When you first start to travel, so many fears can pop into your head from getting robbed to missing flights to running out of money. And thanks to Hollywood horror films, hostels have been added to a list of things encouraged to fear, and for some, evoke images of kidnapping and torture.
In general, most news you see on TV around the world is bad news, and most western governments use scare tactics to keep people at home. The world is a dangerous place. That’s a silly generalization, and after hitting my 4 year travel anniversary it’s one that’s become even more laughable. But what of hostels? Those sketchy and dank places run by Slovakian mobsters? Sometimes I have conversations with friends or co-workers when I return to the United States and the topic comes up with a statement like “hostels aren’t safe, I don’t know how you do it” or “people get killed or robbed in hostels“.
I chuckle at them and shake my head.
Whatever you want to call them, hostels or guesthouses go hand in hand as a part of the travel experience for me over the past four years. They are the meeting place for new best friends. They are starting places for exciting and unexpected adventures. They can be a place where solo travelers find another solo traveler to connect with and sometimes canoodle with (take that however you want). They smell a little funky. They are places to perfect the art of cheap pasta recipes. And you will miss out on a huge part of the travel experience if you never stay in a hostel.
The debate will forever rage on whether or not to stay in hostels if you don’t have to which depends on what type of traveler and what tastes you have. But to argue if they are safe or not I will share the tale of my first time in a hostel to make my point.
All month I am revisiting many of my travel firsts from my first trip abroad to New Zealand. For my first experience of a hostel everything began quite normal, but just like something out of a movie — shit got weird. So this is one story had to be told again.
It seemed like a normal day in Auckland. I went on a birthday binge drink the night before with a new friend. Jaegermeister breath in the morning. Hangover. Rushed downstairs 5 minutes before checkout to book another night. But when I returned my room, I discovered a naked body in my bed. Lifeless.
What do you do when you find a mysterious body in your bed?
At the time I didn’t know if the person was lifeless or not. But the body wasn’t moving, and didn’t seem to be breathing from what I could see. In some instances, one might panic thinking it’s a dead body. In others one might also fist pump in silence thinking they got lucky or high five themselves. I knew for a fact that I didn’t get lucky the night before and come home with a girl because my “it’s my birthday” line that worked so well in Vegas for smooches, failed that night on the ladies. And the second reason was the bare ass staring back at me belonged to a dude. I wasn’t that drunk the night before either. Sure, one of the thoughts that raced through my head among hundreds of others was wondering if the person was dead, but I’m not a hobbyist of recreating Hollywood horror movies, and I can’t imagine someone being able to drag a body into the hostel room unnoticed.
I was simply confused.
Planking was a big fad around that time, yet I don’t think naked planking had caught on in 2011.
Then the other hostel mates saw the body.
Slowly bunkbed by bunkbed began to squeak with the other backpackers coming to life. As some stretched out and rubbed their eyes or announced their own hangover by moan, they began to notice the situation in my bed. I was standing in the doorway with the definition of befuddled on my face. There was a naked body slumped in my bed, half twisted and half hanging off the edge. One Irishman looked back and forth from from my bed to me about 10 times before whispering, “Woot da heel is dat?”
The only reply I gave at first was an extended “uuuuuuhhhhhhh…”
As the rest of the room came to life and sat up to gawk, I looked around at them and whispered the only thing I could, “What the fuck is going on?”
The Irishman replied the only way I’d expect, “Oim nawt drunk enoof for dis shite in da mornin“.
I wasn’t either.
Where did the body come from?
As I stood there, I tried to trace back over the whole morning to figure it out and hundreds of scenarios popped in and out of my head within seconds.
Flashback sequence commence…
That morning when I woke up to the scream of my alarm and saw it was just 5 minute before I had to check out. I know for a fact I rolled around in a Jaegermeister induced agony at first. After finding the energy to get out of bed, I discovered my half-full water bottle near the edge of the bed. Elixir of life. And nobody else in my bed. I rolled off the bed still wearing the outfit from the night before and waddled out of the room, squinting through one eye as I made my way downstairs. The front desk was swarming with last-minute check outs, so I shuffled outside and into the searing sunlight. The hangover was too intense to do anything that day let alone think, so I listened to my belly instead and bought the last shriveled up meat-pies in the 7-11 nearby.
When I returned to the hostel, the front desk commented on my glorious appearance with a “looks like you had an epic night mate” as they booked me in another night. Before going back to my room, I slumped down on the bottom step, lacking the energy to focus on juggling meat pies and water bottles while climbing stairs. With the pies destroyed, I trudged upstairs and entered my room. No naked body in the bed. It was already 10am and I didn’t want to waste the day so I grabbed my toothbrush and went into the bathroom. Nothing out of the ordinary except that I found the remnants of meat pie in my beard. Yum.
Then I returned to the room.
And BAM. Naked ninja in my bed.
Cut to the Irishman waking and we’re back to “What the fuck is going on?”
Either way, I knew through my brief flashback sequence that there was no way this naked-planking-ninja-dead-body was there minutes before.
That was the only time I put my Lonely Planet guide to use.
It was time to investigate. And when I say investigate, I mean use my Lonely Planet Guide Book for the first and only time ever during my trip in New Zealand. The guidebook was the closest thing to grab so I used that to poke his leg. No response. The butt cheeks stared back unmoving. The rest of the room watched in silence (though there was a bit of giggling from one girl) as I walked around to the side of the bed and reached out to prod the dude in the shoulder. No response. I looked back at the rest of the room and held up my hands not knowing what to do. The Irishman nodded his head forward, and I took that as the sign to wallop the guy upside the head. If he was dead it wouldn’t matter right?
