Saturday, February 11, 2012

International Hostels

Once I got used to hostelling in the US, I was ready to test my wings abroad. In Japan, I stayed in seven different hostels, but they were very different from the ones in the US. What really sticks with me is that they were mostly huge, mostly at the top of a hill, very clean, and mostly empty. Many nights I was the only person in a hostel with 120 beds. Most had rooms for four with the male and female sections separate - maybe even on different floors. Some were like large hospitals, some had tatami mats floors and sliding doors. They all had traditional Japanese baths. Almost all cost $30 in 2003 - more like $40 now.

My favorite was definitely at Hiroshima, the City of Brotherly Love. The people running this hostel recognize that the way to prevent war and hatred between different ethnic groups is to help them get to know each other. To encourage foreigners to stay with them, the price is only $15. It was by far the most welcoming and comfortable of all that I experienced.

Last summer I booked my girlfriends and I into a hostel in Lucca, Italy. Neither of them had ever stayed in a hostel. Both of their 'other halves' suggested that they may want to get a hotel room on their own instead.  They chose to not listen to the advice and found out that hostels can be a great alternative. I have also stayed at the Monkey Hostel in Campeche, Mexico, but hostels are not necessarily the most economic choice in Latin America.

Another option is what might be called guest houses in Japan and Thailand. The ones in Kyoto were old traditional homes with tatami mats on the floors and sliding wooden doors between rooms. One was so bad that I spent the entire night feeling like I was in a big fire trap and moved the next morning.  The other, while aging and not maintained perfectly, was a fun place to stay. And, at $16 a night, I figured I couldn't be too picky. I did learn, though, to make sure to ask to see a place before committing to stay.  My guest house in Chiang Mai was just like a small hotel but had a comfortable place for everyone to hang out together like you might find in a hostel.

The thing all these places have in common is the opportunity to get to know people from around the world.  One time at lunch in a Kyoto restaurant, we realized that we had people from nine different countries, aged from 18 to 71, sitting together at one table and having a wonderful time.  Fortunately for me, most travelers seem to be able to get by in English, but that really makes me wonder about our education system.  Why aren't our kids learning multiple languages in school like the people of other countries do?  

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