The Hostel World

 

When my brother travels, he travels in style.

Dapper Dan stays in five star hotels and orders room service.

He buys VIP tables at exclusive night clubs and always drinks from the top shelf.

I’m more of a Circus Circus and sneak through the backdoor kind of guy.

So when I told him my plan to work and live in hostels during my travels, his lack of enthusiasm was expected.

Sounds pretty cool bro,” he replied, trying to match my excitement with a hint of obligation in his voice. No one wants to be a joy killer. Plus, he’s my little brother, he’s been conditioned to go along with my stupid ideas since birth.

I recently left the great city of Barcelona where I spent six weeks living in a cramped and claustrophobic dorm-style room with seven other staff members. The smell: a lovely essence of dirty feet, butt crack and Axe body spray. It was like living in my seventh grade gym locker. But the strong bonds I formed with my flatmates made the smell much more tolerable. It also helped that I was the only snorer in the group.

Sorry guys.

I’ve received a few emails from readers asking my opinion on hostels so I’ve put together a little list for your reading pleasure. Stinky feet aside, I assure you… there are plenty of benefits to staying in hostels during your travels.

Wait, what are you talking about?

That’s a fair question. Prior to my Europe trip last year, I only had a vague, and mostly inaccurate conceptualization about hostels and was less than optimistic when my friend suggested we utilize them during our trip. Then she told me the price…

Hostels are lodging establishments that offer low-cost accommodations to travelers (generally young travelers) who stay in shared rooms and often share amenities.

No, You Won’t Get Murdered

Okay I can’t guarantee that. But I am shocked by the number of people that have looked at me in horror when discussing my travels and said something like, “Oh my God! I would never stay there. Haven’t you seen the movie Hostel?”

Seriously, at least five people have said that to me. Yes, there is a crazy Dutchman with tranquilizers and a drill waiting for you at every hostel in Europe. Look out.

Camaraderie

Don’t let my social media accounts fool you, it’s not all camel rides and rainbows. Traveling can be a lonely endeavor. One step off the plane and you’re thousands of miles from your friends and family in a new city where you don’t know a soul, don’t speak the language, don’t have a Wi-Fi connection and all you want is a fucking carne asada burrito.

Staying in a hostel provides an immediate network of like-minded travelers and a helpful source of information about local happenings and attractions. If you’re looking for some company at that museum you’ve been dying to visit, chances are there’s someone at the hostel who’s interested in joining. You’ll soon find yourself making deep connections with people from all over the world in a matter of days.

My Barcelona Familia. I miss these guys everyday!
My Barcelona Familia. I miss these guys everyday!

Save Money

Need I say more?

Traveling isn’t cheap and aside from plane tickets, nothing hits your wallet like accommodations. A bed at my hostel in the heart of Barcelona, depending on the night of the week, can cost as little as 7 Euro. Hotels and Airbnb’s start at nearly ten times that amount. Skip the fancy room and go out and explore that new city you find yourself in.

Cook it Yourself

I am definitely a street food advocate but you can only eat so many tacos and kababs. Eating healthy on the road can be damn near impossible. While visiting Rome, I lost two things very dear to me: my favorite pair of socks and my six pack.

Every hostel I’ve visited has some sort cooking area for it’s guests and not a single one of those kitchens has a decent non-stick pan. However, utilizing the hostel kitchen can save you some cash and provide unique insight into the local culture and economy. A quick visit to the neighborhood grocery store will leave you with a general idea on the area’s cost of living and how the locals eat. For example, one step into a Mercadona and you will understand just how much Spaniards love their pork. Want some cheap eggs? Head over to Lisbon where you can get a dozen for less than a Euro. Needless to say, I ate a lot of eggs in Portugal.

Find a Balance

I’ve come to realize that Americans travel a bit differently than most. Our work obsessed culture awards minimal vacation time, forcing us to take crammed, sprint-style vacations, visiting as many locations as possible in week or if we’re fortunate, two week intervals.

My extended experience abroad is rare for an American and I am truly grateful for the luxury of time that I have been given. That being said, four months of hostel living will leave the most patient of men begging for a respite of privacy. When small talk and friendly encounters with guests begin feeling like forced conversations that annoy the hell out of you, it might be time to give Airbnb a look. Just be sure to time your luxurious stays appropriately. A private apartment for a week in Paris could wind up costing you a month’s rent back home. I recommend splurging in more affordable cities and getting the most out of your hard earned money.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Letter From the Road

Komo en Kasa... my favorite café in Barcelona
Komo en Kasa… my favorite café in Barcelona

 

Hey Ma,

I’ve been trying to call, but I think heaven has a crappy wifi connection.

