When I was 22, I drove from my small town in British Columbia to LA for the same reason five-year-olds give themselves bangs: to feel bold and like I was doing something interesting. There was also the fact that I’d been freshly rejected from grad school and, at the time, travelling seemed like the only other way to stave off making actual life choices. (God forbid I spend another season driving loops around a golf course as the Beer Wench.)
My plan was to hostel hop down the west coast and, once in LA, do....whatever I felt like doing. Maybe I’d keep driving forever and never come back. I had no idea.
Needless to say I was naive, and it’s something of a miracle nothing truly horrific happened. I thought I’d prepared myself adequately by booking reservations in advance, obsessively reading reviews on hostelworld, and buying earplugs to shield myself from people with sleep apnea, but more practical to me would have been some info on how to deal with handsy strangers in party limos, what to say to aggressively social lads, and why befriending French women should be a right of passage for Canadians.
So here you go, good people, my tips for surviving hostel life as a single woman.
Do: Give the douchey party hostels a chance.
Sure, the taupe-coloured walls and desolate hallways of a converted convent—“quiet, safe, clean, and comfortable”—might initially present themselves as the perfect post-bender remedy, but after a while you may begin to feel your sense of calm give way to existential dread because the kitchen isn’t really a kitchen, but a hot plate and a microwave, and the common room isn’t really a common room, but a small nook furnished with two motorhome chairs and a vase full of old licorice. Only occasionally will you catch sight of another person at this establishment: a 65-year-old man in a robe, standing so close to the microwave that his breath fogs the glass as he watches a cup of ramen circle endlessly. Get out of here now. You might think you are too sophisticated to move to a party hotstop reviewed online as “SO MEGA” or “good vibes but the carpet smelled like pee,” but it’s important to consider that these places are a good way to sidestep crushing loneliness and disillusionment.
Don’t: Get into a party bus with a bunch of strange men.
Does this seem too obvious? Well, if the “activity staff” offered you with free whiskey while a fleet of minibuses gathered to take you to “the hottest clubs in town” (aka sweaty, noisy bars where the drinks are probably watered down) you may be tempted to jump into a dark van with the group of young men you met in the lobby 45 seconds ago. It’s possible they are good-willed guys, offering you the last seat in their Chariot of Awesome out of the kindness of their hearts, but this is not something you should assume. Sure, you have something in common because you both chose The Banana Bungalow as your place of stay, but you also met these men at a place called THE BANANA BUNGALOW.
Do: Buddy up with the DJ at karaoke night
Most party hostels host free nightly events such as Club Crawl Night, Karaoke Night, Comedy Night, etc. (Do yourself a favour and skip Free Comedy Night—unless you would like to hear a drunk man in cargo shorts talk for two hours about jerking off and how crazy his girlfriend gets during “shark week.”)
The best free event is probably Karaoke Night because it’s less animalistic than the Club Crawl and much, much easier to score free booze at. What you need to do is befriend the DJ, who is kind of like the hostel’s God because not only does he watch over everyone from a plywood stage, but he knows where the all forbidden fruit (ie. the vodka) is kept. When the DJ is on break, ask him about his “craft” and what mixing software he uses—just so he knows how much cooler you are than all those blokes who keep requesting “Wonderwall.” Then, when you casually mention your empty cup, he may just lead you to the “free booze area,” a curtained-off nook adjacent the dance floor. Sure, the “free booze area” is open to literally everyone, but you’re already pretty drunk and would never have found it if he hadn’t showed you the way.
Don’t: Worry about being slut shamed
Slut shaming isn’t really a concept that exists at hostels. Unlike high school or the small town you grew up in, your reputation will not follow you beyond a few days. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be accountable for your actions, but if you become known to the front desk staff as “the girl who likes to make-out in the hallway all night,” it really doesn’t matter, mostly because who cares but also because nobody is interested in gossiping about strangers. A rumor is only interesting if it’s about someone you know.
And if you want to take things further than kissing and some light, over-the-pants petting, for god’s sake get a private room. I know they’re more expensive, but split between two people (or three! or more! do you!) it’ll barely cost more than a dorm. Also, try and make the reservation under your name, and with your credit card, because an extra layer of “this is happening on my terms” never hurts if you choose to have a one night stand with a stranger.
Do: Attend the informal story-hour hosted by the resident oldie.
