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I Only Ever Stay in Hostels. Here's Why. - Travel Essay

I Only Ever Stay in Hostels. Here's Why. - Travel Essay
From The Kitchn - October 13, 2017

I remember the first time I ever booked a hostel room. My dad nonchalantly informed me that he was not, in fact, Liam Neesonergo, he would not be taking names through Europe to find me when I got kidnapped. Fair enough, I thought.

My dad's c'est la vie attitude towards my inevitable disappearance aside, the exchange shows us that hostels sometimes get a bad rap. But for me, they are the only places I stay when I travel. And that's not only because they are easier on the wallet.

The reason I love hostels is their kitchens. This is where the best experiences always seem to take shape. There's something about a kitchenwith its clinging pots and pans, its chipped saucers and homey smellsthat moves people who are total strangers into becoming each other's favorite memories. You literally fall in love with each other, even if it's just for an evening, as you reach for cutting boards and wash mixing bowls.

Take my stay in Dublin, for example. On the receiving end of a breakup, I was that sad, mopey person in the hostel, sitting in the kitchen and scowling into the corner, thinking of all the revenge plots I'd like to take but was too exhausted to execute. I was fully ready to sulk a whole week and commit to the time-honored tradition of not washing my hair because my heart was broken, when an Italian walked up to my table and looked down at me with determination, and told menot asked meto cook dinner with him.

Still staring intently at my corner, I told him to go away. "I bought fresh mozzarella," he bribed. "You like mozzarella, do not you?"

That night was the first night I went to bed without rubbing that one spot on my chest because my heart hurt.

I'd been staying at the hostel for three days at that point and we'd seen each other at breakfast and lunch, always passing each other but never saying hello. He must have seen me progress deeper and deeper into my breakup hoodie and thought enough was enough.

He dragged me over to the stove, showed me how an Italian chopped garlic, somehow convinced a laugh out of me as I ruined his sauce, and then made me sit with three other people from Napoli that he had somehow sniffed out of the hostel, and we enjoyed a loud, wine-filled dinner until the kitchen closed.

That night was the first night I went to bed without rubbing that one spot on my chest because my heart hurt.

Another time, in Barcelona, I was in the kitchen making dinner at six o'clock when the guy that manned the reception desk walked in, ready for a cup of tea. "Making a late lunch?" he asked me, since Spaniards think that midnight is an appropriate time to eat carbs and large plates of fish.

When I told him it was, in fact, my reasonably timed dinner he shook his head, flipped off the stove, and told me to put my groceries away. I was grabbing drinks and food with his friends that evening, he informed me, because when you are in Spain, you do as the Spaniards do. And eating a sad bowl of pasta at what was dubbed "early afternoon" was not it.

In Slovenia, when a German girl and I cooked dinner together, we crossed the line from roommates to close friends the moment I offered to share my red peppers.

It is a messy tumble of memories with belly laughs and sauerkraut and kitchen tiles acting like punctuation marks. It is one of my happiest memories.

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