It seems the sudden new rage. It's spotted across the media spectrum. It's part of traveler conversations and blogger posts. Hostels are the hip new way for millennials to travel.
Except it's more than that.
As a traveler and hostel aficionado, my goal is to share with you some new ways to think about hostels and travel, and the benefits that can come with both. So let's get started.
Some think of "hostel" as simply a building. Yet check the dictionary.
"Hostel" also is a verb. Its dictionary definition is "to stay at hostels while traveling." So when traveling independently through Europe, I hostel. In that way, hostels and hostelling stand apart from hotels, motels and inns. ("I hotel?," or "Let's motel through Europe?" Never.)
What puts "hostel" in a category of its own? To my mind, it's because hostels are so often part of solo travel as a personally defining experience, where 20-somethings and others who dare, come to discover a new meaning in other people, places and cultures. In doing so, they come to better understand themselves and the world around them.
Hostels are mainly credited with giving young people more opportunity to travel. That's true. They are more affordable than most other accommodations, and they can help make extended travel possible on even a student's budget. But that's not verb material. Motel 6 sort of does that, too.
Hostel as a verb is about moving beyond the dormant and the bland, to a state of curiosity and exhilaration. While traveling independently, we feel unbridled. We can choose on any particular day to find a café or a new city, laugh or contemplate, explore or nap. The decisions are our own, and in a foreign culture they are tinged with a certain mystery and excitement.
The hostel is a shared, fun space that becomes firstly, a place to connect. Spontaneous conversations rule the day since most inside are strangers and everyone knows it. Breakfast and dinner hold their own special importance, since meal companions can become social partners for the evening, and travel mates for as long as there is common direction and interest. Language becomes not-so-important; time invested in pantomime to overcome language differences creates laughter, affection and respect. Programs and activities facilitate memorable encounters, with other travelers and with otherwise overlooked surroundings.
In this brave new world, we find ourselves gravitating to fresh ways of thinking. Curiosity about relationships - all sorts of them, from ideas to people - is awakened. We consider, we explore, we self-examine, unencumbered by who we were or what we may have believed before we left home. Our experiences change us.
At some point, it's time to return home. The longer we are away, the more difficult we find it to fit our new self into our old life. With time, we sort out what's important to keep - and to leave behind. And we emerge better for it.
That's why we hostel.