Hostels are a foreign concept for many American students. Many of us in the UF group feel uncomfortable or fearful by the idea of a stranger sleeping above us on a bunk bed. A general sense of suspicious is a side effect of growing up with wide personal-space bubbles and Disney resort hotels.
Our adaptivity was tested during our first weekend trip out of London. I had suggested to our group that we could save some money in Brussels by staying in a hostel rather than a hotel. The majority of our group was concerned about our safety and the security of our belongings. I suggested we book the last private room at the Youth Hostel Van Gogh, so that four of our six girls could stay in a secured room and bath. This plan warmed some of our group members to the hostel, but the limited availability left two of us in a common female dorm with a shared bath.
I volunteered to stay in the common room and waited for someone else to join me. There was silence… I tried showing the girls some friendly, pro-hostel Youtube videos from female solo travelers, but no one volunteered to stay with me. Finally, and very much to my surprise and probably her own, Taylor agreed to stay in the common dorm.
Late in the night, we checked into the hostel at the reception and bar located across the street from our rooms. I picked up two sets of bed sheets for Taylor and me before heading to the room. We stopped by the private room, sheltered in a secured courtyard garden, to drop off the other girls.
Our common dorm was on the third floor of the building. The common shower rooms were on the second, and the toilets were on the first floor. We ascended worrying if we'd have roommates waiting for on the top floor as the stairwell lights flickered on-and-off from faulty motion sensors.
I wasn't impressed by the room, two bunk beds, lockers, and a small sink, and Taylor was uncomfortable with the layout. The two beds next to us were empty, but we left out belongings locked in the private room just in case. Our window overlooked the dark road between the dorm building and the reception office.
Taylor and I hoped that we'd sleep from exhaustion after our climb up to the room, but we struggled to get any sleep our first night. Both of us tossed-and-turned in our bunks.
Noise from the street echoed up into our building, and we struggled to determine if the uproar of men laughing came from outside our building or our room. The idea of strangers, roommates or not, entering the room at night kept us awake and on edge.
Around dawn, I rolled over and thought about going downstairs to use the bathroom. The number of stairs made me fight the urge, and I stayed in bed. Taylor told me the next morning that she heard me roll over and knew that I was thinking about leaving the room. She said she would have followed me down to the bathroom than stay in the room alone.
We had a sluggish day in Brussels after that night. We were exhausted and needed a better night's rest. After leaving the hostel to explore the city, we realized that we were staying on a busy intersection that was loud with Friday night foot traffic.
We went into our second night at the hostel expecting some street noise, and we jokingly placed hangers from the closet next to our pillows in case we needed to swat invaders away. The two spare beds were empty again. Taylor and I sat in the room at midnight looking at our phones. I'd left the light on out of laziness, but I am glad it was light when we heard footsteps in the hallway and a key unlocks the door.
Two eastern European women quietly said hello to us as they entered the room. As they started making their beds, I messaged Taylor and asked her if she felt comfortable staying in the room. Our emergency plan was sleeping on the cold floor of the private room.
Taylor replied that she was alright staying. We had all of our belongings in the other room, and our new roommates looked too tired to try anything abnormally violent.
I watched one of them precariously tuck her passport and phone under her pillow with our shared sense of fear. Europeans might be more accustomed to hostels, but we all live in the same world and have the same worries at night.
They politely asked us if we were okay with turning the lights off, and we said yes. The four of us slept well.