I think you can hear me, but your voice is mostly muffled.

Sometimes I get lucky and the signal is strong and I can hear you so clearly it’s as if you’re all around me.

Those are the best days, but they don’t come often.

So I figured I’d write you a letter.

My journey has been amazing so far. Spain is beautiful. Did you know tortillas are something completely different out here? They’re like a potato omelet with eggs and onion. I ordered some tortillas at a restaurant and when the camarero brought out this thing that looked like an egg pie, I was so confused. But they’re pretty good, I think you’d like them.

Do you remember that Rage Against the Machine shirt you used to wear with Che Guevara on the front? I need to buy that shirt. Anyways, Che used to write his ma from the road too. While traveling across South America he wrote,

Querida viejita,

What do we leave behind when we cross a frontier? Everything seems split in two. Melancholy for what is left behind, and the excitement of entering a new land.

I can relate to the dichotomy, and it made me think of you. I experience things out here and the only person that would be excited to hear them is you. The road can be lonely. But so can life.

Travelling is very much like life. I anticipate the unknown with enthusiasm, the crisp unwritten page of a new day. But my soul also yearns for the comfort and familiarity of yesterday. I cling to sweet memories of days I can never relive. Days when I could pick up the phone and hear your voice. When I could tell you about my day or take you out for coffee. Remember when that waiter thought we were a couple? You were so happy because he thought you were my age. I thought it was pretty weird.

I travel through space and time as I travel the world. My mind lives in the present, my heart beats in the past. A modern day Doc Brown, without the DeLorean. The closest thing we had was your strawberry Dodge Neon that you used to let me and my brothers drive. The radiator was shot and it would overheat in the Arizona sun, so we could only drive it at night. The Night Rider. I don’t think she could hit 88, not even on her best day.

I love my new surroundings. The sounds, the tastes, the people. I walk the Spanish streets with eyes wide open and a smile on my face. I found a cool little café that I know you’d love. I sit on the window sill and write in the afternoon sun.

There is so much to see in Barcelona, but when the rush of fresh stimuli subsides, my gaze always drifts to the West.

Home calls.

And sometimes I wonder…where is home? When was home?

Home is in the past. No Neon or DeLorean can take me there. So I’ll stay on the road for a while longer.

My Spanish is getting better Ma, and I’ve been making it to mass every Sunday. I think you’d be proud.

I’ve also been thinking that you would have wanted me to go to Mexico and visit the Basilica de La Virgencita. I’ll try my best. I saw a stained glass window of her in an old Spanish cathedral the other day. The rays of the setting sun illuminated her cloak and she was beautiful.

Well, it’s time to run Ma. I’m off to meet some friends for tapas.

Love you,

Aaron

 

IMG_2585

 

 

 

 

Barcelona or Bust

Forca Barca!
Forca Barca!

 

Barcelona.

This is the city.

The catalyst. The motivating force that pushed me through moments of doubt and fear as I plotted my escape from my comfortable office job.

No other word encapsulates the romantic notions that my subconscious mind associates with the Spanish culture more than “Barcelona.”

Say it with me.

Lisp that “c” if you’re really into it. “Barth-elona.”

There you go.

After a spontaneous pit stop in California to surprise a certain gal for the holidays (smooth right?), I made it back to Europe, happy and five pounds heavier after two weeks of stuffing my face with tamales and prime rib. Seriously, I think that’s all I ate the entire time I was back home. And tacos. There is always room for tacos.

Tacos.

Now it’s back to Spain where I have assumed a role working in the Public Relations department for a prominent hostel near the University of Barcelona.

Translation: Me and three other lucky bastards get to live in a great city for free and meet cool people and basically all we have to do is get the party started every night. We work from 9 to 12, five nights a week and arrange activities for the guests. Last night, for example, was karaoke night. The PR team facilitates and socializes, all while trying to sign up guests for our “party bus” to the touristy beach clubs of the Barcenoleta. Once we get the guests on the bus, we are free once again until 9pm the following evening. Not a bad gig right? The schedule is perfect, leaving us the entire day to explore the city.

So far I’m two for two with the Workaway experiences.

Over the past month I’ve received messages from a few people who read my posts and have become inspired to make some changes in their life.

“Seeing the stuff you post makes me want to quit my job and travel. Really inspiring stuff.”

or

“I’ve been at my job for eight years and I fuckin’ hate it bro. I think about quitting everyday… Any suggestions?”

