However, a friend of mine recently cajoled me into trying out a backpackers hostel while I was in Bali.
I did not want to.
In fact, I didn’t really think it would be a pleasant experience at all. I had been living in fancy hotels. The kind that offer you a “concierge” service, the kind with the large shimmering pools and jacuzzi. As such, I didn’t want to leave all that luxury and go to a grimy backpackers hostel.
I imagined a backpackers hostel would be littered with undergarments, beer bottles, cigarette butts, and used condoms. I imagined I’d have my laptop and cell phone, along with my backpack, stolen the very first day, followed by the clothes right off my back.
It sounds pretty ridiculous when I string all my thoughts into a coherent whole, I know! However, it wasn’t really the grime that kept me at bay.
I was deeply nervous because I knew the backpackers hostel would be full of people. And my one true fear is interacting with other people. Especially large groups of other people. However, my friend cajoled me into giving it a shot. Thank god for that!
Honestly, going to a backpackers hostel was the best decision I made while traveling!
It completely changed my perception of traveling. It also opened me up to a whole new means of traveling longer, and more often!
First off, finding a backpackers hostel was such a relief for my finances! I had been spending $100 a night in hotels and resorts, for luxury to enjoy in sheer loneliness. It wasn’t a lot of fun.
I just found myself taking selfies copiously so I could get external validation from people over social media, or from friends back home. I also spent an enormous amount of time trying to find people in dating apps to hang with. It all sounds pretty boring and sad, believe me, I know! It was in those hotels that I realized that I don’t really care about luxuries and stuff as much as I thought I did.
The backpackers hostel I found was cheap. So cheap that I could have funded an entire trip with the amount I spent on those luxury hotels for a single night! I booked myself into a backpackers hostel in Seminyak called M Boutique Hostel. It cost me just Rp 125.000 ($9 | ₹600) a night.
Furthermore, the great thing about the backpackers hostel was that there was no need for booking in advance. I could book a capsule bed for myself immediately for a single night. As I found out later, most people book beds in backpacker hostels for a single night. This is mostly done to keep your schedule free, in case you meet someone else that you’d like to join in their travels.
Basically, having discovered a backpackers hostel, I’m done worrying about accommodation costs on my travels. Phew!
As I mentioned earlier, I imagined a backpackers hostel would be grimy, dark, and littered with beer bottles and used condoms. Well, I wasn’t too far off on that. I did notice a fair number of empty beer bottles lying around, but I didn’t see any used condoms.
Anyway, the whole backpackers hostel had a very poolside-frat-party kind of vibe. They had mainstream music blaring out all the time. The days would find people lounging aimlessly by the pool. The evenings would find clusters of people playing drinking games.
As a solo traveler, I was initially nervous about approaching anyone. Perhaps because it looked to me like everyone was hanging with their own groups of people, and I didn’t want to intrude. However, I was totally wrong about that. Most people out there were solo travelers, or backpackers traveling in small groups, but they were all pretty eager to meet and interact with new people.
I introduced myself to a group of three other girls, and just like that I was immediately in – a part of the backpacker’s culture.
Most of the people I met in the backpackers hostel were from western countries. Actually scratch that, all the people I met were from western countries. Australians aren’t “western” geographically speaking, but culturally they’re as western as you can get.
Some of the people I met had taken time off their work to go traveling. Some of them were on their way to settling in Australia. They’d decided to tour around Asia first, and then finally settle in Australia and get a job. I was the only person there who was traveling international for the first time.
Literally everyone I spoke to had already traveled international before. Most people I met had already traveled to a dozen or so countries. Many of them started traveling as teenagers. In fact, I was quite the late bloomer in the traveler’s community. Which is strange, because in India I’m considered fairly young to be self-funding my international travels. I guess it’s just a good testament to cultural differences.
