The Nervous, Jetlagged Backpacker’s Guide to Surviving Hostels

I haven’t shared a room since I was about eight, so three months of  12-people dorms with shared bathrooms was in my top five Reasons I Should Maybe Call This Off. By the end of our time in Asia I had mellowed – I even spoke to some of my roommates – but my bedroom and the space that came with it was the thing I missed most other than family. I know that a lot of people who are thinking of going backpacking are put off by the dorm situation so here is a handy guide I put together!

The Basics

If you’re nervous about sharing a dorm, or if you’re jetlagged or tired or just not feeling it, don’t share one. Maxim and I got a room to ourselves when we first arrived in Bangkok because we knew we were going to arrive and pass out. The first few days of another timezone is what I imagine hell will look like when I get there, so invest in two or three nights of not dorms while you get your sea legs. By time we went home I was happy to sleep in a 30-bed dorm with two bathrooms, but I worked up to it.

In Otres in Cambodia one of our dorms was open air with about 20 beds, and one morning I overhead and English guy book a private room because some stoners had sat out smoking with a stereo on all night and he hadn’t slept at all. If you can’t beat them and won’t join them, get a private room. I  kind of wish I’d had the budget to have a private room – or to stay in a hotel, come to that – because there are some days when the thought of sharing a toilet with 20 other butts does not appeal. I met one guy who had been on the road for two years or something like that, and all I could think was ‘do you never get tired of waking up to the morning breath of eight nationalities?’ Self care is paramount, kiddies. Speaking of self care, if you want to have sex – either with yourself or other people – book a private room. Most hostels have signs up banning sex in dorms with little reminders that they offer private rooms specifically for you to go do that. No one wants to see, hear or have any hint of you boning, ever.

Hostel Bathroom Sign Vietnam
It’s been four months and I still have no idea what the Q-Tip bag was.

Use the tools you were given

Unless you’re pretty chilled about where you sleep or pretty militant about backpacking like they did in the Stone Age, use the Internet. Hostelworld has a really good search and filter system, so when I booked ahead I never stayed anywhere that didn’t offer security lockers and/or working plumbing. If you’re short on money or don’t know how long you’ll stay somewhere, book one or two nights in advance then pay cash for extra nights once you’re there. It’s cheaper – no added fees for the booking site – and you can up and leave if you want. We stayed in a few places that other people recommended either in person or online (I’ll do another post with names of hostels in SE Asia to head for/avoid) and they were usually bang on the money. If you’re happy to rock up to a destination and mooch about until you find a hostel then ignore this, but if you’re anywhere near as neurotic as me then utilise the Internet and enjoy bedbug-free sheets.

Use your common sense

You’re in a room full of strangers. Don’t leave anything lying around that you wouldn’t want to replace. Most travellers own smartphones, portable chargers and headphones, and most of those tend to be kind of gross, not to mention really cheaper and easier to buy than they are to steal. Your stuff probably won’t get nicked, but don’t flaunt it. Use lockers and padlocks and don’t leave your bag wide open (dirty laundry probably works as a deterrent, but don’t hold me to that).

Let sleeping backpackers lie

If a person is wearing earplugs, headphones or an eye mask, has constructed a curtain on their bunk with a towel or sarong so you can’t see their face, is reading a book or appears to be asleep, leave them the hell alone. Unless there is a fire, you think they are dead or there is a general emergency, do not approach them. Ever.

 

Hanoi Hostel Vietnam
I am 90% sure that typeface is the one I use in a line of stationery. Also, don’t be the guy who throws toilet paper in the toilet.

