It used to be that for those travelling on the cheap there was only one game in town and that was the hostel. Hostels stretched across the globe creating a cohesive if chaotic path through it all and for us all. Whilst they would often be maligned and horror stories would always be shared of disgusting bathrooms, flea ridden beds and dodgy deals, the hostel reigned supreme and unchallenged and so could retain its defects without any fear that it would be punished for them.
That was always the deal, you took the rough with the smooth and when you turned up in a new town at a new hostel you just held your breath and hopped for the best. Sure sometimes you’d find that the hostel owner didn’t think that you really needed a working shower and licked to tickle sleeping customers with his naked feet, but sometimes you’d be welcomed with some warm food and a hot bath. Whatever happened you always had the solidarity of your fellow travellers, a solidarity born of the fact that your had to accept this situation, that this was the deal that you accepted when you left your boring home and your boring life and your boring friends and your boring family (that all might have been quite comfortable and smelt pretty good) for a life of adventure and surprise. That was the backpackers wager, and it was a wager that defined us.
But, friends, things have changed. First the information available to backpackers exploded with reviews being written and we many being empowered to actually know (to some extent) what kind of a place we where heading into. This meant awful hostels could only get away with it for so long before being found out by customer flow and sometimes regulatory authorities. Suddenly the relationship between backpacker and hostel was changing, and the very nature of backpacking was changing too…
(more next week)