Hostelling Rite of Passage, School of Life (Essential Education, Part I)

John Lett (About) (Readings)

The Essential Education Series, Part I: Hostels as Education

As I am fast-approaching the end of my master’s program, I increasingly wish to give credit to my informal education in the world. Graduate school and undergraduate studies gave me some of the jargon, but the road has given me the references to real education and market forces.

In any space of time where globalization, or globalism, remains the dominant mentality and trend, I feel as though spending time in youth hostels is an essential part of everyone’s education. It is hard to summarize the entirety of what goes on in them, and of course, everyone experiences something different.

This budget hospitality model is not that common in North America (dominated by the car and motels), and most people are quite afraid of them, as I first was when I began staying in them in early 2005. Two nights ago when I began to conceive this series in my mind, I counted through my experiences of hostels, and tallied 45 in total. Only once have I had a serious issue in one that is even worth noting, which involved a nutcase taking a book off of my dormitory bed in Hartford, Connecticut and reading it without my permission (Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and just three blocks from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s home, no less). I have typically traveled alone, and while it is different to travel as a male, my lack of incidents is a pretty good track record to say that hostels are generally safe. With hostelworld.com, you can pretty much see the worst of what you can expect of any established hostel, as people are more likely to report bad observations than good.

While there will surely be your fair share of oddballs, alcoholics, or kids just playing around, the vast majority of hostel-stayers and -goers are intellectually curious and not afraid to step outside of safety zones. Initially a German concept (die Jugenherberge, and I believe Germany still has the highest density of hostels), while Western Europe is overall the biggest market for this type of accommodation and traveler, the idea is spreading as people want to have more social aspects to their travel. The old, individualistic hotel model is still valid, but I promise you if you stay in a hotel, you probably will not socialize with others very much. Usually when I arrive in some new city and check into a hostel, I have met two or three people within the first hour and have started making plans to take a bus trip or walk to the beach or something to that effect, and I am very much an introvert!

At any rate, a strong advantage for me in staying in youth hostels and becoming accustomed to them is that you essentially get the news that is never reported from people all over the world. General things you will hear, gain, and learn:

  • travel advice for specific areas and venues    
  • ways to save money
  • entry and visa requirements to other places
  • the labor market and conditions in various places
  • cultural relations, which will help you anticipate how to transact with other cultures
  • which industries, degrees, or specializations are becoming valuable and which to not waste your time learning
  • access to other countries. If you make a friend from a third location (versus where you are, and where you are from), you may have a place to stay when you visit that area
  • a contact in another country in case your country ever becomes a hostile environment
  • if you sell or market any product, you expand your marketplace by exposure
  • language opportunities
  • a place where you can make your own food (most hostels have kitchen spaces) and learn other types of cuisine techniques
  • more detailed intellectual capital, information to share when you go home

People have asked me how I was able to travel so much using my own funds. I can attest that hostels enable people of almost any income level to travel. The least I ever paid to stay in one was about $8.50USD per night in Poland and in the low teens throughout most of Eastern Europe and Mexico (I had an ocean view room to myself in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for $13 a night), while the highest can be found in Canada, UK, and Australia at around $30USD. People of all classes and professional backgrounds stay in these places because you can upgrade to more privacy but still have access to the vitality of people on the move and ready to socialize.

I think in direct costs, a lot of people (about 50-60% of the population) are putting about $30,000 into their formal higher education. It appears to me you could travel for about 90 days on less than $5,000 and with tailoring some kind of supporting reading list, you could get equal value in that short space of time, if you went out of your way to speak to people of all ages, ethnicities, nationalities, and belief systems. Keep your education costs lean and self-directed if you want something innovative to be competitive right now.

THE HARDCORE FINDINGS

It is nearly impossible for me to summarize everything that has come about after seven years of staying in hostels, but I must deliver some anecdotes and things that I learned, while semi-disguising the identities of the people who told me very vital information. I’m sorry I can’t tell some of the more provocative things I learned because of the public nature of this forum:

