Posts Tagged ‘being broke’

Backpacking in the News

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

Link to article: Residents of Berlin’s hippest district lash out  at backpacker influx

Dunno if I'd want these hipsters eating watermelon off my doorstep, either.

Dunno if I'd want these hipsters eating watermelon near my doorstep, either.

A recent report by The Independent‘s Tony Paterson reveals how residents of the Kreuzberg district of Berlin are fed up with the scores of young, budget backpackers invading their neighbourhood.

“The culprits are mostly young British, Scandinavian and Italian tourists coming to the city via easyJet and other budget airlines for mini-break holidays,” he writes. “They are accused of rowdy all-night partying, and offensive drunken behaviour such as leaving trails of broken bottles and vomit in their wake.”

Sounds pretty standard to me.

Also standard: Guidebooks leading them to the promised land. “At night they flock to (Kreuzberg’s) trendy all-night bars, which are advertised in guide books as a ‘must for party animals,'” adds Paterson.

As if it weren’t bad enough, these traveling degenerates have allegedly been playing loud techno music until the early hours of the morning. Oh my.

Official tourism statistics indicate the number of visitors to Berlin has risen dramatically in recent years due to increased flight traffic via easyJet and Ryanair.

In the end, it seems to be a classic case of old hipsters complaining about young hipsters trespassing on their turf. Boo-hoo. Burkard Kieker, director of Berlin’s tourist marketing agency, effectively told residents to suck it up. “Berlin is becoming a world city again,” he said. “We have to get used to that.”

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45. Bedbugs

Friday, November 19th, 2010

Allen Brisson-Smith for The New York Times

Photo: Allen Brisson-Smith for The New York Times

Recent reports of bedbug issues in major cities (New York, Toronto, Montreal, Prince Albert — you know, big cities — etc.), stirred a faint but disturbing memory of my first run-in with the aptly named bloodsucking pests, which are as familiar to globetrotting backpackers as communal bathrooms.

It was in Amsterdam, on the last night of my buddy Mitch’s and my first backpacking trip to Europe (beenou). We were set to fly home to Canada. We’d wanted to stay at the Flying Pig Hostel ‘cuz it was recommended by an English dude we met in Prague as “the best party hostel in Amstahdaahm,” but given its bacchanal reputation, it was full. So we picked the cheapest place(1) down the street, and it was a little grimy(2), but would have to do.

Of course, we partied like rock stars that night and passed out in a fog, in our 16-bunk dorm room(1). I vaguely remember a burly, hairy orc of a man(3) drunkenly opening the dorm door to the bright hallway lights, stumbling in with a giggling wench(3) literally carrying her over his shoulder, caveman-style. Our cohabitants sneered at the light like vampires, rolled over and went back to sleep. He grunted and tossed her onto his bed, incidentally the bunk below Mitch’s. He proceeded to make it with her(3), beneath Mitch (a light sleeper to begin with), who was tossing and turning, kicking the creaky aluminum bed frame out of sheer frustration.

As white Greg Oden thrusted away, I lied there on the hostel sheet thinking: a) I hope they fucking wash these sheets well, and b) THIS is why you bring a sleep sheet — what if there are bedbugs in these mattresses?

We eventually fell back asleep, awakened by the alarm, the sunlight coming in and the disgusting stench(2) of 17 drunk people’s unconscious breathing. Always running late, we didn’t have time to shower(3); we simply grabbed our bags and rushed to the airport. On the train to the airport, I felt itchy under my t-shirt. Really itchy. I peeled back my shirt to find red little welts all over my chest. Bedbug bites. Just as I was coming home. Perfect. These were itchier than mosquito bites. It was terrible. I didn’t want to scratch them, ‘cuz I would’ve easily scratched ’til the skin broke, so I remember slapping myself constantly while checking in and going through customs.

But then on the plane, my face got mumpy and flushed. My cheeks were hot to touch. Mitch got worried, saying, “Dude, drink some water or something. You look terrible. They’re gonna think you’re an OD’ing drug mule.” It was unbearable. I asked the flight attendant for some anti-histamines(4), which she promptly brought me. I kept slapping away at my chest, arms and behind my knees. Then, my face cleared.