 

Look, just don’t be a dick

Dorms are pretty nice places generally. People chat, they exchange money with travellers going to/from somewhere they’ve been, they give out their stuff if they’re going home. A guy in Hanoi who was heading back to Europe gave me bugspray I still have, when I left Bangkok I gave a spare bag to an Indian dude and in Chiang Mai I swapped some Lao kip for Thai baht with an American who was travelling the other way. I’ve got dinner with roomates, swapped destination recommendations in the lobby and lost my temper exactly zero times. I nearly lost my temper once or twice, but you are talking to someone who has thrown phones at walls and remote controls at heads in her lifetime, and it never came to that. That being said, there is some etiquette you should probably live by:

Don’t leave your stuff in the bathroom. Partly because other people will think your bar of soap is disgusting (your hair looks like hair to you and like pubes to everyone else), and partly because someone might use it and then you’ll be on the receiving end of Pube Hell.

Turn out the main light after 10pm and don’t hold loud conversations in the dorm between 10pm and 7am unless you want your roommates to accidentally tread on your phone (some fuckers in a different place in Otres came in drunk at 3am, started a fight with another guy and left the goddamn ceiling lights on as they did so and it’s the only time in my life I’ve wanted to wake up to a room full of corpses).

There is never enough room for your giant backpack, but you can do little things like not leaving it at the foot of a bunk ladder or in the middle of the floor, to improve the rooms ambience and to avoid your roommates constructing a voodoo doll of you.

Okay now I’m gonna leave you with a photograph of the canyon in Pai, Northern Thailand, and go and remind my dogs that it’s not dinner time yet so quit staring at me. I’ll compile that list – and the blog about Hue and central Vietnam – in the next few weeks. In the mean time, if you have any pressing questions about hostels (or dogs) ask away.

Pai, Northern Thailand
Look at that tranquillity. Can you tell it’s rainy and miserable in England right now.

Read, If You Like… #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso

If any of you are familiar with Sophia Amoruso, the ‘#Girlboss’ movement/Insta hashtag and/or Nasty Gal, you are probably aware that Nasty Gal is a clothing brand, originally on eBay, that enjoyed one of those meteoric rises to fame that puts its founder on the Forbes front cover and wields legions of loyal fans. Said founder, Sophia Amoruso, amid the meteorism, wrote #GIRLBOSS as a part memoir and part ‘this is how a young woman can become a financial success’ guide book. Last year Nasty Gal went bankrupt, and has since been sold to BooHoo. If I hadn’t read #GIRLBOSS before the bankruptcy, I would look at it and think ‘clearly this woman has no idea what she’s doing, why would I read that?’ But I had – it was recommended to me last year – and when I gave it another whirl a few weeks ago, I found it as inspiring and helpful as I had the first time round. Most businesses fail and most within the first five years; Sophia was at the helm of Nasty Gal for the best part of a decade, and the company is actually still going. So with all that in mind…

#GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso (2014)

Read, if you like…

  • Self help books that don’t require a PhD in Translating Corporate and/or Hippie Bullshit
  • Cute illustrations
  • No-nonsense advice. Sophia does not mince her words and the book’s underlying massage is ‘get off your bum and get to work’
  • Words of financial wisdom that don’t sound like your Careers teacher went off on a rant about Millennials buying avocados
  • A really Instagramable cover and hashtag
  • The occasional slightly annoying almost-cliche. I nearly didn’t include this as a point because I’m aware people have difference levels of tolerance for sage advice wrapped up in snappy, alliterative sentences. My tolerance is very, very low so maybe I picked up on the odd sentence here and there, but the advice itself is solid gold so who cares
  • An entrepreneur who doesn’t tear down the competition or pretend they were born with a company that had already succeeded. Other ‘girlbosses’ have passages in the book, and Sophia is very open about her past lives as a freegan and a petty thief. She started her eBay store as a way to avoid getting a proper job, so she kind of had me at hello
Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso review
That stain? I dropped the book in the sink.

Maybe this is a book too close to home for me not to recommend it. I also run an online shop, swear frequently and dislike being told what to do; I think what I like most about #GIRLBOSS is that Sophia is all of those things and she’s successful. Bankruptcy or no, she’s one of America’s richest self-made women. This isn’t a book about somebody I could never recognise in myself – it’s about somebody I recognise in a tonne of people I know, most of them young women who are usually patronised by people with Sophia’s level of money and influence. So if you’re in the market for something that might improve your bank balance, get this. From the library, obviously.