  • In June 2007, I was in Ireland and a financial services lady visiting her father from London told me that Europe was going to collapse economically in less than a year, and Ireland would be ground zero of that.
  • A few days later in Madrid, I met two guys from Mexico who directed me to Zeitgeist, which articulated much of what I suspected about the order of the world. They were able to account for the visions of stolen gold that I had from underneath the World Trade Center one year before. This reshaped the paradigm of everything for me.
  • In spite of all the data that says unemployment was so low and wonderful in developing countries of Europe in 2005 and overall in 2007, everywhere I went, people complained the economy was horrible and restaurants were empty.
  • While visiting Australia in 2008, it was clear that they would prevail in the recession much better than other places. The message boards at hostels were full of needed assistance advertisements for accounting and moving furniture (real estate bubble).
  • In Mexico, I met a hostel owner who told me a professional hacker had stayed there recently. The hacker was able to infiltrate the Bank of Italy quite easily and had to go to the bank and tell them how to set up better firewalls.
  • In New Zealand, I learned from hostel guests and a cleaning lady that the US was going to ramp up security more than ever (this was 2008), and soon customs/border security was going to get very aggressive, keeping people in rather than keeping outsiders out.
  • Everyone is connected to everyone else through a hostel. Lots of people are connected to the celebrity world and you can find out the real nature of a lot of industries.
  • I was told that some family members of one other guest had handled a new, unified currency for North America in a credit union training session. So far, strangely this has not come into use? Maybe this was dropped with euro failings?
  • Russia is becoming more and more difficult to work as a foreign teacher with extra loopholes for visas. I helped someone who is American in San Francisco move into a homeless shelter because they were displaced from Russia and had not saved sufficiently.
  • In Sydney, I first began hearing about Asperger’s syndrome being at a “pandemic” level among medical and psychiatric professionals.
  • I learned in working in a hostel that now a big, secret trend among those who have some money is to be financing loans outside of banks, which is perfectly legally and fairly straightforward. A guest’s friend recently bought 20 houses in Detroit at an auction that was barred from banks or housing corporations attending, and the average price across the board was $900 per house.
  • From someone I met who started a yoga school in India in the early 1990s, I learned that Madonna went there in secret around 1995 and it was decided that this exercise was going to become a future industry for the masses.

EMERGING TRENDS

My most recent trips out into the world have allowed me to gauge a little bit of a vision into the near term future. A lot of people are leaving Europe at the moment (even before the crisis had really been explosive in its reporting) and looking to make money elsewhere. Americans are tired of running and have decided to try to make a go of things there. Australians complain about prices at home but are generally not considering to live another place because the quality of life is too high. Nordic people are not as on the go as before, but seem fairly content with the state of things there. As almost everyone knows, Brazil is doing quite well and the educated and English-speaking or learning people from there are anxious to travel and explore the world. People from Asia are traveling more as the influence of the region expands, but I do not see as many Japanese people traveling as I did earlier on in my travels, in spite of the yen having appreciated about 50% in value (I saw Japanese people traveling in New Zealand and South Korea in bigger numbers, but not elsewhere).

While no great developments of an exuberant nature will be happening in fact, I believe that people are going to be much more communicative as a result of stagnation, and great opportunities exist. If you go to a hostel, you are going to learn a lot and make extremely useful connections. However, do not go to a hostel or relocate to another country thinking that miraculous transformations will happen. You must not even think about leaving your country unless you have a minimum of $3000 accessible to you to get out of sticky situations (and a few thousand more that you can access with a few phone calls, but which is not immediately available to you. This extra layer of complication prevents you from overspending). If you have less than this and you are dying to travel, you can really only afford to travel if it is somehow related to work or your flights are paid.

LESSON AND STRATEGY

The best time to stay in a hostel or travel is between two big commitments or events in your life. Again, do not show up at one with no plan or aim, or thinking that everything will tie together once there. You can use the time to gather your wits, but it will not be a place where you can go with no plan and emerge with one; if anything, you will be more lost than before with so many comings and goings.

It is good to travel just before you will move to another place. Clean out your house  or apartment and store this stuff at a friend’s place for a minimal (but appreciated) amount, and then you are not losing any money by paying “rent” at the hostel you are staying at.

It is even better if your vacation is tied to work or study. If you have a reliable laptop, you can take an online course while being away traveling and not lose anything (make sure the connectivity is good).

Multiple destinations as a flight option. If you click “Multiple destinations” on orbitz.com, you can book yourself several days’ or longer layover in places and sometimes this saves money on the ticket. Beyond the surface value, it is much more cost-effective to see 10 countries on an extended holiday where you are not paying rent or housing at home than it is to see 1-2 countries at a time over the space of years (probably about $4,000 in expenses for one big trip versus $15,000 plus housing in two places spread out over years).

REMARKS

Finally, I guarantee that traveling on your own, meeting others from multiple backgrounds, asking lots of questions, having to navigate places where you do not know the language and so on will exercise your brain in a way that cannot be achieved in such a compressed time in any other way. You will quickly learn a lot of financial techniques, mathematics from all the exchanging, how to detect a shyster, how to communicate with people of varying disciplines, and you may hear things before they hit the news that can influence your decisions.

John Lett (About) (Readings)

If you are looking for interesting hostels or some guidance on the ground, do voice it to me or here. I know and maintain contacts with great places and people to look after you in Mexico, Canada, the US, France, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, the UK, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria (by association), Poland, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Spain, and elsewhere in Europe. I do not profit from that except in knowing people are having a good time!

