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.
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).
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.