Over the years I have stayed in hundreds of hostels and met thousands of travelers, including some who have also made hostelling a life choice.
These “intrepids” have chosen to make travel an important part of who they are – inquisitive and adventurous – and have decided that hostels – welcoming and interactive – are an essential part of the journey. Some choose to continue on the travel path, while others, like me, decide to devote their career to it.
My own story began in April 1983 with my first extended trip to Europe. I had started my career four years earlier and was firmly and happily entrenched in economics and finance. A summer program at Oxford University seemed a perfect next career step, both to my employer and to me. I received a leave of absence for education, plus a few extra months for some backpack travel.
Just weeks into my travels I discovered my funds were flying out of my money belt at an alarming pace. At this rate, my entire six month budget would soon be in shambles! I needed to do something. In a Frankfurt hotel I met an American backpacker who shared a travel secret that would change my life: “try hostels”.
As it turned out, hostels changed everything. Besides rescuing my travel budget, hostels were always a fun place to land after a day of travel. In common rooms, I found travelers from different countries all struggling happily with each other’s languages. We talked and laughed and gestured our way to some understanding and even more camaraderie.
It would happen again and again. A common room filled with seeming strangers who hours later would become travel companions. Conversations among nationalities who were not supposed to be friends, occurring so naturally. A shared thirst for new ideas and diverse opinions. An exhilarating lack of predictability at what the next day’s travels would bring. And an unimaginable bond forged through hostels and backpack travel.
Hostels were places that changed attitudes and opinions, I learned. They enabled personal growth, I felt. They needed to be more widely available, I came to deeply believe.
By the time I reached Oxford University, I knew the most rewarding part of my summer was already behind me. And I knew my career would change as well. I had discovered hostels.
(It was in Salzburg sitting on an overlook on a clear summer day that I decided to help develop a hostel for international travelers back in my home town, Washington DC. When I returned home, I looked up the area HI-USA chapter and volunteered to lead the hostel development campaign. We opened the hostel three years later, and I became the chapter’s executive director. In 2000 I was selected to become HI-USA’s CEO.)