I Only Ever Stay in Hostels. Here's Why.

I Only Ever Stay in Hostels. Here's Why.

Bbe9ea0cd577a75366af721d2227aa5855d0f8e4?auto=compress&w=240&h=240&fit=crop
Marlen Komar
Oct 13, 2017
(Image credit: Eco Mama Hotel)

I remember the first time I ever booked a hostel room. My dad nonchalantly informed me that he was not, in fact, Liam Neeson — ergo, 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're the only places I stay when I travel. And that's not only because they're easier on the wallet.

The number-one reason I only stay in hostels is their kitchens.

The reason I love hostels is their kitchens. This is where the best experiences always seem to take shape. There's something about a kitchen — with its clinging pots and pans, its chipped saucers and homey smells — that 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.

(Image credit: Eco Mama Hotel)

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 me — not asked me — to 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, don't 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're in Spain, you do as the Spaniards do. And eating a sad bowl of pasta at what was dubbed "early afternoon" was not it.

All I remembered from that night was a lot of laughter that tasted like red wine, and how La Rambla felt like a carnival — all lit up and spinning and noisy — when you walked through it at one in the morning.


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.


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. Something about sharing the produce you originally bought for yourself does that to a person. The moment you split something that has your name possessively scrawled across it in the communal fridge, sanctions are lifted and you become bound as soul sisters.

One minute we were walking into the kitchen together, shyly asking what towns we were from, and the next we were chopping lettuce and discussing what kind of tent we should pack for the hiking trip to Patagonia we'll be taking next year.

And then there was that one hostel in Bratislava, where Slovakian girls from the neighborhood came to cook for us, and about 20 people piled into the kitchen like it was some family reunion filled with laughter, shots, and homey, deep-fried foods. The metal tables were pushed together in the cramped kitchen, and chairs from all over the house were brought in to create an impromptu, mismatched party. Bunk mates and people I'd never met before all piled in, and as the smell of potato Placky filled the room the people to the right and left of me became my newest forever-friends.


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.


Wedged in between the washing machine and the windowsill herb garden, we drank schnapps and talked about our homes, our misadventures, and week's plans. Then as the pálenka was passed around, we held out our shot glass and the battery acid sloshed in.

I remember talking to a 50-year-old woman from Zurich with the most beautiful wiry gray hair, who told me all about how she just backpacked through South America and — taking a sip from the bottle that was just passed to her — how she could already taste the hangover. Moments later I talked about Salzburg with a Russian and was taught a Slovakian drinking song by a Portugese guy who'd been staying there for over a month.

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.

It seems no matter where you go, kitchens always seem to gift you with the best memories, from dancing barefoot as you whip up dinner, to talking long hours into the night with your feet propped up on kitchen chairs, proving that just about anyone can turn into family.

What's your best hostel kitchen story?

Created with Sketch.