“Oh, the anti-histamines must be working. You look better,” Mitch said. I peeled back my shirt and my whole chest was mumpy and flushed — the rash was just moving downward. Mitch was laughing his ass off. “Sorry to laugh, man. It’s just so funny.”

Mitch later wrote, in an e-mail: “This bedbug thing is true. On our way home, Al developed some strange rash from what we think are bedbug bites, making his skin swollen and red. He looked like Woogie from Something About Mary. I was also covered in tiny bites but didn’t develop quite as painful a rash.”

In closing, I’ve compiled a list of reasons/red flags/considerations for possible bedbug encounters while backpacking:
1. Low budget
2. Second-rate hostel hygiene
3. Second-rate guest hygiene
4. Allergic reactions

– Nov. 22: It seems for some people, hostels aren’t all “dirty, noisy (or) packed with party hounds.” Jane E. Fraser of the Sydney Morning Herald explains: Youth hostels: how the dorm became the norm

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35. Budget Airlines

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

“This is why we Brits call RyanAir ‘Ryan Scare,'” said the 40-year-old lady beside me, gripping her armrests as the plane prepared to land. There was a characteristically heavy bump, the cabin shook, a couple kids shrieked and about half the passengers cheered and applauded.

It was funny but weird. I’d never witnessed a landing like that before. It was as though the entire plane knew it was a rookie pilot’s first landing. In fact, people have come to expect bad landings — bad service and an all-around bad experience — from Ireland’s popular budget airline. And while everybody complains about it and other airlines like it around the world (the UK’s easyJet, Malaysia’s Air Asia, Thailand’s One-Two-GO Airlines and Australia’s Jetstar, are a few examples*), the planes are full.

airasia_plane

You could pin it on the recession, but budget airlines are profitable because passengers are willing to accept inconveniences in exchange for a cheaper fare. These airlines are a necessary evil for travelers and backpackers on tight budgets, people who accept dealing with loads of crap in order to save a couple hundred bucks on a one-way flight — just one of many legs on a long, transcontinental tour.

And why not? Every traveler knows that a trip is only limited by two things, time and money, the latter of which explains why budget airlines exist: If everybody had unlimited cash, absolutely nobody would actually CHOOSE to fly on a budget airline. All you naysayers would have to beat a polygraph to convince me that if you won the lottery, you’d still fly budget. No fucking way.

The following are reasons why, budget airlines are a luxury traveler’s worst nightmare:

  • Remote, suburban airports. Anybody who’s flown out of Paris-Beauvais at the crack of dawn knows how much of a hassle it is. If your flight departs at 8 a.m. you have to leave downtown Paris by 4:30 to get to the subway, ride it for an hour (5 to 6 a.m.) to the end of the line, hope it doesn’t have any line delays, and sprint with your luggage to a bus that takes you from the end of the line (45 min.) to the suburb of Beauvais. Once there, you stand (not enough seating in there for everyone)  in a terminal full of tired and annoyed fellow passengers until the bitter end of the boarding process because you didn’t pay the extra 4€, you don’t get priority boarding.
  • Early morning or late evening flights. You can’t avoid the above scenario, unless you take the late evening flight, which arrives at your destination at 9:30 p.m. By the time you get through customs and take the shuttle bus all the way into the city, all the hostels are full.
  • “Air bus” efficiency. There’s no time to wait. Because the plane you just landed on must be immediately filled and sent back to its city of origin, the overworked flight attendants are spraying and wiping down the sweaty leather seats as passengers are deplaning. I’ve gotten on planes with seats still wet with disinfectant. It’s disgusting.
  • Cramped seating. The Dutch are apparently the world’s tallest people. They must loathe budget airlines.
  • No frills. Absolutely none. You gotta pay for baggage, priority boarding, food and even water. While purchasing an a ticket on RyanAir.com, the shysters actually make you check “No insurance” among a list of nationalities, so if you’re not paying attention, you’ll just check your country name and inadvertently pay for insurance.
  • Shitty pilots. Just kidding. I honestly have no idea if this is true or not, but it may be safe to assume budget airlines do not offer pilot salaries competitive with those of  major airlines. It may also be safe to assume the best pilots go to the highest bidder.

