It was the cute boy's fault that I ended up in the poo shower. The hostels always send the cuties to the train or bus station to scoop you up. They bat their eyelashes and woo their scraggly fellow backpackers back to their respective hostels. He was cute, so I went, and ended up the next day in a shower smeared with poo.I still took a shower. (Hey, a little poo never ruined your shower shoes.)
On another trip, in Amsterdam, I stumbled into my hostel room, groggily noted that according to the graffiti on the ceiling, "LSD is #1" and that all my roommates were fast asleep.
I woke up the next morning to discover that the room's occupants were 1) teenage me and 2) 10 strapping lads from Sweden, a story line that's Swedish for "should've made a porn movie when I had the chance."
Carpenter's tool Better yet, in Haifa, it was just me, the sleazy-eyed middle-aged hostel owner and an art magazine tastefully displayed in the washroom called The Carpenter's Tool. (Please note: it was not a wrench.)
Thinking it terribly considerate of the owner to provide reading material for lonely travellers, I picked it up. Trailed my fingers carelessly over the sticky pages.
Then thought more about that.
Ah, yes. In the world of hostelling, the front desk confiscated your passport, and "air conditioning" meant a fan weakly blowing over you in the smouldering heat, leading all the girls to sleep in their underwear so the manager could come in and drool over his sleeping charges.
It was a special time when "continental breakfast" meant a strictly rationed stale baguette and a packet of jam. But you can bet that everyone, scraping by on dollars a day, made damn sure they were up in time for that bloody baguette.
Ah, the luxury, the romance of world travel student-style. But hostel living still has its moments.
In Venice I slept under a frescoed ceiling. In England I stayed in stern, sparkly hostel-association digs with rows of metal bunk beds that made it seem as if your naughty English boarding-schoolgirl dreams had just come true.
And the hostels were where the United Nations of scuzzy youth converged -- where you from, how long have you been travelling, who are you with, can I have some of your peanut butter/Marmite, wanna be my friend?
Solo traveller As a three-time solo traveller (I couldn't wait forever for my good-for-nothing friends to get their acts together), youth hostels were my ground zero to not go out of my mind. Hotels had tourists -- honeymoon-style. But hostels had travellers, renegades, brats.
Once, when I forked out for a more upscale private bedsit in Madrid, I kept miserably asking the confused proprietor in broken French if there were any "friends" for me in the other rooms. There weren't. I ran to the more spartan youth hostel the next day so I'd have someone to play with.
To this day, the sound of a zipper doesn't make me think of love -- it makes me think of hostels, where everyone zips and unzips their rucksacks at godforsaken hours of the night rushing to catch this or that train.
And while the aforementioned poo et al. may make this hard to imagine, hostelling must still have a place in my hardened, sushi-craving heart. Even though I haven't backpacked in years, when I recently became a woman of a certain age, my very first panicked thought was that I wouldn't qualify for some youth hostels any more.
All my travel memories start in hostels. Cities are wrapped up in dim images of excitable Australians sharing the bunk, sheetless beds, dodgy showers. And the occasional sweet, fading ceiling fresco.