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12 Responses to Hostelling Rite of Passage, School of Life (Essential Education, Part I)

  1. jjackunrau says:

    Hey John,
    I followed your advice and stayed at the Blue Parrot when I arrived here in Sydney, and this post makes me realize why you recommended it. It had pretty much all of those features. They aren’t exactly what I look for in a hostel (I want much less interaction), but they were really nice.

    • Justin, I am so glad that it worked out nicely and you went there! Is the Greek lady still running the place? I can’t remember her name off-hand, but she was very welcoming. There definitely is a bit of a social expectation in many hostels, and I would describe that one as VERY interactive. She kept wanting me to spy on her employees.

      Look forward to seeing you upon your return here! Hopefully there is a Superannuation windfall on the way for you!

  2. Pam Brown says:

    John, I found this quite interesting. Until I heard about hostels from you, I had never heard anything about them. While I’m sure I will never travel this way at this point in my life, I now have a better understanding of how you’ve been able to travel so much.

    • Pam, you certainly could go and sometimes you would have no idea that you were staying in a different arrangement except that people talk to you a lot more. I should have gone into some of the deals that can arise there through the exposure of what information you stumble upon.

      I look forward to seeing you soon!

  3. Good article! I think “Asperger’s” is spelled incorrectly, and my heightened awareness of this developmental disability (which is probably not high-functioning autism, really) has enabled me to direct some people toward getting some guidance with this. And gotten them out of my hair!

    I knew of a hostel in NYC in the ’70s and a divorced, male friend from the USA who’d been in the Army and should have known better stayed there and had his watch stolen, but he blamed himself. He was able to enjoy his visit to NY better by saving money with a hostel and going to hear jazz music and dine out pretty often.

    It’s important to check what you need to provide. I think in Finland, you have to provide your own bedsheets (also for bed and breakfasts) and in Iceland, you were expected to have your own sleeping bag, as only a pillow and duvet were provided. Some places, such as in France, you must bring your own towels (this is true for hospitals!). People have to check.

    We only stayed one night in a hostel in Iceland and it was midnight sun time and we ended up in the wrong town and got there in the middle of the “night,” so it was really wasted money I guess, but since the international airport is not heated at night and closes, we did need a place to touch base. The taxi rides to and from the wrong town cost me a month’s salary in France. ouch! The place was a corrugated metal barracks in a barren zone, but that’s Iceland for you! I saw right away that the one rather crummy shower was not the end of the world, and enjoyed meeting people from all over in the common kitchen area. There is sometimes, not always, a little food left behind you can take as long as you are sure it really has been “donated.” Not much, so don’t count on it. Take your own alcohol to Iceland, if you drink, by the way, and take as much extra as you can for fun barter! A bottle of hard liquor can get you a night in a bed and breakfast sometimes, for example! Really! Just ask in ADVANCE. They all have an email address, it seems, and everyone under 50 seems fine with English — it’s required there to get a basic school diploma.

    I like the advice here to go for a LONG travel experience and never a short one. The airfare or ship ticket is costly, and you need time to acclimate. As quickly as I’ve sometimes been able to make good contacts while traveling, these have just been good luck. More “serious” things, you need time for. Many cultures move at a slow pace. As much as you may feel “go-go,” you might not be in a go-go place, administratively and culturally speaking.

    I suggest people should aim for 90 days, as tourist visas are often automatic as long as you don’t go even one minute beyond that and conscientiously leave. I recommend the book PATPONG SISTERS by the late Cleo Odzer for some tips on Thailand.

    I’ve traveled first class a couple of times and it was wonderful, but often, contacts wonder how I’ve managed to travel so much on so little. Some was serendipity, but generally, traveling alone is a winner. In 1981, in August, high season in Italy, “everything booked,” I was still able to show up in Venice and on the Italian Riviera and arrange a tiny room for one with a shower and toilet down the hall. At one point I dined with hotel servants and slept on a cot in an attic with the hotel owner’s daughter, who didn’t like that I snored, but I said I was sorry, warned future people I snore, and sent her a gift I knew she’d love and a short thank you letter, and she was totally tickled. Yes, I have often been nervous, as a female, traveling alone, and have heard some bad stories, but also from groups of females and even some males, so . . . there ya go!

    I have a video up today on YouTube on my SLOBOMOTION channel called THE COLLAPSE OF THE EURO you might like. My other channel is CUTECATFAITH, and on Dailymotion, I post under “LisaFalour.” Thanks for letting me plug myself here! I like to share info.

    I like to be paid, but I put a lot out there for free.

    Great blog, which I recommend often, and this one will be shared.

    • Lisa, thank you so much for alerting me to my incorrect spelling of Asperger’s Syndrome.

