Four and a half years editing a luxury travel magazine gives one a taste for the finer things in life, particularly when it comes to travel. During those years, I stayed in some of the best hotels in the world, enjoyed meals cooked by the finest chefs on the planet and drove million-dollar supercars around the United Arab Emirates. They were good days.
I always tried to resist the inevitable (d)evolution into travel elitist, but when five-star is a given in any work-related travel experience, it’s hard not to become more than a little discerning: the preferred nomenclature for “snobbish” in the 21st century.
Although my private travel experiences over those years were peppered with plenty of non-luxury travel experiences – hiking in Nepal, camping in Yellowstone and beach-hopping in Thailand, to name a few – the Señorita and I were still able to maintain some level of comfort and dignity during our summer voyages, usually in small, affordable hotels and guesthouses.
But the reality of nine months on the road is that, unless you spent the last 10 years working in finance or organised crime (or both) you will probably have to spend most nights in a hostel, where the only stars you will see are the ones through the windows.
The culture shock of adapting to a life of travel has been compounded by a month spent in an impeccable Airbnb apartment in Buenos Aires, and occasional stays in five-star stay resorts and lodges on work assignments. Visiting these havens of cotton sheets, marble bathrooms and fine wine is all the more luxurious when put in the context of life spent living out of a suitcase.
ON THE FLIP SIDE
Life in a hostel is characterised by various realities, depending on how adept you become at selecting a good one: uncomfortable beds, grimy shared bathrooms and a variety of insect life are not uncommon things to find if you choose poorly. But pick a good one and your chosen abode becomes part of the travel experience, rather than just a backdrop for it.
The decision to book a hostel is based on certain factors: location, cleanliness, free WiFi and the availability of good beer or wine rank among my most important criteria. Others include access to a clean kitchen, helpful staff and some reassurance that they are not full of 20-something travellers. Not that there is anything wrong with 20-something travellers, but at the tender age of 33, their insatiable energy and enthusiasm makes me feel exceedingly old.
Choosing a hostel was relatively easy 11 years ago, when you had two sources of information; word-of-mouth recommendations from other travellers and the Lonely Planet guide to South America. The latter rarely included reviews of poor hostels (with a few exceptions) and the reliability of the former would be directly proportional to the credibility of the person in question.
These days, travellers are armed with a baffling arsenal of tools to help them decide where to stay.
Tools like TripAdvisor allow everyone to share their opinions, and useful booking platforms like HostelBookers.com and HostelWorld.com provide photos, reviews, location maps and instant bookings, which is particularly useful in busy periods. Any hostel worth its salt has its own website and many have Facebook pages where fans can pay tribute.
But as we all know, the ability to post unedited and unregulated editorial content on public forums can often bring out the worst in people. I don’t know the statistics, but from personal experience, I can affirm that the majority of people are more inclined to write a review following a bad experience than they are following a good one.
I digress. So far, our hostel experiences have ranged from tolerable to excellent, and we have made some good friends among the guests and owners of the places we have stayed in Argentina and Chile so far.
The images on this post are from a hostel in El Calafate in Argentina called Patagonia Vieja, which opened three days before we arrived in town. More family home than commercial enterprise, it represents the epitome of good hostelling, with clean rooms, immaculate bathrooms and hosts that go out of their way to make sure your stay is comfortable.
The owner, Mateo, picked us up from another hostel, spoke to us in English when necessary, bought us groceries, and gave me my first beer on the house. Good luck finding that service in your average three-star hotel or guesthouse. Top it all off with great WiFi signal, spectacular views of Lago Argentino and freshly baked bread every morning, and you can’t get much better.
And so the journey continues. I still turn up my nose at dirty sheets and grimy bathrooms, but it is all part of the experience, and my readjustment from haughty travel snob to carefree nomad is well underway.
As the title of this blog suggests, I am living life somewhere between two very different worlds; that of luxury travel magazine editor and that of the intrepid independent traveller. It’s a privilege to be able to exist somewhere in the between, one that will become more and more poignant as the show goes on.