Inevitably, someone at your hostel will be having a midlife crisis, and chances are they’ll have some shit to talk through, every night, ‘round a table covered in incense ash. When this person tells you about their ex-wife, a former Australian music icon turned lesbian porn star, ask them what their experience was like a) navigating second-hand fame in the 80’s b) supporting a partner in the adult film industry, and c) re-discovering their identity after the divorce. The resulting discussion will be so enlightening that you’ll feel comfortable opening up about your own, far less interesting, quarter-life crisis. The non-judgemental atmosphere will imbue you with self-acceptance. Suck it, Eat Pray Love.
Don’t: Fall under the spell of an Australian...
...move temporarily to Sydney to “see how it goes” and spend the next year living out what you feel is an indie rom com where you are Emma Stone and he is Penn Badgley (if Penn Badgley wore a lot of singlets) because the movie you’re starring in will be more like 500 Days of Summer, and you are Joseph Gordon Levitt.
Actually, I’m kidding. The epic romance abroad is a do, not a don’t. If you feel as though the stars have aligned to bring you and International Bae together in a twinkling cloud of LA smog, then sure, follow your heart, blow all your savings, chase him across the ocean, and live like the dream girl you always wanted to be. The emotional and financial strain of an transcontinental love story will only make you more worldly.
Do: Look like you’re “with” someone.
Hear me out. Yes, being a single woman is super rad fun times and, no, you do not need another person to complete you, but if you sit alone in the courtyard sipping the free thimble of wine given to you by the Pete the Party Guy and looking as lost as you feel, it’s only a matter of time before a bunch of blokes (or worse, lads) attempt to “do you a favour” by inviting you to participate in their social endeavors, which almost always involve some form of substance abuse and very liberal use of the c-word. (It’s not that you’re a prude, but waking up in the sweaty arms of someone nicknamed Uncle Jelly is not on your travel itinerary.)
You can always just say, “no thank you” or “caisse-toi, cochon” (the French method) but such a refusal may make you even more desirable to these lads and their debaucherous mission. They may insist on “bringing you out of your shell” or “showing you a good time,” because clearly you are not capable of doing these things on your own. Of course, you can continue to refuse the lads and their social generosity, but if you’d like to skirt the interaction altogether, it may help to look like you’re already “with” someone else. I do necessarily mean “with” in a romantic sense but rather in terms of looking like you’ve got better things to do, and better people to be with, than a bunch of mangy douchebros with beads in their hair. That said, if you do end up in a heated three-day romance and decide to suture yourself to another person for the duration of your stay because “we only have so much time together!” then that’s perfectly fine as well.
I guess what I’m saying is take initiative and make friends on your own terms. Don’t wait for people to approach you. If you see someone who looks like they are interesting or genuine or cool, go say hello and ask if they believe in climate change, to break the ice. You never know, that guy wearing a linen gown and bottle-cap glasses might just become your temporary BFF and, subsequently, online pen pal for years to come. At least that’s what happened to me.
Definitely Don’t: Use “I’m young and free” as an excuse to be a shitty person.
If someone suggests that you and a couple peeps take a day trip to Disneyland and pretend to be disabled in order to bypass the lines (I really wish this wasn’t true but some people just suck), well you are obligated to tell them, at the very least, “no fucking way, grow a heart, and how dare you?”
This may also be a good time to self-reflect on the fact that the world outside your booze bubble still exists and things aren’t going well for a lot of people. In other words, check yer dang privilege. Sure, you may be living on $30 a day, but being able to ditch your responsibilities for a few weeks so that you can “discover yourself” via dorm-style accommodation probably means you have got it OK. Pass this memo on to the dude planning to rent crutches so that he can cut in front of a Make-A-Wish child waiting to ride “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
Do: Take an obnoxious amount of pictures
Not necessarily for the ‘gram. But maybe for the ‘gram. But also just for yourself. I know this sounds like Hallmark fluff but you really do want to remember this stuff. Plus, one of your temporary friends might become a TV star, meaning you’ll be able to sell your photos to a trashy magazine running a “When They Were Young” spread for major coin. (Alternatively, you can just brag about it to friends and online strangers in the hopes that having climbed a mountain with the guy from Stranger Things will make you more interesting than you are in reality. And isn’t that what the internet is for anyway?)
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This article originally appeared on VICE CA.