Their souls itch to break the chains of monotony. To make the jump and risk failing miserably.  I cannot express the feelings of gratitude and humility that overwhelm me when I receive those kind of messages. I haven’t done much. I was just fortunate enough to realize that if I didn’t make a move my life was going to pass me by in an instant. So I jumped. But we all know what it feels like to freeze. To look over the edge and start the countdown… three… two…. one… never mind.

Humans generally don’t like change, change is scary. Most of us thrive off of routine and the familiar. Our minds try and avoid it all costs, instinctively firing off self justifications and rationalizations like Bill Cosby throws out the Roofies. And Cosby don’t miss. So if you’re thinking about making some big changes in your life and don’t have a ‘Barcelona’… get one. Visualize your goal. Whether it’s you welcoming your first guest at that restaurant you’ve been dreaming about opening, or hiking your final mile on the Pacific Crest Trail. Keep your eyes on the prize. And let me tell ya, it feels pretty damn good to get there.

Our PR team is so outdoorsy. (we definitely got lost on this 2 mile hike)
Our PR team is so outdoorsy. (we definitely got lost on this 2 mile hike)

DCIM101GOPRO

 

 

The Sunny Side

For the record, this egg is not over easy, it's sunny side up. I just learned the difference, but the Sunny Side sound good so I'm stickin' with it.
For the record, this egg is not over easy, it’s sunny side up. I just learned the difference, but the Sunny Side sound good so I’m stickin’ with it.

 

I’ve done it.

The odds were heavily stacked against me.

People said it was impossible, that I was wasting my time.

But I shrugged the “haters” off and used their negativity as motivation. Every morning I’d try, and fail, but return the next day with a new sense of optimism and determination. My father’s mantra looping in my head as I focused on the task at hand, “perseverance through adversity son, perseverance through adversity.”

This morning, on the fourth day of December, in the year of our Lord 2015, I finally succeeded in cooking two, not one but two, beautiful and completely intact over easy eggs.

Now, some of you may scoff at this feat.

You could be thinking, “My eight year old daughter can make over easy eggs, dude.”

You might even be laughing as you read this. But trust me, there’s nothing funny about preparing the perfect breakfast sandwich every morning, fully equipped with the finest of ingredients: freshly baked whole grain bread, organic tomatoes and spinach from the local market, a thick slice of gouda cheese and savory pieces of world-famous Spanish ham, Jamon Iberico. Only to fail miserably with the piece de resistance and pop the damn yolks in the crappy hostel frying pan.

No amount of olive oil or butter can make the pans in any hostel “non-stick.”

The pans are beat up and tired, any trace of Teflon scraped away long ago by the backpackers of yesteryear.

The deplorable condition of cooking surfaces in hostels makes runny egg-yolks a much desired commodity. A mirage in the desert that can never be reached. But this morning I did it. When I bit into my sandwich the rich yolks exploded into my mouth and dripped onto my plate, like puddles of liquid gold.

A moment I shall never forget.

The lesson is simple friends: Never give up, never surrender.

Or… if you like over easy eggs and have the room in your backpack, bring a small non-stick frying pan.

 

The man, the myth, the legend.
The man, the myth, the legend.

 

Lift Off

Annnnnd I’m off!

This post comes to you from the land of fog, black tea and Yorkshire Pudding, which I recently discovered isn’t pudding at all.

‘ello London!

My first foray in Europe landed me in Heathrow Airport on a dreary April morning. As the sun rose, I peered out of the enormous airport window in the direction of London, I could sense the great Western city on the horizon. So close. I’ll be back, I thought.

I was right.

As I hopped on the train from Gatwick to London proper yesterday, I felt like Harry Potter on his way to Hogwarts. Embarrassing, I know. To my dismay they did not hand out any Chocolate Frogs or Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans.

So here’s the plan:

3 days in London

3 days in Paris

3 days in Morocco for a surfing safari

After Morocco I fly to Granada, Spain for my first Workaway experience.

I plan to spend a month in Granada and then it’s back to the UK where I have been invited to pass the holidays with my friend and his family in Scotland.

I will be accompanied by Sir Fraser O’Neil of Scotland for the first leg of my trip. Fraz is a great friend from high school, more of a brother really. Fraser was a regular guest in our family home and practically lived in our living room for months at a time. Fortunately for him, my mother always loved the guy, entitling him to unlimited stay on our couch and an all-you-can-eat-pass in her kitchen. Our fraternal bond is personified by a derogatory banter that can prove a bit much for the unacquainted pedestrian.

Example:

After getting lost in the city for hours in search of me and our hostel, Fraser burst into the room, bags in hand, and exclaimed,

“There’s my bloody Wetback! How the hell are ya brother!!?”