Here’s a Cat Reclining Next to a Desk Fan. You’re Welcome. (Happy Summer!)

Today is the longest day of the year, and goddamn, England, you’re doing a good job. My glasses are sliding down my face and both dogs have been hairy, panting puddles of exhaustion for days but SUMMER IS HEERRRRREEEE! A bunch of my friends are back from uni – they’re even graduating and getting firsts and things, it’s very grown up – I am naturally awake before eight am, which never happens in winter, and I’m ready for my summer holiday.

Britain in Summer cat fan gif
Actual visual representation of the British public. From giphy.com

Wait, not that last bit. I had my summer holiday in January. According to my mental maths, I will have the money for my next holiday in several summers’ time. But with the weather this glorious, who even needs other cultures. I mean, I can’t afford to explore England either, but let’s overlook that in the spirit of summer.

Operation Instagrammable Bedroom is creeping along; I have some art on the walls, which are painted brilliant white specifically so I can display as much art as will fit, and I’ve wired up my stereo. I can’t find the radio aerial, so I am Today Programme-less for a while, but my neighbours are having their roof done so I can listen to that instead. I’ve colour-coordinated my wardrobe and banished my blankets and winter PJs to a box under the bed, so I am feeling incredibly smug organised. My order for 100 tote bags arrived this morning, and they are also going to live under the bed – I was slightly nonplussed when I realised that unlike notebooks and postcards, bags take up space – so it’s possible the blankets will have to find somewhere else to live. Still, as long as they’re somewhere other than my bed, and as long as I don’t need winceyette jammies until September, WHO CARES.

I suppose I’d be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t link you the tote bags in question (free UK postage until the end of the month and a free print with the next 10 orders, UK and international, you’re welcome) and show you all what they look like so tah dahhhh:

I can’t even remember when I first had the idea for them, and I’m very pleased with the design and the quality (I mean, you can really carry a lot of textbooks). So storage aside, I’m quite proud and I hope you guys like them! (All profits will go into my holiday fund, HINT HINT.)

I have to go and reapply my deodorant – maybe I should just have another shower – so I will see you on Saturday for another Read, If You Like… in the mean time, if anyone has any tips for locating aerials, let me know.

Read, If You Like… The Midnight Fox, by Betsy Byars

As you read this I’m probably staring at my newly-carpeted bedroom, sighing in happiness and planning the perfect way to display my MCR CDs. Operation Instagramable Bedroom will be in full swing, ladies and gents, and there will be fairy lights. Anyway, this week’s Read, If you Like… is something I’ve had on my shelf for a good decade. The cover wasn’t interesting enough to pull me in, but it’s a Puffin Modern Classic so I thought it was one I should probably read at some point to score literary brownie points. I ended up enjoying it way more than I thought I would, so well done Puffin.

The Midnight Fox, by Betsy Byars (1968)

Read, If You Like…

  • Children’s books
  • Something you can finish in an evening
  • Animal stories
  • Snapshots of Deep Southern ’60s life
  • An author who doesn’t patronise the children she writes for either linguistically or socially
  • Retrospective storytelling (there might be another term for this? The main character is looking back, like To Kill a Mockingbird which I am assuming you have read)
  • Stories about families
The Midnight Fox by Betsy Byars, 1968, Puffin Modern Classics
That white smudge is a price sticker, not a special piece of 3D illustration. The fox looks like she’s gazing at it though haha

The afterword in my edition points out that Betsy Byars has written a male main character whom small boys will ‘tolerate’ because the plot isn’t particularly packed with action; I have a good gut feeling that boys, when left to their own devices, do not give a shit, but I like the notion that Byars decided to write a male hero who doesn’t fit Ye Olde Gender Sterotypes. That could explain why the novel is a Puffin Modern Classic with its own afterword.

