For my trip around Belgium, I had to face the reality of staying in hostels. By which I mean that I had a set idea of what hostels were, and had yet to experience what they were really like. I planned three weeks travelling around various cities, and aside from one B&B on my brief stop at Ypres every leg of my journey had to be accommodated at a hostel. I dithered for a long time, like a cat delicately testing the waters, wondering which of the many choices on the internet was least likely to have bedbugs, mouldy showers or axe murderers. Yes, I was prissy.
After three weeks of hostel living, I am of course a convert to the whole idea. I encountered clean and pleasant bases from which to explore, the bedding wasn’t hotel quality but was kept to a high standard and I barely had to do any hair hunting through the sheets I was given. I’ll admit, you do have to lower your standards when transferring from hotel to hostel stays, but that’s by no means a bad thing. I see hotels and B&Bs as bubbles that keep you separated from wherever you’re staying; very nice, cosy and lush but ultimately isolating. You never immerse yourself in the country with a non-descript bubble of security to go back to.
Hostels are different. They seem to have been created by the city itself, buried in the undergrowth that many tourists don’t get to experience from their hotel rooms on high. It’s easier to experience a place fully, its secrets, its hidden gems, from a hostel where you’re left to your own devices with just a breakfast to set you up for the day’s adventures. Hostels don’t offer to look after you, they offer a comfortable place to stay as you carry out your own holiday on your terms, and they leave you to your own devices in a good way. Each hostel I stayed at in Belgium was unique and represents each city I visited. Most were carved out of old buildings, with iron wrought staircases and four floors of rabbit warren corridors and secret rooms. I loved to explore them when I got back from my touring of museums, ancient buildings, beautiful parks and lazy walks; I’d climb up each floor, inspecting the rough edges where some construction wasn’t quite done or random towel disposals found in strange places.
Being the misanthropic, people fearing mouse that I am I required solitude and quiet on my holiday. I wasn’t interested in making hostel friends, though the teams of fellow travellers milling around always provided an air of activity and warmth, and despite staying in dorm rooms I found it was easy to stay away from people. That’s the best thing. My fellow visitors were of all shapes, sizes, ages and nationalities, but all had a commonality that meant they respected everyone’s privacy and beyond a few cordial conversations never bothered me in my seclusion. Everyone is there for a purpose. Everyone is a weary traveller doing their own thing, and after a while you join an unspoken and unofficial club that allows you to create a holiday experience that best suits you.