* To see a complete list of the world’s budget airlines check out Wikipedia’s List of low-cost Airlines.

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Backpacking in the News

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

Link to article: 10 Things Backpackers Do But Don’t Often Talk About

stolentp

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28. Rich kids pretending to be poor

Friday, December 4th, 2009

As I mentioned a couple posts ago (see 27. The Light Skin Paradox), human beings long for what they don’t have. Undiscovered people want to become famous. Famous people want privacy. Poor people want to be rich. Rich people want to, well, blend in.

Sure, there are wealthy people who are more than happy to floss on the regular, but backpacking is the antithesis of flossing. Makes sense because just like hot women, rich people don’t usually backpack anyway — they stay in 5-star accomodations, not 16-bunk dorm rooms.

A small minority of affluent travelers, however, are willing to slum it on the backpacking scene. These people are invariably young, adventurous types from good families, with good educations. Bursting with idealism and a desire to “see the world,” these rich kids quickly adopt the typical backpacker affections for leftist politics, environmentalism, spontanaeity and frugality.

Obviously, it’s the frugality part that is unconvincing. I’d compare it to how rich kids shop at thrift stores to find grungy retro duds, while poor people are there out of necessity. Backpacking is about survival, about scraping by on nickels and dimes, eating sparingly and sleeping on trains to avoid paying for a night’s stay in a hostel. Most backpackers would rather stay in nice hotels, but they can’t afford to, so they go backpacking and in doing so, learn to appreciate the minimalist charms of traveling on the cheap. Indeed, rich kids learn to appreciate them too (maybe mom and dad only give them cash in certain increments, I don’t know), but they occasionally slip up.

Common slip-ups include:

  • Getting drunk and buying the entire bar a round of drinks.
  • Staying in a hotel after scouring the city for two whole hours and discovering all the hostels are full. Meanwhile, your friends opt to sleep in the train station, but you insist they should stay with you. But they get denied in the lobby as the hotel is hip to your game and they end up sleeping in the train station after all.
  • Missing your flight, but miraculously arriving at your destination on the next possible one.
  • Buying lavish souvenirs and shipping them home immediately.
  • Consistenly buying expensive meals and playing it down as taking advantage of a favorable currency exchange rate.
  • Calling home all the time, on mom and dad’s calling card.
  • Enduring what normally would be a trip-ending calamity and not having to go home at all.
  • Telling everybody back home you’re going to said country to work for six months to a year and spending six months to a year traveling and not working at all.

Why have I paid such close attention to the mundane tendencies of rich-kid backpackers? I’m just jealous… and poor. And poor people want to be rich.

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24. Bargaining

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Every minute of every hour, in the public markets of the world, people are bargaining over the price of goods. Backpackers, most of whom are financially scraping along their trips, must brave these markets to get the best deals possible and make what little cash they have last. Since bargaining is a battle of wits, weak-willed backpackers from developed nations are traditionally terrible at it.

bartering

Conversely, third-world vendors excel at bargaining. In order to win an argument over price, one must have a hustler’s mentality, a comic disregard for social niceties (almost to the point of a mean streak) and an interminable amount of patience. You need balls and time. Poor people have plenty of both.

Many backpackers will beenou about how good of bargainers they are. They’ll claim that bargaining is a simple process of a) asking the price of an item, b) lowballing and getting denied, c) faking a departure and d) getting the price you want or meeting somewhere in between. If it were so easy, nobody would ever complain about bargaining — they’d just follow the four-step path to public market dominance. It is difficult.

The reason it is so difficult is because bargaining is often a dispute between a poor vendor and a rich traveler. As previously mentioned, poor people have balls and time. People from wealthy, “civilized,” fast-food countries are too nice to get into fights and too impatient to wait on anything. In then end, the poor saps need the extra 10 cents to survive. We don’t.

A vast majority of travelers will give up on the last 10 cents. People say, “It’s not worth the hassle. They need it more than I do, anyways.” These are unsuccessful bargainers. The good ones will not give up. It’s the principle that eats at them. They’ll stoop to the vendor’s level and haggle it out to the bitter end.

Backpackers, on the other hand, have trains to catch and sights to see. And besides, meeting somewhere in between is easier on the conscience. See #3, below.