I’m not sure what I’ll review next week because I’ve not read anything new lately – my books have been in cupboards behind clothes and handbags and other books, and a bed covered in boxes has been in front of the cupboards, so I’ve been reading an old edition of The Economist… as fascinating as the rise of Bitcoin is, I might have to review something I’ve read loads of times, or pop down the library. Any suggestions?

Once More Unto the Soft Furnishings Department

Afternoon. Apologies for being a bit quiet – I was sick last week (actually physically sick for the first time in years god I hate vomiting) and the house looks worse than it did when moved in. When we moved, we plonked stuff down with the understanding that we would decorate later. Now we are decorating, our stuff has to go into rooms that still contain their normal stuff and to cut a long story short I am sleeping on a mattress in the dining room next to two snoring dogs.

The end is nigh, though, and I am getting excited about the fun bit: moving in. My new room is painted plain white so I can hang up all my prints and pretend I live in an art gallery, and I’m getting my own office space. Technically it’s a space in a built-in wardrobe where the boiler used to be and it is barely five feet in width, but it’s a space. I am considering painting the walls, partly so when I move the new owners can marvel at how pedantic the previous occupier was, and I have been frequenting Pinterest for the best ways to fit a desk into a cupboard. Surprisingly, little offices aren’t just for those lacking in space – I’ve seen some beautiful, Instagram-pornography-esque offices clearly installed by someone who wanted a beautiful, Instagram-pornography-esque office.

I’m considering plagiarising those ideas and adding some floating shelves, getting a clip-on lamp and possibly braving a trip to IKEA to turn their kitchenware equipment into an elaborate pen pot stand. I haven’t decided on a colour scheme – you’d better believe there will be a colour scheme – but I am considering investing in a set of wireless speakers and enough paper trays for my entire Francesca’s Words envelope collection.

There’s a bit to do before I get to actually buying any of these things (apparently carpets and net curtains are basic requirements) so while I am still in Pinterest mode, let me know: what are your home decoration tips? Have you ever done up a space as small as an ex-boiler cupboard? What do you think of rose gold and pink as a theme? Help me out here, I can’t afford to buy a pen pot from IKEA only to find it messes with my Instagram ambitions.

There’s a Metaphor About Burning Yourself Here Somewhere

I feel like Calamity Jane this week. Is Calamity Jane the one who’s really clumsy? I might be thinking of someone else. Calamity Jane’s the one in the musical? Anyway, the watchword is ‘calamity’. I burnt my wrist on a oven tray last Friday and it bubbled up into one of those blisters that you really want to touch, then I wore a pair of Doc Martens that I’ve only half worn in and shredded the backs of my ankles. We’ve been moving things in and out of different rooms because we’re getting new carpets, so everything I own is in the wrong place, and every time I tread on a cushion or a stray CD, I think I’ve trodden on a dog. I have also trodden on a dog.

So, Calamity Jane. I test-drove a new car the other day (well, an old car. And old new car) and I haven’t driven in weeks and everything felt different and god that’s reverse gear please don’t let me hit a curb or a person. I can’t remember if I’ve ever told the Saga of Me Learning to Drive – it’s going to take an entire blog and possibly a gin and tonic – but the long and short of it is, I recently decided that I required a vehicular fresh start. I probably also require CBT, but that’s for the Saga. In the way these things usually go, I went from ‘casually looking at cars that would suit me’ last week to ‘signing off on a car I think suits me’ yesterday. It took me approximately six weeks to decide to go to Asia, and three months to settle on which hair colour I wanted, so I feel slightly shell shocked. What if I didn’t ask all the questions I should have at the dealer? What if I didn’t need a new car and just needed CBT? Where do you get CBT? Why is this all happening before I have a guaranteed annual income?

Realistically I could be interning for the next six months, so that last question is more a philosophical one I ponder in the shower. I’m also really fortunate that I have time to look for a car and move things out of different rooms and nurse my bubbly blister – if I had to be out of the house by eight am every weekday, I wouldn’t even have been cooking something that required an oven tray. All I have to do to get the most out of my unemployment is not look at my bank balance. Or leave the house for any activity that might result in a change to my bank balance.