So I walloped him in the back of the head.
Lonely Planet proved useful and the moment I walloped him, he sprung upright. How he sprung upright from he twisted position he was in still baffles me (naked ninja skills I guess) but the sudden life of him scared the hell out of all of us. IT’S ALIVE!
I think I even yelled “Oh shit!”
There wasn’t much life to the guy. As he sat on my bed, his eyes twirled around in his skull. Then he flopped back down.
“Hey dude” I said, and proceeded to nudge him again with the guide-book. This time he did one of those moves where he tried to blindly swat me away. My hangover took hold, and now that I knew this naked dude was alive, I was furious he was in my bed. I hit him in the back of the head again, and again he popped upright. Eyes still twirling, but this time he mumbled something I couldn’t understand.
At that moment he came back to life.
Half-life at least. His eyes stopped twirling and he looked down at himself, realizing he was naked. He looked around the room but straight through all of us as though we didn’t exist.
“You need to get the hell out of my bed man” I said, beginning to grit my teeth.
Instead of just wandering out naked after deflowering my clean-ish hostel bed, he reached down and began to grab my clothes from my backpack.
Great, now he was trying to steal my clothes!
He had two of my shirts and a pair of my pants and I yanked them from his hands. He still didn’t seem to realize anybody else was there, but he wrapped the blanket around himself and stood up.
“Yes, take the blanket because I was going to burn it anyway” I called out, and he waddled out of the room and into the hall. Everyone in the room began to laugh, and even though I was pissed off, I could help myself either. By the time I poked my head into the hall to see if he was sleeping in it, he was gone like some naked phantom.
And that was the last I saw of him. But not the last I heard of him.
Later in the day word had spread of the naked guy in the bed, and while making some instant noodles and instant coffee in the kitchen, one of the backpackers in another room gave us his origin story.
He literally pissed off everyone in his room.
The “bloke” as they called him couldn’t hold his liquor or drugs apparently. The night before he had gone out by himself and re-appeared around 7am. At one point, close to when I was downstairs booking another night, he woke up everyone when one roommate caught him standing in the center of the room peeing all over everyone’s luggage. They did what anyone sensible would do in that situation and physically tossed him outside and locked the door.
When we compared stories, we figured out that somehow when I went to use the bathroom after booking another night, he managed to wander into the room and flop onto my bed before the door closed.
Looking back on it, it was a hilarious situation. For someone already battling hundreds of emotions as a first time traveler, I created tons of bad scenarios in my head that were usually based off of horror films. And that will make any experience seem dangerous. Go camping? Killed. Eastern Europe? Killed. Unless Liam Neeson can save me with his certain set of skills. Relaxing by a lake? Killed. Own a cat and bury it when it dies? Killed. Go to sleep at night and dream? Killed. Tomatoes? Killer tomatoes. Clowns? Killer alien clowns. Get the point? Well, I believe that last one. I hate clowns!
Don’t let fear of the unknown or TV/movies delegate where you can travel to and not. Even when I traveled to Haiti, most warned me that I’d be killed or kidnapped because they saw it on TV and the news. Haiti is my favorite country to travel to.
Hostels can be weird, but they’ve never felt dangerous.
It’s true that my first ever hostel experience involved finding a lifeless body in my bed only for it to come back to life and waddle off. Freaking weird huh? Since then, I’ve heard stories of times when people have had drunk or drugged up idiots do things similar to that. I’ve experienced a fight in my hostel in Thailand. I’ve also heard of stories where people have had their things stolen as well, but usually that’s because they decided not to take proper precautions.
Almost 99% of hostel stories I hear though are funny like my first experience, or about best friends being made.
Are hostels safe? After 4 years of travel and hundreds of hostels that I’ve stayed in, I can tell you that hostels aren’t dangerous or secret cults that will kidnap you or anything close to that.
My hostel experiences, though peppered with some weird shit like this experience, has been pretty great. I’ve met friends that I’ve traveled with afterward and still keep in touch with. I’ve met hostel staff that I’m friends with to this date. I’ve even worked in a hostel, and it turned out to be a great way to save on budget. But I’ve never felt one was dangerous.
I’ve been to hostels that are incredibly dirty. I’ve been to some that outdo hotels in style. I’ve stayed at one run by an obsessive Christian who made us watch movies about Jesus. I’ve stayed at others that are run as a circus where you can learn to fire dance and juggle and tight-rope walk. Even some hold an incredibly high standard for eco-sustainability and environmental consciousness that out match most companies around the world. You can have a great experience or a horrible experience in some, but that is the same for most travel experiences.
You have to be responsible about staying in hostels.
Even though I’ve befriended plenty of people in hostels, there are always bad apples that you meet abroad. I’m not trying to tell you to distrust anyone, but to be blunt I’m telling you don’t be stupid. Most of it is common sense people.
- Don’t leave your passports and electronics out in the open.
- Don’t come home so wasted you don’t know where you are.
- Always lock up any valuables in the lockers most hostels have.
- If there is no locker, take a day-pack of your valuables with you.
- Going out? Ask the front desk to hold it for you.
- Read reviews about hostels before you go to make sure they are clean, in a good area, that they have locks on doors and lockers for your stuff, and that the staff isn’t sketchy.
Overall, don’t be scared to stay in a hostel. They are pretty fun places made for budget backpackers to meet and make friends. And who knows, maybe you’ll have a funny story to tell like the case of the naked planker.
SIDE NOTE: When I originally told this story on my old blog, the hostel that this happened at thought it was so funny that they sent me on a tour around New Zealand to write for them. Bless that naked ninja phantom.