahead pointing for us to walk behind!
BEING BRIT IN GIBRALTAR
My host in Gibraltar was a wonderful 60-year-old woman and her 16-year-old dog Jake. At first, she was guarded and then we became friends. I am a little younger than her daughter in the UK and we chatted about family, relationships, politics and culture. She taught us the Brit way of hosting high tea and secret recipes of Andalucia.
RUSSIAN STUDENTS AND FEAR IN ST. PETERSBURG
We stayed in a lovely hostel called “FRIENDS” in St. Petersburg. And thank heavens we opted for a double room with shared bath instead of the dorm. Their dorm was filled with 14 to 15-year-old kids who had come to St. P from Moscow on a school excursion. While the rooms were separate we still shared the bath, common room and kitchen. They were fascinating. All the 90s games we played as kids sound way cooler in Russian. Thumb wrestling too J
As lovely as they were, the hostel hadn’t taken down their last years Halloween décor and one cubicle in the rest room had a massive skeleton strung up high that would drop on you as you shut the door. Also, I don’t have a picture because I’m never opening that door again.
A NINJA ROOMMATE IN SALZBURG
Our pit stop in Salzburg was for a day. So we opted for a hostel dorm. A room with four bunk beds and charging points in the loo. And I’m pretty sure my room mate was a ninja. The guy who seemed sufficiently awkward when we walked in asked if we’d like a window open. I said sure. And he parkoured his way from the top bunk to the other side of the room, opened the window and climbed back without using the ladder. Also, the next morning he had disappeared. So, yes. Ninja.
QUIRKY DÉCOR AND CULTURE IN VIENNA
We stayed in a hostel called My Mojo Vie in Vienna. This place is basically a bunch of apartments rented out in a very old building. As we arrived late the host had left an envelope for us outside with a giant chocolate and a love letter welcoming us. The place could not have been quirkier. A guitar, a tambourine, slam book, board games, more chocolates and pictures of cows. We totally hit it off with the host who gifted us a bottle of champagne for New Year and taught us a little tradition of Vienna – melt a charm over a candle, dump the melted metal in cold water and read your luck for next year from the shape it forms. This is how my 2017 is supposed to be J
TURTLE IN MARRAKECH
Our hostel / Riad in Marrakech was owned and managed by an Algerian who only spoke French. Thank you Google translate! This gorgeous place had two turtles that roamed around freely. Every morning they would start their journey from one end of the common room and slowly make their way to the other by the end of the day. This gentleman would leave food for them on the path to snack!
MY MOMENT OF PRIDE IN CHINA
I learned Mandarin for a year and a half before traveling to China and it was not easy. This language is really complicated. All my weekend efforts were totally validated when our hostel staff in Xi’an – a young girl and I began a conversation in Mandarin that led to her teaching me calligraphy!
Usually, I scan through Airbnb and follow that up with hostels comparing costs. My go to sites are hostels.com, hostelworld.com, booking.com
If I haven’t made my case yet, let me leave you with this from my hostel in Munich.