The following is a list of common barganing catch phrases and strategies salespeople will try to use on unassuming foreigners:

  1. “I give you good price!”: Of course they will. This is capitalism in its rawest form. Their profits depend on giving you a bad price.
  2. “Same same”: This has become somewhat of an institution in Thai tourism, so much so that some cheesy motherfucker had the gall to put it on a t-shirt, with “but different” on the back. Vendors will use this line to reassure a customer that their product is identical to every other vendor’s in the market. A quick rebuttal to the fake departure/threat to buy elsewhere.
  3. Classic guilt trip: Vendors will often employ a variety of sad or desperate facial expressions to dissuade you from further reducing the price.
  4. “No deal”: Vendors may quickly halt negotiations with a simple no. Some even shoo you away or encourage you to buy elsewhere. These are all tactics to pressure you into buying at the last price. Just like your fake departure, their no actually means yes.
  5. Post-deal anger: Many vendors will pretend to still be frustrated after you’ve paid and are walking away. Rest assured that they are laughing inside. 
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22. Scooter accidents

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

Something didn’t seem all that safe about renting a two-wheeled motorized vehicle to cruise around on, for five dollars a day*, with no prior training or experience in operating such vehicles. Often tourists to hot destinations ride scooters with no helmet** while wearing shorts, a tank top and flip-flops. Most backpackers, being broke, forgo travel insurance*** as well.

scooter2bSo it should come as no surprise that The Times (UK) reported last week (Aug. 25) that motorbike accidents are the main reason why Thailand is the deadliest holiday destination for Britons. Out of an estimated 860,000 British tourists who visited Thailand last year, 269 were killed, according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). The majority of the 324 reported hospitalizations in Thailand were due to motorbike accidents, the FCO added, noting actual numbers are probably higher.

*About road worthiness: “Some vehicles are not road worthy. The FCO says that many of the motorcycles and scooters that are available for hire in beach resorts are unregistered and cannot legally be driven on a public road. This could invalidate any travel insurance policy should the driver wish to make a claim.”

**About helmets: “The Thai law that states safety helmets must be worn is widely ignored according to the FCO, which contributes to the high number of deaths each year. On average 38 people a day die in motorcycle accidents in Thailand.”

***About travel insurance: “The (FCO)  report found that financial pressures are causing many British holidaymakers to forgo travel insurance in a bid to save money.”

A few other reasons why scooter accidents are so common among backpackers, especially in Thailand:
scooter11

  • Limited experience. A couple of years ago, I was in Ko Chang and my friends and I were about to rent scooters. The scooter rental shop was near the beach, a short walk from the town. As we arrived at the turnoff of the main road, a British guy and his girlfriend were driving toward us, also turning in. The guy slowed down and turned in without a problem. The girl slowed down, began turning and immediately sped up, lost control and smashed into a pile of construction debris – aluminum siding, scrap wood and metal. It would have been hilarious if the girl hadn’t been shrieking with her foot cut open (she was wearing flip-flops), leaking blood all over the metal, sand and grass. The problem was clear: Not knowing how to drive the scooter, she accidentally hit the gas instead of braking, panicked and revved into the garbage pile.
  • Gravelly, dusty roads. I was in Bali with a bunch of Chilean guys I’d met and we were ripping all over the island on scooters (see video). All was well until, in a hurry to catch the sunset at Uluwatu, I took a gravelly corner too fast and bam! I wiped out, scraping up my palms pretty badly. I had to drive to a nearby clinic, blood running down my wrists, where a nurse scrubbed my wounds with hydrogen peroxide and used tweezers to remove pebbles from the flesh of my palms. Good times. 
  • Sheer cliffs and mountainsides. Driving a scooter on winding, narrow roads, devoid of guardrails, makes one wonder how many backpackers have lost control, fallen down slopes and died (see above statistics).
  • Wildlife. Monkeys and elephants pop up at any time.
  • Garbage. Garbage litters the roadsides.
  • Unyielding local drivers. People don’t care if you’re “farang.” Get out of their way.
  • Unyielding local driving habits. In many developing world countries, red lights are often considered optional. Proceed with caution.
  • Alcohol and recreational drug use. ‘Nuff said.
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Backpacking in the News

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

Link to article: British backpackers plead guilty to insurance fraud in Brazil

shantiandrews_1464267c-1

Two British backpackers, Shanti Andrews and Rebecca Turner, have pleaded guilty to insurance fraud in a Brazilian court after admitting they misled police about being robbed while on a round-the-world trip. (Source: Telegraph.co.uk)

As you can see, just another couple of Female Backpacker Type As doing their thang. Lookin’ pretty wubes, too.

