I’m not as hardcore of a traveler as I thought I was or as I used to be in my early 20’s when it comes to where I’m resting my head at night. I used to have less of a problem with sharing rooms in cheap hostels, using dirty bathrooms, partying all night with little sleep, etc. Therefore, it was easy to show up somewhere without plans and pay an inexpensive price for a room.
I noticed this all began to change at age 26. My best friends Rebecca and Matt were married in Paris in August 2013 so Dan, myself, our other best friends Megan and Al, and our Kiwi friend Brent, decided to book a 6 bed shared room in a hostel the night after the wedding. Being incredibly hungover from the memorable night before, we were really looking forward to somewhere comfortable to relax. Unfortunately the Aloha Hostel in the center of Paris for 30 Euro a night per person did not provide this. Our room was to say the least, disgusting. There was a putrid smell coming from the bathroom, the beds were dirty, and the brown and orange colors of the blankets were making me feel even more hungover. As I looked around the room, Megan was laying miserably in her bed with her head twisted to the side, Al had his hat over his nose, Dan and Brent were trying to call around to find a new room, and I just started to cry. We all hated our lives in this moment and needed out. In the end, we both ended up booking separate rooms in a nice hotel, throwing away the 30 Euro a night each and spending an extra $120 for a new room. I can only imagine what our 6th dormmate thought when they returned to an empty room! Although we each spent a ton of money doing this, I never regretted it for a second.
Pure and innocent before the hangover strikes.
Fast forward to age 29. My husband and I decide to take a road trip in Chile and not book any accommodations in advance. We sort of luck out in terms of finding somewhere to stay in Maitencillo as I mentioned in my previous post (although the cabana still had a cringe factor to it, especially for the price we paid). Then we head to La Serena with high hopes of finding a decent room since it is a much bigger, more touristic city. At this point, we obviously have learned nothing from our previous experiences.
We arrive in the area of La Serena where all of the hostels are located to find this sign on the majority of doors “No Disponible” in other words, “No Availability” (which has now become my most hated Spanish phrase). We get on Google Maps, Airbnb and call a few other hostels and hotels in the area (thankfully we bought a Chilean SIM card for Dan’s phone) and big, fat nothing. I walked into one hostel that had a room which didn’t even include a bathroom for over 30,000 CLP (near $50 USD) a night! This process of showing up with nowhere to stay was proving to be really stressful and was taking up a lot of our precious time.
After almost 2 hours of searching, Dan finally found a hostel which had a room with a bathroom for 25,000 CLP ($34 USD) a night. He came back to the car and said “It’s clean enough“. That should have been my first clue but being drained, hungry, and wanting a Pisco Sour in the worst way, I just went with it. Upon first sight of our room I was immediately taken back to our night in Paris. The room had a horrible smell coming from the bathroom, there were bugs all over the floor, the beds had completely stained and mismatched sheets, and the kitchen was horrifying. Because the people who owned the hostel were extremely friendly and helpful, I don’t want to give away the name of the place, but it was definitely somewhere I couldn’t handle for more than one night. We ended up staying the one night with plans to find somewhere new the next day. I slept in my clothes completely covering my arms and legs but to no avail. Both Dan and I found bed bug bites the following morning. That morning we spent 3 hours scouring over the internet for somewhere to stay that night and the rest of the road trip (the thing we tried to avoid doing all the way back in Santiago). We were tired of showing up somewhere, spending so much time finding a spot, and paying way too much money to get bit by bed bugs.
We were luckily able to book an AirBnb last minute right next to the beach on Avenida del Mar. We definitely spent way over our budget but I didn’t even care. I needed a “vacation from my problems”! (This is seemingly dramatic but at the time I truly felt this way). After the owner of the beach apartment got back in touch with us, I was able to relax more and enjoyed time walking around the beautiful city while we waited for our apartment to be ready.
A special thanks and shout out to Los Pinos Restaurant who had very local, delicious, and cheap options while we waited.
Center of La Serena.
We spent two really wonderful days enjoying the beach in La Serena. Thankfully all of the stress and spending a night in a seedy hostel was completely worth it. La Serena is beautiful and after taking one look at the ocean, all of my previous woes left me. I think Garth Brooks said it best, “I’m telling you, science has proved, that heartaches are healed by the sea”.
View from our apartment’s balcony.
The sunsets were the best part.
At a later date after all of this was a distant memory, Dan and I discussed this situation in detail over beers. We agreed that we are both completely okay with staying somewhere basic. We don’t need luxury by any means, but it’s taken me this long to fully realize my standards have changed to want something at least clean enough and somewhere that I feel comfortable in. I spend the majority of my days feeling outside of my comfort zone (speaking another language, standing out, figuring out how things work, learning about new cultures, eating new foods – all things that I still love about travel) that I don’t need or want for that matter to feel unrelaxed in the place that I’m staying. Besides accommodations, I really don’t feel the need to book much else and can be spontaneous in many other ways.
I think after all of this time and many attempts, I’ve finally learned a valuable lesson. I came to the conclusion that it’s okay to be myself and travel in my own way. I don’t need to be this “hardcore” traveler (or whatever that means). I don’t have to stay in dirty hostels or show up to places with nothing booked to prove that I’ve really traveled the world. I recognize that great opportunities or experiences may not come from staying within my protective shell but neither will repeating something over and over again that I’ve tried and don’t enjoy. This is my journey and I don’t need to come out of my comfort zone in every aspect of this adventure to enjoy the ride.