In 1912, in the town of Altena, Germany, Richard Schirrmann refurbished an old castle into the first hostel for young people, never realizing that what he had created was not just a place to stay, but a way of life- a new culture that would alter the lives of thousands of travelers around the world.
To recognize the importance of a hostel we have to look not only at the facilities offered but to understand the personal experiences that make a person’s stay special. A hostel is the place where the journey starts and ends, a place of many names and faces but most importantly, a place that can feel like a home away from home.
Anyone can go to a hostel, and while the economic factor is a big influence, not everyone stays at a hostel just to save money. Guests come to embrace a culture, a way of being, a mode of travel very different to that of those who would choose to book into a hotel.
Distinguished by its many common areas, spaces designed for guests to exchange conversation, a hostel offers a space different to that of a hotel. An environment where everyone is curious to meet each other, eager to find out where they come from, their language, what they do, why they are here and numerous other questions.
A high percentage of people staying at a hostel do so alone, often out of choice rather than necessity, with the idea to travel the world without an itinerary, a fixed-date ticket or a travel package purchased in advance. They enjoy the freedom of an empty schedule (albeit sometimes only for a few weeks) and the unknown. Of waking up in a hostel and heading to the bar for breakfast to meet their fellow guests; sharing recommendations, plans and advice with people they have only just met. This is the place where arrangements are made, where conversations include everyone within hearing-distance and where, by the end of breakfast, travel companions for the day have already been found.
More often than not, the companionship doesn’t end there. Groups of guests will come together to organize plans for the evening. They might ask the hostel staff for recommendations and find themselves invited to enjoy the evening first in the hostel bar. The bar then becomes the new hub of activity, a comfort zone where guests meet and make connections, exchanging ideas, languages, customs and, of course, drinks.
And if all this has happened by the early hours, it is only natural that the following day guests will be cooking together and enjoying a range of home-cooked foods, whilst sharing their travel stories. Perhaps afterwards someone will be encouraged to bring out their guitar or else guests can relax watching a movie together whilst the food digests and the hangovers disperse.
Of course, this magic cannot happen with just any guests. When arriving at a hostel it is important to arrive open to a new experience, welcoming of new cultures and opinions and, of course, leaving your inhibitions at the door. The hostel is a home that opens its arms to everyone, just as long as you open yours.
At the end of their stay guests feel more complete and just a little wiser. They have not only experienced a new city but a new world and within it, a hostel, the place they do not want to leave. None of this matters, since everyone has exchanged contacts and they will stay in touch, continuing their travels together through email. Or perhaps they will meet again, finding each other in another country, at each others homes, or even traveling together in another city, another country, in another hostel…
Author: Martin Miguel