Backpacker 1: Did you do [city]? Was it worthwhile?
Backpacker 2: It was [adjective describing party scene], [adjective describing prices], [adjective describing cleaniness].
Hostel Employee: I’ve been, the food was [flavor]. You have to try the [food].”
BP1: Where you going next?
BP2: Dunno, haven’t booked yet. Want to see that [castle / cathedral / museum]?
BP1: Can’t, I’m headed to [city] for [number lower than 3] nights!
BP2: Ok—remember, if you fit in [city], stay in [verb] [noun] hostel, they have [free breakfast / wi-fi / a bar].
During the July-August tourist season, the air in European cities is clogged with countless blah-blah-blah exchanges like this one. Yeah, I picked up some new skills during that time. I can now scale a three-tier bunk bed (though the real solution is to trade spots with a bottom bunker). I can pick up the most relevent foreign words to learn based on an environment (in some countries, the most useful phrase is “Can I taste?” and in others it is, “I have a boyfriend”). I can judge when to reject a stomach-churning meal and when to swallow it down (I answer that with another question: How much did it cost?).
I also met interesting people, but many of their stories blended together. The most common profile: the European student or young corporate touring four cities in two weeks. I had thought that hostels would be a hotbed of invested explorers from divergent backgrounds, each heading in different life directions.
To my delight, there is a solution, and not a complicated one: travel in the off-season and off the beaten track. This October, I checked into a Marrakech hostel in a passage of the old medina. The foyer floor was littered with backpackers. I guessed, from their all too familiar snoring and askew hairdo’s, that they had taken an overnight train to save on a night’s accommodation.
In the following five days, I befriended travelers from six continents. They included an air hostess, a toy researcher, a venture capitalist for Charity Water, a public advocate for restaurant workers, and photographers for several publications.
The first person I met, Holly Tarn, found me in the souks. I was gripping a map as though it were a rescue float, hoping that it would carry me through the 24 divergent alleys between me and my hostel. I stood at a road block, trying to cough up enough high-school French to tell the touts to bugger off. (“Laissez faire!” did not resonate.) Holly appeared, addressed the touts with a few Arabic words, and led me.
As it turns out, Holly is a freelance writer from Devon, England who grew up in what she describes as a highly hippy family. She is currently covering cultural conflict in Morocco—attending rallys and experimenting with life as seen through a burka.
Holly’s guest blog will appear on TheSistersBailey shortly.