In the Art Hostel there seems to be such a big diversity of travellers passing through the doors. There are typical backpackers who have been enlightened enough to pass through Leeds on their journeys around the world, but there are also students looking for somewhere permanent, professionals in town for a conference, those visiting friends or family, artists, musicians, all kinds of people. Whilst everyone seems to relax into the atmosphere pretty easily, it reminds me of when I first started staying in hostels, when I had just left school and before I had really formed an identity as a person who travels. So I wanted to write down some of the lessons I’ve learnt that now mean I can turn up in a new place and find my feet, in the hope that someone passing through the hostel finds something useful that makes them feel at home as soon as they walk into this tranquil but new place.
Read up on places
Knowing a bit about the history and politics of a place while you’re there means you’ll probably get a lot more out of it and avoid a Jeremy Clarksonesque blunder of ignorance.
Keep a diary
Maybe this point is true of life in general and not just a suggestion for the wandering folk, but a lot can happen in the space of a few days when you’re on the road and the places and faces will inevitably blur together in the recesses of your brain. I’ve never been one for capturing every emotional detail but making a note of the city, the hostel, the people you met, can be enough to trigger the stories and momentary occurrences that will make you smile with nostalgia years down the line. Using instagram or twitter to purposefully capture clips of where you are can have the same effect and creates a crumb trail back through your journey.
Unless your trip has a genuine artistic aim, leave the DSLR behind! Disposable cameras are cheap, light and will encourage you to take only the pictures you really want to capture instead of a stream of identical shots you’ll never look at again. They’ll also cheer you up when they come back from the darkroom just as post holiday blues set in and means your less of a target for thieves.
Make friends with the hostel staff
Since they live in the area they’re likely to know the cheapest and most original places to go, eat, drink, and will be able to nudge you in the right direction to avoid tourist traps. They’ll also be the ones you perhaps need to turn to when your passport has disappeared into a watery abyss or whatever other disaster strikes. So however tired, hungry and sweaty you are when you turn up, remember that a smile can go a long way.
Be nice to everyone
Even the people who make it really hard. You never know who’s going to catch up with you in the same hostel a couple of weeks down the line and no one needs bad vibes following them from town to town. Travelling can bring out someone’s deepest insecurities, as they’re constantly confronted with new people and challenges, so breathe deep and take the high road.
Always carry a lighter
Even if you don’t smoke. Smoking is a social act that introduces the most unlikely of friends and when you’re travelling alone, being able to offer someone in need a light gives you that initial ‘in’ to a group of travellers. Lighters are also pretty handy for tea lights and incense in hostels.
Independent and lonely are two very different things!
If you’re doing a long trip, anything you take will be in tatters by the end. If it’s a quick one then you don’t need to take much anyway! The lighter your luggage, the more freedom you have to chase an adventure if one happens to present itself with no bulky cases to lug around or piles of clothes to pack up. Shocking as it may seem most countries do sell the essentials and probably much cheaper than back home, so leave the year supply of Herbal Essences at home.
Always take the cheap route
Occasionally it’s worth spending an extra bit (meals involving seafood spring to mind as an example although I imagine that’s not a fool proof rule…) but for the most part the cheapest dorms are where the best people will stay, the budget bus where you’ll have time to see all the views and the tiny corner bar down a side street where you’ll eat some proper local food. You’ll end up more patient, more appreciative and generally find yourself with a more down to earth understanding of the culture you’re visiting.
Be comfortable being on your own
Sitting alone in restaurants or walking around museums can feel really uncomfortable when you’re not used to being on your todd. As you get used to flying solo it can be really liberating so try not to scroll endlessly through your phone in an attempt to appear less alone. Independent and lonely are two very different things!
Learning languages can be difficult if your brain doesn’t work that way but there are so many apps around now though that can help you pick up at least a couple of phrases while you’re sat on a bus or in a hammock with nothing to do. You can make friends with locals more easily and chat people up with hopefully more success if you’re at least trying!
Learn to make friendship bracelets
Similar concept to always carrying a lighter. They start conversations, give you a purpose when you don’t know anyone at the bar and are a nice thing to be able to give people you meet.
Make few plans
Have an idea of the general direction you might go in can be useful but if you can avoid it, don’t pre book buses and hostels. Just wake up every morning and decide if you’re staying or going. If you confine yourself to too rigid a schedule you leave no time for spontaneous trips with new friends, an extra night with the love of your life or that monster hangover that was the result of clearly and definitively assuring everyone that you were ‘definitely having a night off from drinking’.
Words by Thea Flindall