      The friend who stayed in NYC should have been a bit more clingy to objects, but the hostel system was not at all developed at that time in North America, so it was not unusual for that to happen. The worst hostel I ever stayed in may have been the one in Chelsea, where there was no air-conditioning or ventilation in the summer… never again.

      “The Collapse of the Euro” is one of your many good videos, but “Video Response to SecretAgent33” is even more prescient, I think. Your two channels, slobomotion and cutecatfaith are generating about 3,000 views a week now! Some people I know of who used your services to get integrated into the French system benefited enormously. Well worth the €200+ to do it right.

      It’s ironic that Finland would require bedsheets… every hostel I have been associated with said NO bedding from external sources due to bedbug prevention.

      There is definitely serendipity and random good luck that surfaces when traveling but it is never a rescue or “all will be solved” situation. You always have to have something coming up “next” in order to be approached with opportunities, otherwise the aimlessness (and I should know) just drains your funds.

  4. Rich Gedney says:

    Hi John,

    One of my passions is budget travel.I recently spent a month in Thailand,BKK,Pattaya and my favorite Chiang Mai.I stayed in regular hotels due to my age (50). In thinking back on my past travels I really wish I would have stated at hostels.The main reason I didn’t was the paranoia factor,the fear that something would be stolen or I would be injured in some way by another traveler.I had built up so many walls that I couldn’t brake them down.I was still a little guarded while traveling recently in Thailand.However that was then and this is now.My feeling now is what ever happens, happens.It’s far better for travelers to socialize then to be a loner.I think my life would have been a bit more well rounded and with more friends today if I had stayed in hostels during my travels as a youth.

    One question.What was the significance of the gold under the world trade center?

    Recommended to your blog by Lisa B. Falour

    Cheers

    • Rich, thanks for hopping aboard. If you go to hostelworld.com you can check out the cities you are going to and it will list the hostels in the area with lots of reviews, typically. You can elicit from the comments that people have made what kind of culture exists at the hostel. There are some where someone in their late 20s would feel too old, and there are others where families are the main guests, and so forth.

      Chiang Mai is a perennial favorite of so many. A lady I am friends with who teaches in South Korea, where we met, goes to Chiang Mai at least twice a year and really wants to live there, but there is not really work that is paid well enough for her to commit to living there. You might also like Vietnam as I have heard it’s a bit less sketchy than Thailand.

      I should have explained the gold situation better but did not want to disrupt the flow of the bulleted list. In 2006, I visited the WTC site. At that time I did not really have any developed concept of anything counter to the official story, and I had heard from other psychics/spiritualists that there were “no spirits there now, all is well.” I have never had a full-on vision of spirits. However, there, I could sense a lot. I did not see any faces, it was sort of like I could sense people around and see them from the neck down but not make out faces. There was a haze hanging over the site five years later. The people, I could imagine them pointing to the hole in the ground and they were also stomping, but no words. Lots and lots of anger. When I described it to people afterward, I said that the only way to describe it is “these people are mad at money!” And they kept frantically pointing to the ground, as if to say “it was there.”

      A year later in Madrid, I was introduced to Zeitgeist by a guy from Mexico and there is a scene where it was described how $80 bn USD worth of gold bars had disappeared from the site and there had been armored trucks around the place a few days before the incidents.

      All of Wall Street as I experienced it then felt very wrong to me and it was not until, ironically, I entered the church across the street (St. Andrews?) that the horrific feeling broke.

      John

      • You may have gone into Trinity Church. I used to pray there in their “French chapel” that I could escape to France. I’d heard right away in 2001 that there was gold “gone missing” there, and also, a lot of artwork and people and documents. I continue to hear that one of the “crashed planes” unloaded in Cleveland, Ohio — this was on the news in Europe for two days, and friends and family (I am from Cleveland) not only heard this, they saw it on TV. Two days later, total blackout. Some say some Raytheon employees, and others, wanted to disappear. Very sinister.

        Thanks for your kind words to me and your boosting. I was so certain an attack on the WTC would take place in 1993, I went there with my spouse at the time and we videotaped for a “disaster novel” we’d been hired to write. (It was never published, but we got a kill fee.) We were shocked by the lack of security and had no problem getting into underground places to video we should never have been allowed into. We both kept saying, “This place is bad news — it is a target.” Two days later, BOOM!

        I’d always felt bad up in the towers. There was an employee cantine on the 88th floor, I forget which tower, called “Nosedive,” and its logo was a biplane crashing. I found that tasteless. This cantine was never advertised, as you could see a dramatic view for the price of a cup of coffee and stay as long as you liked within reason, use the restrooms, and so on. I had a friend who worked there and was relieved when he quit working there. I just hated those towers. I used to wonder, “How will they tear these down?” Well, it was taken care of, wasn’t it?

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