“Oh Jesus!” shrieked Chris, a mellow backpacker hailing from Canada that had been napping on his top bunk and apparently wasn’t used to be woken by such blatant racial slurs.

Let the adventures begin.

PS: I lied to you, this post actually comes to you from Paris, France. I have been here for only 24 hours but the City of Lights has been quite impressive thus far. More to come….

 

 

DCIM101GOPRO
DCIM101GOPRO

 

The Breakfast of Raymond K Hessel

I quit my job yesterday.

No, Brad Pitt did not hold a gun to my head and make me do it.

But my first day of liberty was amazing and he was right about my breakfast.

Every morning I start my day with a tall glass of lime water. They say it’s a great way to boost immunity, aid digestion and hydrate your body first thing in the morning. Normally I gulp down the tart tonic, bottoms up, as quickly as possible. But today, unemployed with nowhere to be, I thought, “what’s the rush?”  I inhaled deeply,  filling my nostrils  with the sweet smell of citrus. I tipped back the glass and savored every sensation, chewing the pulp as it entered my mouth. I licked my lips and smiled. I felt like my tonic tasted; fresh, rejuvenated.

To be honest, my oatmeal wasn’t that good this morning but I really wanted to use that Fight Club video so let’s just pretend it was spectacular. I ran out of milk and had to use water, gross. Mexicans love milk in their oatmeal. I once did a survey to verify my hunch. Sure enough, the results in my very official study (which consisted of me going around asking random people “how do you like your oatmeal?”) showed that most Mexicans use milk and Caucasians generally use water. But I digress.

The point is that I have officially started my journey. The Rat Race is in the rearview and it’s time for me to slow down and chew the pulp. I even did a little meditation after eating my mediocre oatmeal. I never thought it would feel so good to be unemployed. Time to start packing!

Scrubbing Toilets and Stamping Passports

I feel your pain sister.
I feel your pain sister.

 

How often do you scrub your toilet?

I hardly ever do.

Something about that little toilet brush just grosses me out.

The poor guy lives behind my toilet, sitting there all day, just waiting to get dipped in poopy water.

No thanks.

Luckily, my roommate doesn’t seem to mind using him.

But what if grabbing that little poop stick and scrubbing my Mexican heart away had larger implications? What if cleaning toilets meant I could live in places like Barcelona or Bali or Rio de Janeiro for close to nothing? Well then pass the latex gloves and prepare your bum for some clean porcelain my foreign friends, I’m about to get down in the bathroom.

And that’s exactly what I’ll be doing.

Hopefully the toilet scrubbing will be minimal, but I’m prepared for anything.

Workway.info is a website that connects individuals with families and facilities that are interested in hosting work volunteers in exchange for room and board. Since hosts are not technically paying their volunteers, no work visas are required. There are tens of thousands of workaway hosts hailing from every region of the world. Each host offers a unique experience based on their needs, here are some examples of hosts I’ve come across in the last few months:

  • A surf camp/hostel in Peru in need of a bartender
  • A family in Barcelona looking for an au pair to assist with their two young (and adorable) daughters
  • Another surf camp in the Spanish Canary Islands in need of a surf instructor and social media guru
  • A hotel on the Greek island of Aegina searching for a receptionist
  • A hostel in Thailand requiring the services of an English instructor
  • An olive farm in Italy searching for extra hands during the harvest

As you can see, the work is varied and the opportunities are endless. Most hosts offer a room and at least one meal a day in exchange for 20 -25 hours of work per week. The rest of the time is yours. Not only are you saving loads of money on lodging and food(the most costly expenses while traveling), but workways offer the opportunity to make connections with your hosts and experience the true essence of your destination. Most travelers on vacation rarely stray off the beaten tourist paths. In return, they pay high dollar for fancy hotels, tours and watered down experiences.

So you’re not making any money?

You can imagine how many times I’ve heard that one. No, I will not be getting paid. But utilizing workaways throughout my travels will allow me to optimize my savings and have experiences I could have never dreamed of back in the States. Take my friend Jessica for example, she quit her job in Los Angeles back in June, jumped on a plane and has been workawaying her way across Europe. You should see the girl’s Facebook page. So far she’s worked on an alpaca farm in France, spent five weeks on a Greek island working in a hotel, visited Paris and Barcelona and is currently building houses out of straw and clay in Romania. Her next stop will be in Mexico when Dos Equis hires her as the Most Interesting Woman in the World. Okay, I made that last one up but I’m sure she’ll be doing something awesome.

Keep your eyes peeled Jessica, I’m coming right behind you.