TOP 10 THINGS I LEARNED FROM LIVING IN HOSTELS FOR 6 MONTHS

I tend to forget that I lived in hostels for 6 months. I’m kind of a creature of habit (in case you hadn’t realised). I do like a good routine. The barista where I go to get coffee every morning knows my name, as does the candy shop owner where I mass buy watermelon flavoured bubble-gum on the regular. I’m pretty easy to track down in daily life – which is pretty surprising in contrast to the year I spent living out of a backpack. Nonetheless, I still remember the tips and tricks I learned from hostel-hopping across the world.

  • Do your research. I wasn’t really intending to backpacking, or definitely not for quite so long when I started off. The first proper hostel I did stay in was the Arts Factory in Byron Bay. Have you seen The Inbetweeners movie? You know when they arrive at their hostel in Australia and their faces just drop? That’s the one. I probably would have loved it a lot more had I now returned to stay, but it was just a little overwhelming at the start. I chose it off Hostelworld because the pictures looked quirky. Quirky to say the least. A cockroach fell on me whilst in bed. A man with a cockatoo (big white bird) toured around the communal kitchens and played the didgeridoo. I woke up to someone passed out in the toilets. I’m not saying it wouldn’t have been fun, but a bit of background research (or rewatching The Inbetweeners) would have meant I probably wouldn’t have chosen such an intense hostel for my first stay.
  • Choose mixed dorms. They are so much more fun! Admittedly this worked well until I was semi harassed/assaulted twice whilst trying to sleep in Cairns (and reluctantly stayed in all girls for a few weeks thereafter) but mixed dorms generally have a much more upbeat and enthusiastic vibe. Everyone tends to be more keen to mingle and go out and explore (not saying all-girls are boring…).
  • Get people to add you on Facebook. Maybe you’re not as bad at names as me. Faces I can recognise, but names go completely over my head no matter how many times they’re repeated. I spent a whole week in Ho Chi Minh with this guy whose name I don’t just not know now, but really didn’t know at the time either, and became too painstakingly awkward to ask for it (this proved awkward upon multiple occasions of the week). If you meet any cool travellers, you can hunt them down to explore via social media whilst also having a sure-fire method of not forgetting their names.
  • Expensive isn’t always better. Especially if you want a good atmosphere. Some of the best hostels I stayed in were in Vietnam for between $1-$5 a night. 
  • Check the amenities. I’m not trying to sound prissy, but aircon became my best friend. I spent a week in Sydney in a hostel without aircon whilst it was 40c and the hottest week of the year, and never again. Sleeping wasn’t really sleeping, but rather profusely sweating away in my bunk all night, and having mild arguments with the girl below over which way the fan was to be turned. I also ended up sleeping outside on a mattress (with a bug net), surrounded by stray cats on Gili Air by accident after not researching properly, so I can’t stress this enough. 
  • Bed bugs! I’m now a self-declared bedbug expert after having two infestations in 6 months. I know it’s kind of irritating – when you first get into your room, you want to throw down your bags, whip out a change of clothes and head out to explore with whoever you’ve found – but a quick once over glance at the sheets prevents a horrible aftermath. Bedbugs leave small squished blood trails on the mattress. I was asked twice in Seminyak what skin condition I had after being bitten all over, and had to pay £30 (a LOT in Vietnamese money) to have my backpack and all my clothes steam pressed.
  • Facebook groups. If you haven’t met anyone to explore with in your hostel, or have particular areas you want to go with further afield, every traveller’s city tends to have a backpacker’s Facebook group. My favourite was the one in Bondi. I traded in my suitcase for a backpack. People used to post what they were about two escaped pets, two very vibrant and rainbow coloured parrots who were incredibly tame – weekly posts on the Facebook group showed that the parrots actually belonged to a known someone, and whilst they might trespass on your balcony for a bit, they always returned home (this made spotting the two parrots all the more exciting).
not one of Bondi’s infamous free parrots, but a parrot nonetheless
  • Don’t sit down in the shower. Admittedly, this one is pretty common sense, but I like a good sit down to think things over, and consequently came home with ring-worm all down the backs of my legs. (Ring-worm isn’t a living creature, as ominous as it sounds. Think more of an exotic eczema).
  • Hostels almost always have a lost and found. Benefical for when you want to save money, and nothing quite as exciting as a half-used tub of aloe vera.
outdoor mattress in bali
  • Occasional breaks from hostels are okay. After sharing a dorm with 40 people for a while, I stayed in a cheap villa by myself in Bali for a week. I was heinously excited, and it was great for a night (a double bed becomes such a luxury), but surprisingly enough, I ended up kind of lonely and missed the cacophony of 40 snorers. Nonetheless, a break here and there is still good if you need some private space.

In the end, travelling is less down to where you’re staying, and more the people you meet. Hopefully, with these few tips and tricks from what I personally learned and the mistakes I made, you can hopefully quickly learn to love life out of a backpack!

SEASIDE

It’s what you British like to call summer-time, and you’ve dragged me to the sea. You wouldn’t believe it. The canopy of clouds is too thick for any sun to pierce its way through. Were we still in LA, on a beach day back with my family, the beach would be littered with scantily clad tourists and sunbathers. Here, we are alone. Almost alone, if you discount the faint silhouette of a man and dog tossing a ball to and fro. I don’t mind it. In fact I think I prefer it. I can hear the wind and the waves and a few stray gulls and your laugh piercing these sounds of the sea as you toss something my way.

