To qualify as a gap year, there’s a certain minimum requirement to fulfill. By comparison, you can’t say you’ve really experienced the great Aussie outback unless you’ve slept in a swag. The awe of laying there wondering what strange creatures in the darkened night you may be sharing the night with.
Same with a gap year. You can’t say you’ve gap yeared unless you’ve done, what I like to refer to as, urban swagging. That is, dormitory sleeping in a backpacker hostel. It’s actually not much different to sleeping in a swag in the outback. You never know what stranger is lurking around you in the night. Could be any creature who nest for the night in anywhere up to the ten or twelve bunk beds in your room. They may look like you. But just like in the wild they typically make strange sounds during the night [and vice versa!] Or as day breaks and they go hunting for food, they may try to communicate with you. But sometimes you just can’t understand them. And they can’t understand you.
I’ve urban swagged a few times now. And that’s the great thing. It’s the interesting people you meet. Like last time. It was a Swede and a Hungarian I found I was sharing the room with. Backpacking though is flexible. You can choose to urban swag as it suits. As one professional female Gender Y solo backpacker explained, you pick as it suits. If you want to network with other travellers, Backpacker hostel. Want more of a local experience, Airbnb. But if you want to lash out a bit for more privacy, a nice hotel. Leonie, a more mature traveller I know, was in her early 50’s when she backpacked. She had a simple security strategy. She’d always pick the furthest bunk away from the door. And always on the top bunk. That way if some randy young buck came staggering in late at night, odds were there’d be more choices before he made it to the end of the room. Plus if the buck did make it to the end and up the ladder to the top bunk, he’d probably be disappointed and promptly retreat, she said!
Sure the hostel market predominantly caters to the young traveller. They’re typically well educated. But while certainly a minority, there are a number of us not so twenty something types. I even noted this lady at the more well-matured end of the age spectrum. You could tell. Compared to all those around her with their fingers dancing and flitting across their gizmo devices, it was her steady yet determined single finger poking action on her not so slim laptop keyboard that definitely gave her era away.
The good hostels are like a backpackers equivalent to a resort. They offer a whole range of facilities. From an entertainment theatre, outdoor garden, dining and lounge areas (with of course numerous smart phone charging stations), full commercial grade kitchens, as well as all the dormitory rooms. Communal dining areas encourage an opportunity for a chat. Like the guy I chatted with over breakfast. After a transit stopover in NY, I was about to leave the North American winter behind. The really great thing was he bought my now surplus to requirements, as new thick winter coat off me. Saved me having a garage sale at the airport!
Plus one of the very popular features of a hostel are the excellent value tours. Like Jerry’s grand walking tour of NY. A retired teacher, he’s been doing them for 18 years. Like a real Aussie Ocker, Jerry’s a New Yorker in the truest sense. And quite a character. Excellent value too. I don’t know where else you’d get a ten hour tour for $10! Between the subway and ferry rides, the relaxing pace covering the 10 miles (16km) of walking offers a very informative way to experience some of the great NY highlights. Come and meet Jerry….