An Open Letter to Forgotten Hostel Friends
It’s a special type of one-night stand. For a brief, shining moment, you’ve met your new best friend: the person you relate to more than anyone else on this earth. By the next morning, you’re halfway to your next destination and halfway to forgetting all about them. Maybe you add them on Facebook. After a week or two, you stop bothering to like their statuses.
The hostel friendship. Formed in the intense and the mundane, in the excitement of new adventures and the bittersweet end to others. A truly unique phenomenon, where the social norms you’ve taught to yourself all but disappear.
This letter is for you, my temporary soulmates. Those of you who took my quivering, awkward, mess-of-a-self under your wings and flung me into a new world for the night.
C/O Deutshce Post. Munich, Germany
I don’t know if neighbouring tents at Oktoberfest really constitute a hostel, but let’s just pretend they do. My inadvertent proximity to an Irish buck’s weekend is the closest I’ve come to staring into the void. And boy did it stare back! Wide-eyed and wasted at 3AM.
“Ca-larke! Ya’ve gorn an dun it again!! Ya’ve pissed in the tent! Ya’ve pissed all over me clothes!”
The next morning, you and your friends were back to your usual banter, making me wonder how often this sort of thing happened. You owned up to it, seeming to take pride in being the butt of the joke amongst strangers. Normally I’d never have approached a group of lads on tour, but curiosity got the better of me. I had to know just how drunk you’d gotten to mistake your friend for the porta-loo.
I’m sorry for laughing so loudly that night. I’m sorry for stifling giggles every time I talked to you after that. I’m sorry for still laughing now.
C/O La Poste. Paris, France
We were the only two people in the 16-bed room. You showed up late and I pretended to be asleep. I was tired. It had been a long day. I’d totally make friends in the morning. Half-dreaming, I made up a personality for you, made up adventures to spark envy in the friends I’d left at home.
I left the next day before you were awake. Don’t worry though, in my head you were super cool.
C/O Royal Mail. Cornwall, England
Hour-long conversations about how you are single-handedly saving the world probably don’t deserve more than an eye-roll, but you had me a captivated disciple. I was more than ready to pack up into a van and go do something real together. Something real in the south of England, because clearly there is no area in the world more in need of our charity. And just so you know, I’m still totally waiting for you to hit me up once you’ve got that van all sorted.
C/O Royal Mail. Glasgow, Scotland
Topless, layering on mascara in the mirror of our shared room, your first words to me were “How quickly can you be ready to go out?”
It’s kind of tricky to refute an invitation that was never technically issued. Cut to an hour later, and we had squeezed ourselves onto the end of a table occupied by a group of shambling old men who were a little too keen to buy us drinks. In the background, an out-of-tune band tried their hardest to get people interested.
You were a blur of words and movements and snap-decisions. I was smitten and insanely jealous of you all at once. I projected onto your confidence the over-the-top golden persona I had assumed I would adopt overnight the second I went travelling.
As the bassist led us into another hashed-out cover of something from my dad’s iPod, you pulled me up to dance wildly. While the locals looked on with bemused eyebrows raised, I felt like you were transferring to me that magical quality that would suddenly turn me into an interesting person, a person worth knowing.
Then I ate a kebab and threw up against a shopfront. So that’s something
C/O AN Post. Dublin, Ireland
A mix of peak tourist season and my inability to book anything ahead of time led to me taking the last bed in the last room in the last hostel in the city. I was still wringing my hair from the torrential rain outside, gazing up at the impenetrable fortress of the ladderless top bunk, when you all came barrelling in. Voices first, and then a whirlwind of gangly arms, legs and egos. At least one of you was called Dan. I immediately forgot which one though. It was easier to just assume you all were.
You had a bottle of tequila and were all about sharing, so it was a solid foundation for friendship. Even though it was an unseasonably miserable Tuesday, making going out fairly futile, you still insisted that we could at least “have a big one” at the sticky hostel bar.
Something about being the only person in the Venn diagram of “female” and “under 45” was enough to overcome the liquid bad decisions, and I called it a night after one beer. The next time I encountered you, I was bleary eyed and confused. You were trying to crawl into my shitty top bunk. Apparently it’s easy to mishear, “I’m going to bed!” as, “Come to bed with me.” I felt like I should be paralysed with fear, but I was too tired for an emotion more complex than mildly annoyed. I told you to fuck off. One of the other Dan’s echoed the sentiment from some far corner of the room. At least you listened to one of us.
There’s something special about these ephemeral encounters. The exhilaration of knowing you’ll never see this person again, and so you can be whoever and whatever you want. Getting to share a glimpse of who and what they choose to be at that moment in time too.
I don’t know if I feature in any of your stories, or if I’ve faded into the background of the lifestyle. But I do know that it’s these people blowing in the wind that have come to define travelling for me more than anything else. And so I thank you all, hostel strangers. May we never meet again.
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