Staying at a hostel is as much a travel experience in itself as any of the famous landmarks or skylines you’ll see on your trip. While hostels come in many forms and creeds, from the cozy family-run guesthouse to the bare-bones bed and roof over your head, there’s nothing quite like a real backpacker hostel. Usually covered in funky murals and eclectic décor, this is where you’ll find brochures for tours, treks, and countless other activities lining the walls. Overlooking a homey seating area, a chalkboard will broadcast theme nights at the adjacent bar in not-quite-perfect English. It’s more than just a cheap place to spend the night; it’s a hub for traveler culture and a way to meet and share experiences with some of the most interesting people you’ll ever encounter. While you’ll likely meet all sorts, if you spend enough time in hostels, some patterns are bound to emerge. Here are the eight types of people you’re guaranteed to see in a backpacker hostel.
1. The Baby
This fresh-faced traveler has decided to take his youthful optimism on the road, leaving behind superfluous items like clean socks and a phone charger. You’ll wonder how he even managed to book his flight out here without adult supervision and feel the urge to call his mom and let her know he’s doing OK. He’ll ask some question, like how to say “hello” in the local language (after being in the country for two weeks), which will make you fear for his safety and feel compelled take him under your wing. When he checks out, you’ll give him a piece of fruit as a parting gift to make sure he’s getting some nutrients and not surviving entirely on granola bars and bread, which are the only things you’ve seen him eat so far.
2. The Permanent Resident
At first you thought he was the owner or at least a manager of some sort before realizing he’s just a regular guest who’s happened to live here for the last three months. Unlike the rest of the travelers living out of their backpacks, he’s taken over the one private room of the hostel and fully unpacked. You’re pretty sure he may have even brought in his own shelving unit. He has a favorite spot at the bar—where you’re sure to find him most nights with the same drink order—and a tab open with the laundry service. He doesn’t often mingle with the other travelers, but every now and then he’ll offer some cryptic bit of information about his previous life or why he’s staying for so long that will only leave you with more questions than answers.
3. The Are They/Aren’t They Couple
They booked a two-bed room but gamely offer to share the matrimonial suite when they decide to stay an extra night. You never see PDA except that time they might have been holding hands? Unless they were just helping each other with their bags. Their flirty banter says yes but her equally coquettish demeanor with the bartender says otherwise. You always keep your ears perked up whenever they’re around, adding to your inventory of clues as you continue to internally debate whether or not to ask where “you and your boyfriend” are going next. You could just outright ask them, but where’s the fun in that?
4. The Lads Trip
You’ll hear them from three blocks down the road before they even open the door. Laden with an earth-toned rainbow of Ospreys, Quechuas, and Patagonias, they’ll burst into the hostel like it’s the common room of their mate’s flat in Germany or Holland, where they’re from on uni holiday. They’ll shout loudly to each other across the courtyard about which clubs they’re planning to visit that night and later run up an eye-popping bar tab. After lounging on the terrace for most of the afternoon, they’ll eventually hit the streets of whichever city they happen to be in for that day of their trip, sticking out comically as they “explore” their way over to the nearest tourist bar. Despite their complete disinterest in conspicuousness or “living like a local,” their enthusiasm is infectious and you know wherever they go they’re sure to bring the party along.
5. The Questionable School Excursion
Somewhere along the process of planning a whirlwind of cultural immersion for 20 students, the two frazzled, clipboard-wielding trip leaders failed to notice they had booked a backpacker hostel for their 15-year-olds. With the venue clearly chosen in an effort to save money, they won’t realize until it’s too late that a hostel usually means bread and jam as the “free breakfast” and no in-room hair dryers. They’ll roll through the lobby like a tornado leaving loose ping-pong balls, sweatshirts, and half-drunk water bottles in their wake. In between the vague sexual innuendos scrawled on the wall and advertisements for Jell-O shots, they’ll attempt to host presentations on cultural significance, determined to maintain an academic atmosphere, even as all the students whisper about who’s planning to make out with who on the terrace later.
6. The ~Free Spirit~
Preceded by his ponytailed hair, jangling handcrafted necklaces, and rejection of deodorant, the free spirit is the epitome of a perpetual backpacker. He has a blog called something like “the restless nomad” or “wandering spirit,” where he talks about vibes and the universe. He only packed two shirts because material goods are restricting, but couldn’t bear the thought of traveling without his entire collection of Kerouac paperbacks. With no idea how long he’s staying or where he’s going next, he proudly proclaims that he’s just a drifter, man. He has plenty of interesting stories to share from his travels and is always willing to barter food, art, shoes, or kombucha recipes. You wonder how he manages to fund his many travels, what with his rejection of capitalism and the monetary system in general, until you hear him on a Skype call home asking for just another couple hundred and then he promises he’ll come back.
7. The Rick Steves Groupies
Usually coming in groups of two or three (the optimal number for flexible travel), they’re equipped with money belts, locks, and sensible shoes. They have a list of sights to see along with a color-coordinated map of the city and accompanying daily schedule. While they’ve already booked a dance class and a food tour (with the tickets printed out in their laminated folder), they’re always happy to hear more recommendations from fellow travelers, which they dutifully note down in their travel journals. And in exchange, they’re a wealth of information for others, having already scoured all the relevant blogs, tripadvisor reviews, and travel forums. All the advance preparation means they’ll never be surprised by a strange bus time or wacky seasonal weather, and if a situation ends up being less than ideal, they’ll just write it off as a cultural experience.
8. The Volunteer
One day you’ll be chatting with them over breakfast and the next you’ll see them behind the reception desk or carrying a basket of laundry or mopping the floors. They somehow seem to be in a million places at once, like a camp counselor or college RA walking the line between making sure everyone has fun and making sure no one dies. These savvy travelers are usually in it for the long haul, making a nomadic existence their lifestyle of choice and work-for-stay exchanges their modus operandi. Befriend them and they’ll hook you up with advice on which shower actually gets hot water, extra blankets, and stories about all the zany characters they’ve seen coming through.