What my break-up can teach you about the magic of hostels

escape room

Dumped unceremoniously.  I was alone on a train from Lisbon to Porto when my six-year relationship reached its final stop. I wished I could be underneath the wheels of the train in that moment. However, the universe gave me a helping hand, and I reached for it. Sitting in front of me there was a young German guy. I could see through the space between the seats that he was on Hostelworld’s app, looking at hostels in Porto. “I’m going to a great place in Porto called Wine Hostel. You should check it out,” I said. He nodded and swiped to their profile. He checked out their photos and prices and decided to book it.

This is a story about something totally ordinary for hostels. Millions of travelers around the world have stories just like mine. But for those that don’t frequent hostels, the tale of finding human connection demonstrates why hostels are magical and the world is a better place because of them.

His name was Benedict, a university student from Hamburg who decided to take a one-month Interrail trip through Spain and Portugal after finishing his exams for the semester. Studying mechanical engineering, he had a passion for public transportation. We talked about infrastructure and train travel, how different it is for each country. Before we knew it we were in Porto and headed to our hostel together.

After we checked in, Benedict messaged me on Facebook. He met a girl in his dorm room and they decided to cook dinner at the hostel in order to save money. He asked if I would like to join them. Benedict and I went for ingredients while Nicole got the wine. While we got lost in the Portuguese supermarket Benedict revealed that he used to be a chef while on his gap year in Canada. He would be elevating this pasta dinner to a height I’d never seen before. An hour later we were gathered in the kitchen, drinking Portuguese wine, listening to Nicole’s story of walking 600 km on the Camino del Santiago. There we were, three people cooking and eating together. We barely knew each other and it was like we were old friends.

porto dinner

Back in my room my dorm-mate Jan asked me what I was planning to do that night I told him I didn’t have any plans. Jan and his friend had booked an escape room. If you’ve never heard of an escape room, they’re this hot new craze where you’re put inside a room and told a story. Then, you’re left alone in the room with your friends for an hour to search for clues that will help you “escape.” The game was set up for 2 to 5 people and he invited me to join in. 5 people was perfect. I asked Nicole and Benedict and they were in too. Soon we were in the Porto Wine Sabotage escape room. “A mysterious plague is destroying the wine grapes. We are five investigators breaking into a famous wine investor’s office, searching for concrete proof he’s the one behind it!” We spent 46 minutes circling around, finding keys, searching for codes, interpreting clues, and we successfully escaped. It was the first escape room I’d ever experienced and definitely one of the most fun experiences of my year.

The five of us spent the rest of the evening exploring Porto, basking in the glory of our successful escape. Apparently the room has a 65% failure rate. We drank cheap beers, stumbled upon live music, and met some interesting locals. I was having so much fun I barely thought about the fact that hours ago I had felt like my world was crashing down.

None of this would have happened without hostels. Here’s how the story would have gone if I’d booked a hotel:

  1. Get dumped on a train
  2. Check into my lonesome hotel room
  3. Watch Netflix all night

Hostels aren’t about saving money. Yes, it’s nice to save money too, but as you can see, the social experience is something no amount of money can buy. I love staying in hostels and as the standard of quality continues to rise, I don’t think I’ll ever have to switch to staying in hotels. Yes, I look forward to the day I have the extra dough to always choose the private room, so that at the end of the night, after the hostel shenanigans are over, I don’t have to listen to people snore. But besides that, I think that hostels are the best way to travel. Traveling is as much about the people you meet as the places you experience and there’s no better place to meeting interesting, worldly explorers than a hostel.

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