A Hostel Situation


As we age, there is an inevitable loss and longing for the person we once were. It’s why 6-year-olds suddenly put pacifiers back in their mouths. Why 60-year-olds buy back the sports car of their youth. It’s why I went to San Francisco.

When I was 19, I spent a year backpacking Oceania. Hostels were home. I was immersed in cultures from around the world, sang songs in different languages, lived on $12 a day for food and accommodations. It became a lifestyle. I identified as a backpacker.

Since then, I’ve had small stints in being a backpacker again but nothing consistent. Recently, my travel itch was becoming insatiable. I wanted to recapture the poor, carefree, haven’t-showered-in-a-week, ramen-loving backpacker that I knew was still buried in there somewhere.

I didn’t have the money or the time off to go on vacation, but a three-day weekend was coming up. Having never before stayed in an American hostel, I decided now was the time.

This hostel was like none I ever had stayed at. Rather than have up to 20 bunk beds in a single room, this hostel had two queens — for four people. It was, essentially, just an overbooked hotel. Not only were you required to share a bed with a stranger but also the bed sagged so severely that even in full wakefulness, it was nearly impossible for me not to roll on top of my new bedmate. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer to know your name before you’re snoring on top of me.

It was midnight, and I was unintentionally spooning my bedmate, when two girls from the U.K., meant to sleep in the queen next to my co-occupied one, came in, dragging their monster-sized suitcases. They flipped on the light and spoke at full volume. I was going to tell them to be quiet, but I reconsidered. Hostels were always like this, and I loved hostels, right? I’m still a backpacker, aren’t I? I put in earplugs and fell asleep, presumably on top of my bedmate.

The next morning, I got an early start to the day.

My British roommates were still fast asleep as I tiptoed around the room and left for a day of hiking through Muir Woods.

When I got back, the British girls had completely taken over the room. They ran around, curling their hair, trying on different clubbing outfits.

“Aren’t you going out?” one asked me.

“No, I’m really tired.”

They looked at me with a mix of pity and horror.

As they walked out, I noticed they were leaving their passports and phones on the bed.

“You may want to take those with you.”

“Our outfits don’t have pockets.”

“But it’s your first night in a foreign country. You’ll need identification. What if you get lost? You’ll want your phone.”

The girls laughed at me and walked out.

Oh, to be young and stupid again.

At 4 a.m., the British girls came stumbling back into the room.

They flipped on the lights and their volume.

“Did you like Michael?”

“He was so-o-o-o- cute.”

“And good in bed. Was your guy good in bed?”

“Yeah. I wish I got his name.”

Good grief.

I threw the pillow over my head and sank into the center of my bed.

When I got back from breakfast the next morning, the British girls were gone, but their phones and passports were still on the bed.

I thought of me at 19. I’m positive there were times when I was that jerk in the hostel, turning on lights and stomping around. But these girls felt so far away from me. So unrelatable. I needed to know their ages.

I picked up the passports. One girl was six months younger than I am. The other girl was three days older.

And that’s when it hit. It’s not my age that makes me too old to party and pack and behave as they did. I just personally have grown past that point. Way, way past that point. And knowing this was both incredibly depressing and fantastically freeing.

I spent my last night in San Francisco on a hard, flat mattress in a bed all to myself — at the Holiday Inn.

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