I feel saltwater seeping into my old worn welly, but I don’t mind that either. I scrunch up my toes and it seeps slightly further into my socks, a slightly cold and prickling sensation. Your mum lent me these. Pulled the well-worn boots out of a cupboard with a delighted smile and told me I was going to love the British seaside. It took a little to win her over. I paid due care in saying please and thank you, and complimenting her cooking, but what really won her over was when I got down on my hands and knees whilst she was weeding, and asked questions about the clematis and rhododendrons. You were in the shower. I could see her face light up, the formal mask she likes to hold up around me soften. I know she’s apprehensive. They blame me a little for your jet-setting lifestyle. You always spend a lifetime in the shower, enough time for her to point out the late-Spring bloomers, and rant about the peat-laden soil in the area. After that she was warmer, brushing my shoulders as she walked past, or filling up my mug of hot coffee without asking. She pulled those wellies out of the cupboard with gusto, assuring me that despite the temperature and the dubious looking skies, we would have the best time. Alongside the wellies, I’ve been clad in a thick tweed waterproof, just the sort I imagined your family to have lying around. I almost look ready enough to go out and shoot something. 

Something slaps me on the chest, and I look up. Your light peals of laughter have increased to cackles. Following the unidentified object, I find myself peering at a lilac-hued pile of what appears to be slime. Upon closer examination, I realise that it is in fact a tentacle-less jellyfish. I think you see the annoyance flash across my face, as your laughter slows and you gesture to the tide line.

“They don’t sting. These ones are harmless”.

I roll my eyes, but take a step closer to the streamlined section of beach where the water meets the sand. Hundreds of these lilac-blue blobs line the tideline.

These guys must’ve been unlucky. Happens when the tides change, or it’s too cold”. 

I didn’t know you were a jellyfish expert. I guess that sort of thing happens, when you have tweed jackets in your cupboard. I pick up a loose piece of driftwood and prod one delicately. This triggers fresh amusement on your face. 

“They won’t bite. Or sting. Such a big group of them, it’s called a bloom”.

A bloom of jellyfish. How poetic.

You take a step closer, and I narrow my eyes. I don’t want to be hit by anymore harmless-or-not-so-harmless dead jellyfish. But, you pause, smile, then press your lips against mine. I can taste the salt in your kiss. You pull away, looking almost bashful, and entwine an arm around mine. 

“Come on”.

We meander back to where the car is parked, bracing against the strong winds and the gulls, and the lone man and his dog. You’ve promised your mum you won’t let me leave without tasting the finest ice cream the British seaside has to offer.

BULRUSH – BRISTOL

Bristol seemed like a big-time thing, when I lived in Exeter. It boasted of whole extensive shopping centre – even with with a Hollister! You have to understand that this is the ultimate dream, as an Abercrombie/Jack Wills drenched youth. Admittedly I was a little older when we did end up moving, and the whole Hollister novelty had slightly worn off (considering the sexual assault claims, I guess those topless models weren’t so good after all). Nonetheless, Bristol seemed a whole deal more exciting than Exeter (until I moved to London 6 months later, where there is an abundance of Hollister/Abercrombie stories, albeit very tired and you-wouldn’t-be-caught-dead). Particularly for food – voted the vegan capital of the world last year!

Not to be side-tracked by my questionable fashion choices as a teenager (a Jack Wills onesie still lurks at the bottom of my wardrobe), I’m more here to talk about the food options. No, still not a vegan, but when pressed to decide on tasting menus at Bulrush, in Bristol, I opted for the vegan one. It’s rare that a Michelin starred restaurant offers a complete vegan alternative – and by that I mean actual, thought out dishes, as opposed to the meat option minus the meat. I’m not massive on nouveau cuisine. Sort of in the same sphere as my attitude to alcohol, I was always told that my tastebuds would mature, and that I’d start to appreciate wines and spirits (which still really hasn’t happened but doesn’t stop me shotting them straight), I was told that I would come to appreciate a fine foie gras, or gazpacho (the devil of cold soups), or pate. None of this has unfortunately taken place, and whilst vegetarian, I’m still happier with a bowl of pasta than tiny dishes of mousses and extractions and foam (imagine this all said in the deep and soulful Masterchef voice over).

white asparagus and fried nori and whatever the meat eater was having…

Still, not one to turn down a treat, I was more than happy to try all of Bulrush’s 9 courses as part of their vegan taster. As mentioned before, the menu is tailored accordingly to vegans, and not just the steak without the steak. Situated in Cotham, Bulrush prides itself on organically sourced ingredients, and high-end, well thought out and beautifully executed dishes. I remembered to snap a picture of the menu, because my memory isn’t that good. As you can see, the dreaded gazpacho was indeed present (although cleverly disguised under the name tomato consommé) but it actually wasn’t half bad. My favourite course was admittedly the bread, served with vegan cream cheese which lo and behold actually tasted like cream cheese. The only let down was personally the ‘scarlet elf cap in fermented cep broth’, but as those close to me know, I really do hate mushrooms so mushrooms floating in mushroom water was a bit overwhelming, and my distaste lies with my own mushroom-related fears rather than the dish itself. 

After 1 ‘snack’, 6 savoury courses, 2 desserts and a truffle, you are pretty full – don’t be deceived by the small portion sizes. With the wine pairing, offering 5 glasses in between courses and of course dessert wines to match, you might even lose sight of what exactly you’re eating. Not to fear, for Bulrush exceeds not only in food but also service. Aside from the menu, each dish is clearly explained upon presentation, as is the wine. All waitstaff were incredibly attentive, and you’re given the choice to eat at your decided pace, either eating and relaxing at a languid pace between courses, or having the food as quick at it comes (permanently hungry, I opted for B). The atmosphere remained relaxed, and a polite eye was turned to my mother lecturing me about my career prospects (getting paid to blog remains an unlikely dream…)


21 Cotham Road South

Bristol

BS65TZ

Lunch: Thursday – Saturday 12.30pm – 2.30pm

Dinner: Tuesday – Saturday 6.30pm – 8.30pm

Closed Sundays & Mondays.