I told you guys my ESP was kickin’ in.

Aug. 21 – Here’s a link to the follow-up article: British backpackers could spend months performing community service in Brazil

Aug. 25 – These bitches won’t quit: British backpackers in false robbery claim appeal conviction

Dec. 19 – In the end, just as it happened for O.J., shoddy police work gets them off: Jailed British backpackers acquitted of fraud conviction

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20. Getting “wubes”

Monday, August 10th, 2009

I mean I’m a big eater to begin with. That’s not a beenou. It’s a problem. I don’t have a primo metabolism anymore. That about ended at 16. I’m more of an Oprah type now — a major weight fluctuator. If I don’t do cardio, I’m in big trouble. The love handles and double chin come out and then it all starts to unravel.

That’s why traveling does a number on my body. “Wubes” is short for W.U.B.A.R. (Washed Up Beyond Any Recognition), which at my age works on so many levels: athletic ability (used to be deece at basketball, beenou — now I can barely get off the ground), party stamina (I’m old — I can’t drink all day and stay up past midnight like I did at 21), scoring game (I can admit it), the list goes on. But when it comes to overall physical fitness, however, backpacking makes me wubes.

drinking-on-the-beach2I know I’m not alone here. Every fit girl I know that spent a year in Australia came back fat. No joke. One hundred percent of ’em. “OMG the partying over there is insane. And like, after the bar, we like all go and eat kebabs, Tim Tams and these weird meat pies.” Yeah, no shit, I can tell. You’re looking wubes. Don’t worry, I know what it’s like.

Here are a few reasons backpacking makes you wubes:

1. Heavy boozing. After spending the entire day sightseeing, hiking, or even just lying on the beach, everybody is in the mood to party. You’re on vacation, so you might as well have a few drinks. Even when you plan on taking it easy, a few drinks quickly turn into a wild night. Soon enough, you’re absolutely lit. And you do this five nights a week. If you’re over 21 with an average or less metabolic rate, the calories quickly add up.

2. Unhealthy eating. It’s not just the drunken eats that get you. You’re in a foreign country, so you always have the excuse of trying some local fare. No matter that you’re on a 17-day bender and haven’t done any physical activity (apart from masturbating in the hostel shower) in months, you simply HAVE to try the deep-fried pork hocks. It’s a local delicacy, so fuck it — you’re on vacation.

3. Sleeping irregularly. You try sleeping on a bus or train that may or may not be going to the right town (which you can’t pronounce, in a language you don’t speak) next to people whose feet stink and who have no concept of Western personal space. And when you arrive at 3 a.m. you need to wake up, pick up your heavy backpack, find something (unhealthy) to eat and figure out why you’re in the wrong town. And when you are in the right town, you eventually lock into the sightseeing-by-day, partying-by-night routine anyway, so there goes the quality shut eye. Oh and you have to rush to the airport tomorrow at 4 a.m., too.

4. No exercise. I hate  guys that try to work out while backpacking. Some might argue that surfing should be considered an exception. I suck at surfing. Surfing is fucking difficult. I hate surfers too, mostly because they’re way cooler than me, jacked and get more vibes. They also wear white sunglasses, so whatever. I don’t really want to be the guy doing push-ups and sit-ups on the hostel floor, either. Others would insist that all the daytime sightseeing/hiking/biking/[insert eco-tourism activity here]/etc. is sufficient exercise, but it’s not when you’re eating fatty delicacies at every turn, boozing all night and sleeping irregularly.

5. Smoking and drug use. I don’t smoke while at home; I smoke when I travel. There’s so much idle time spent waiting in line for tickets, hostels, information, currency, food, vehicles… Smoking helps pass the time. And did I mention you’re boozing non-stop? From my experience, smoking accompanies boozing fairly well. As for drugs, well, suffice it to say that nobody is as experimental as when they’re backpacking.