But the people I met were really encouraging and… well, nice, for lack of a better word. I sensed a deep sense of camaraderie between everyone there. Our conversations were lively with exchanged experiences, travel tips, and stories of mishaps. The kind of conversations that only other travelers would appreciate. You gained acceptance into an intimate club by virtue of nothing other than the fact that you were also a fellow traveler.
It was almost a daily routine. In the evening, everyone would gather and chill by the pool and meet new people. Some of them would form tiny little cluster groups. This would go on till late at night.
Later at night, and I mean really late at night, everyone around the common area would decide (almost telepathically) that it was time to go out for parties. And just like that, all the tiny clusters would group together to decide where to go. It was incredibly fascinating to observe.
My first night at the backpackers hostel, we decided to go to a nearby club in Seminyak. The name seems to escape me. And just like that, I hopped into a taxi with the other tourists I’d been interacting with through the evening.
In the club, I found that all the tiny clusters and groups from the backpackers hostel usually stuck together. I suppose this is because of a general human inclination to thrive in groups, in society. This is what I mean by the immediate sense of camaraderie that was developed in the backpackers hostel.
As the night wore on, I was introduced to other people I’d seen around the backpackers hostel as well. It happened in the natural, seamless, and all-too-intimate manner that’s only found on the dance floor. You know, when you’re dancing and others start joining you on the virtue of nothing other than the fact that you seem like a fun person. You then respond in kind, and include them into your circle, dance with them. And this small act injects you with so much validation that you immediately feel like kindred spirits, at least momentarily.
So that’s how I made a couple of other friends on the dance floor, and further cemented the relationships developed earlier in the evening.
You know how relationships and dynamics develop in school and college, right? You meet several people, some briefly and some for longer durations. After making and breaking many friendships, you find a “cluster” group for the rest of your school or college years. Meanwhile, you’re also bonded to everyone else in the institute by virtue of being a part of that institute.
My experience at the backpackers hostel was a supercharged amped-up version of that same old trajectory. In the morning, there was a general sense of knowing between everyone as we hung by the pool and had our breakfasts.
I hung around mostly with my “cluster” from the previous evening, but there was still a sense that everyone knew everyone else, at least by face if not by name. A simple acknowledging nod here and there indicated that a single night had turned these groups of strangers from vastly different backgrounds into a community. It was a community that would likely dissolve in a week, a day, or even an hour. But it was a community regardless.
Mornings, as I found, are eventful in the backpackers hostel culture. A lot of new faces were coming into the hostel. Many of the familiar faces I’d met earlier were leaving that day. We waved goodbye and exchanged Facebook details, knowing it wasn’t too likely we’d keep in touch. Some groups of strangers were gathering to go elsewhere together. That was the group I fell into.
I joined two Irish and a Canadian girl for an amazing brunch at Organic Cafe, and we decided to move on to Ubud.
I traveled to Ubud for three days with my fellow backpackers. We had some great times. The spontaneity of it all was particularly intoxicating. We got ourselves another backpackers hostel in Ubud for dirt cheap.
Word of Advise: If something is too cheap to be any good, you’d best get your radars up. Our backpackers hostel was infested with lice. We complained to the manager. As an apology, he placed us in a far nicer private room in an adjoining property. We also had a private swimming pool. So it all turned out hunky-dory!
Over the three days that I spent with them we went clubbing, we went to a beach, a waterfall, and a fun monkey forest. However, as enjoyable as our times together may have been, I could tell that by the third day we were all just slightly hoping to go our own ways again.
That’s when I found myself back in the backpackers hostel in Seminyak.
This time, I couldn’t recognize a single face there. Everyone I’d met previously had moved on. I was again the nervous backpacker from a few days ago, too scared to interact with anyone.
Only this time, I was a little more confident.
Well, that’s what my first time at a backpackers hostel was like! Do comment down below and let me know if there’s something else you’d like to find out about life at a backpackers hostel. Or if you have any of your own stories to share, I’d love to hear them!