Tom and Jerry cartoon fishbowl
Seen here: a portrait of me after I’ve made a list of what I need to buy, checked my bank statement then decided not to leave the house after all. The fishbowl is a metephor, geddit. [from Twitter]
I really ought to get on with something on my to do list… options include writing a bunch of emails, organising everything that’s currently in a desk and will have to be in a box, sorting out car insurance and checking my social media plan for Etsy.

Oh, and ‘not engaging with idiots on Facebook who keep posting passive aggressive anti-Islam bullshit next to a bad graphic of a poppy’. I need to be out of the house by eight am every day if I’m ever going to be exhausted enough to completely ignore those fuckers.

Today is Shit, so Here’s a Story. ‘How I Met Brooding YA Hero’

To be honest, we’ve all met him.

His eyes are the colour of the ocean, or midnight, or brilliant saffron, or blazing ruby. His skin is either chalky white, like the undead we suspect he might be, or the beautiful, ethnically ambiguous ‘heavily tanned’.

His grades are always top of the class, but we’ve never seen him study. He’d never be seen in a gym, but when you catch a glimpse of his stomach muscles, you have to sit down. He’s a punk street racer, a shy nerd, an outsider who just moved here. He’s softly spoken, but he’s angry, his eyes blaze.

He has a younger sister in our class, or a best friend we know from Biology. He owns a motorbike or sports car usually unavailable to financially-dependent seventeen-year-olds. He’s always seventeen. His parents are never around – in fact, he’s probably damaged from various childhood traumas. Not that you’d notice on a day to day level.

He had a girlfriend – also beautiful and sophisticated – but things ended when he met you. He’s got a past, and you’re getting dragged into it… but you can’t seem to back away. He’s charming, he’s brilliant, he’s in love with you.

Wait, not you.

He’s in love with the main character in the YA novel you’ve been reading. Or the YA novel you read a few years ago. Or the YA novel you haven’t picked up yet. He’s a pale imitation of Mr Darcy or Heathcliff, and he seems to have the same traits as the author’s husband or childhood crush. He’s a bundle of contradictions (or a bundle of whatever the author wants in a man, which is often the same thing). He’s the least-changing, most-perfectly-formed character in the book, and his hair usually smells wonderful.

He’s Brooding YA Hero, and he’s fucking boring.

Thankfully, there’s something out there to help you cope with this genre-wide plethora of unrealistic manliness, and it’s a Twitter page. I actually found it on Tumblr, where someone had screen-printed some highlights. Like these:

I could go on forever, but you should just have a look for yourself.

I’m telling you all this because I recently joined #BroodyBFF, the official street team for old Blazing Eyes Perfect Abs. Essentially it means I get to take the piss a bit more in challenges like this post, and I do it in the company of other readers and writers who’ve seen just enough of brooding YA heroes to know they absolutely cannot take any more.

Unless the main character looks like us, in which case we’re there.

Read, If You Like… The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams 

When Isobel gave me The Hitchiker’s Guide at Christmas in our newly-minted Secret Santa tradition, I thought it was because she’d heard me talk about how it was one of those books that I’d always wanted to read but hadn’t gotten around to (also on that list: War and Peace, most of Artemis Fowl, the Chilcot Report). It turns out that her university is on the cover.

That did not detract from my enjoyment of it.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams (1979)

Read, if you like…

  • Disappointing cups of tea
  • Excellent narration
  • Mice
  • Space travel that’s less exciting than Han Solo in the Millenium Falcon but more exciting than actual space travel inevitably will be
  • Mentions of your home town, if your home town in Southend
  • Computers
  • The general unhappiness of council employees and/or petunias
I’m totally going to work on photos but I have 16GB memory and very little motivation to find props.

I’m also on typing on my mobile and the spelling checker on here is appalling so I am one hundred per cent sure I’ve spelt appalling wrong.

Just go read this book regardless of whether your uni’s on the cover.