6. Stress. See #3. Backpacking can be extremely stressful: constant travel, visa acquisition, sexual frustration, perpetual hangovers, tight budgets, douchebag/thief aversion, and unexpected catastrophes can get to a person. Whoever said the journey is more important than the destination clearly never went backpacking.

If you’re able to stay trim while on a hardcore backpacking trip, please share your secret. As long as it doesn’t require me to stay sober, watch my diet, go to bed early, or work out, I may give it a shot.

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15. Dormitories

Friday, June 26th, 2009

If you don’t know what it’s like to sleep in a dormitory, you’ve obviously never backpacked in Europe (beenou), North America  or Down Under. The reason there’s a difference is because backpacking in the developed world is expensive as hell (See 8. The Lonely Planet). Meanwhile, in underdeveloped countries, one can procure a luxurious private hotel room for the price of a Happy Meal in Western currency.

hostel-dorm1Because affordable lodging space is so limited in the former, it becomes possible to charge a premium for not only a room, but for a tiny fraction of a room (literally one-16th). There are, of course, varying levels of expensiveness. For example, North American backpackers know what it feels like to pay outrageous sums of money (after converting their meager dollars to English Pounds or Euros) for half of a bunk bed. It’s a sensation akin to non-consensual jailhouse sodomy (i.e. ass rape).

Aside from obvious disparities in global currency and real estate values, the inflation in high-traffic tourist areas is senseless. The average minimum cost of a dorm bed in Prague in July is 15 Euros (21 USD) per night; 23 Euros in Rome; 26 Euros in Barcelona; 22 Pounds (36 USD) in London; 30 Euros (43 USD) in Paris;  and a whopping 35 Euros (49 USD) in Amsterdam. Go to the same cities in, say, November and the price is 30 to 40 percent cheaper. That’s the beauty of supply and demand, folks.

Remember: a) this is for a wretched dorm bed, and b) backpackers have no money.

So what makes dormitories so awful? Hygiene is a major issue. Before going on my first backpacking trip, I brought a sleepsack (a bedsheet folded over once and sewn) as it was suggested to me to avoid using hostel bedsheets, which could have bedbugs. Long story short, the sleepsack was excess baggage and I’d overpacked to begin with, so I ditched it early on. Besides, I was too lazy to use or wash it, so I went ahead and used the hostel bedsheets. Bad idea. I got bitten by bedbugs and it was terrible – but that’s for another post altogether.

hostel-dorm2Regardless of the hundreds of online reviews you read about competing hostels, they are all dirty. It’s not the hostel’s fault. Consider their clientele. A typical backpacker’s day consists of sightseeing and heavy drinking, both of which involve perpetual movement and perspiration. Piles of unwashed and reworn clothes, especially socks and underwear, contribute to the dormitory’s signature potpourri. At capacity, there can be 8 to 16 people in a room (on 4 to 8 bunk beds), depending on its size. The room smells of other people’s feet, breath and sweat. It’s disgusting. Every morning, a sour, humid stench hangs over the place as sunlight begins to cook it through the windows.

The mattresses are uncomfortable and sometimes squeaky. The really bad ones have uneven springs that dig into your back. So, it’s hard enough to fall asleep, and then there’s the element of noise. Whispering, giggling, snoring and, God forbid, fornicating. Like bedbugs, dorm sex requires its own post. There are also the drunks that stumble in, yelling belligerently, turning on all the lights and crashing violently into their bunk… which is incidentally right beneath yours.

Because other backpackers are generally untrustworthy, there are often large lockers in the corners of the dormitory, consuming whatever residual space that would have allowed for orderly room navigation. Lockers must be large enough to fit a 90-liter pack. Thus, occupants bump into and step over each other attempting to get from one end of the room to the other. Doing so in pitch darkness, while drunk, is no easy task.

Sleeping in close proximity to foreign strangers is creepy. Movies like Hostel or Taken are not particularly inspiring cinema to watch prior to going on a cross-Europe dormitory tour. You never know what kind of nutjobs are sleeping in there – above you, under you, or beside you. Some of them are Aussies, others are Israeli – both are crazy. Sweet dreams, everybody.

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