What I learned from one strange night in a backpackers’ lodge in Bangkok
Solo travel has its joys, as well as its oddities.
Solo travel has its joys, as well as its oddities
The first question I am asked when I declare that I am going on a trip, without fail, is who I am going with. And the answer, 9 times out of 10, is: no one.
This exchange is always met with confusion, a frown, or a look of pity. Then there is the suggestion, or often times the conclusion, that I will meet someone while on said trip, so all will be well.
Solo travel is a mystery to most people. But to me, it is freedom. It’s an opportunity to build my confidence, overcome fear, and stretch myself beyond what I think I know.
It’s also so easy. There is no conflict, no compromising on how to spend each day, no coordinating of tastes.
The one unfortunate thing it is, however, is that solo travel is more expensive. The world of hospitality is geared towards getting at least two people in every bed, unless you’re going to Paris and have R3 000 to spend on a cupboard fitted with a single mattress, or you’re willing to share with strangers. Fine when you’re 20, less fine when you’re 40.
At the ripe old age of 34, I decided that it was not okay that I had never stayed in a backpackers.
My 20s were spent on getting my career going, and my travels, while still far and wide, were mostly done with my parents and siblings.
Then I hit my 30s, and I felt like I’d missed out on some humbling and character defining travel moments. So, I decided, while on a month long solo trip to South East Asia, to get first-hand experience of what it is like to stay in a hostel in Bangkok.
Where better to cut one’s teeth at backpacking than Thailand? The R185 per night price tag was the first thing that amused me, to the point of thinking about leaving my career and travelling the world forever.
But with such a minimal fee, the experience is bound to come with compromise. Hopefully some that builds resilience, or at the least makes for an entertaining story. My experience did just that.
Once I checked into the 8-bed girl’s dorm room where I was the oldest by at least a dozen years, I drew the curtain back on my little cubbyhole and had a surprisingly good night’s sleep.
Safe (or at least, one can only hope) and sparkling clean (relief!) were two boxes ticked. But the next morning, an encounter in the shared bathroom turned the adventure from life experience to life-saving.
A fellow inmate had gone out partying and had passed out cold on the floor. It took me a good 15 minutes of pacing back and forth, while observing her lifeless foot pressed up against the glass door of her shower cubicle, before I decided to call for reinforcements.
I kept asking myself: “Is there a hidden camera somewhere, and am I being Punked? Is this really happening the one time I decide to try out a hostel?”
In the end, she was fine, albeit a little sheepish when she passed me in the breakfast room, and her friend pointed out that I was the woman who had found her. I still laugh when I think back.
While I don’t have a history of student years filled with wild and free travel stories, I certainly made up for it on the one occasion I did decide to get out of my mid-level hotel comfort zone. And now, I have a dinner party story to tell.
Hostels aren’t for everyone, but I believe we should hope to never find ourselves in a situation where we believe ourselves too good for something.
Everyone should experience staying in a backpackers at least once in their lifetime, and you never know when it might be your only option. High thread counts are delicious, but do they have hysterical stories to tell? And do they cost the same as one cocktail in Camps Bay? I think not.
In all my years of solo travel, the one thing I have learned is that we are never really alone when we travel. And for every moment in between a live interaction with another, there is Instagram.