I stumbled into my hostel after marching through Barcelona heat with a 25 lb backpack strapped on my slouched shoulders. I was Eurotrip-level hungover. So was my Brazilian friend, Mel, who threw her head back as she walked, circled sunglasses blinding her face from the sun.
A few days earlier, I met some very attractive Australian boys in San Sebastian.
Author’s Note: God- don’t you love when stories start with cute Australian boys?
Author’s Note #2: Sorry dad.
The two Australian guys and I were staying in the same hostel, Surfing Etxea. The hostel was a cozy little surf loft filled with chalkboard signs and sand in the showers. It was a San Sebastian hideaway. There were surfboard rentals and free tea, clean white linen, and a central room where all of the travelers gathered to meet.
At most, there were 30 of us in the hostel, so it was comfortable and casual. We all went to dinner together and then out for drinks every night. By day, you could find any of us at the beach or on neighboring hikes. San Sebastian was amazing and so was the hostel.
The first night I arrived, I went to pintxos (aka tapas) with some girls from the hostel. Somewhere at the end of a split bottle of red wine and toasted goat cheese salad, the Australian boys showed up.
One of them had a Chris Hemsworth vibe to him, which I think says enough. The other more of a Loki feel, which kind of worked well with the Thor-Loki vibe they gave off together. Needless to say, I liked them. We became fast friends.
Author’s Note #3: Don’t get any ideas.
The night was filled with a large group of us getting lost trying to find bars with actual people inside (we later learned no one goes out until 3am in San Sebastian). It was still very fun. The Australian boys, a London-living Aussie girl, and I ended my first (and their last) night in San Sebastian drinking wine on the beach and talking about travels to Sri Lanka.
We stumbled into the hostel around 4am and said our goodbyes.
Life as a traveler summed up: We assumed none of us would see each other again, but we still hoped we would.
It turns out I ended up in Barcelona at the same time as the Australian boys, just a few days later.
I had spent some time at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, while they had finished their backpacker-right-of-passage trip to Ibiza.
Tired sharing showers in hostels, I rented an apartment on Las Ramblas for my first few nights in Barcelona. The Aussie boys came over on night one. They brought vodka, I bought myself wine. We drank to music on the patio overlooking the street and told stories of our travels. Eventually we left to explore the city. Our first night out included much to much walking and ended with a hunt for samosas as the sun rose.
The next night, I invited my friend Mel to come over. She was able to sweet talk in Spanish to get us in anywhere. We went to an incredible nightclub on the beach and danced until the boys had to leave for the airport.
I don’t think any of us wanted the night to end.
After a weekend of partying and day trips to the market for fresh fruit, it was time to go to the hostel. I was excited to meet new people and actually take some time to see the sights.
Let me be honest- I have been incredibly lucky with the hostels I have stayed in. I have made friends at each place and I hope to keep in touch with all of them for years.
As I walked into the new hostel I realized two things: It was very big & practically no one in it was awake at noon.
It turns out that every night the hostel hosts a pub crawl, then takes everyone to a nightclub. This is not a weekend thing- it is an every night thing. No one is awake at noon because most of them got home around 7am. It was then that I realized I was in a party hostel, through and through.
Author’s Note #4: At the time of check in, I could not judge. It was post Australian boys weekend and I left my hungover friend in the lobby while I spent minutes trying to shove my sweaty backpack into a locked closet.
After spending a few nights in the hostel and getting to know some of the other people, it seems like they all wanted something similar out of their time in Europe. They wanted a Eurotrip experience. Most people stayed in Barcelona for four days tops, usually two, on their way to other party cities such as Madrid or Amsterdam. They were traveling for the summer, usually after graduating college, and wanted to get all of the partying out of their system.
No, they hadn’t seen the sights, but they could tell me about this awesome nightclub with great house music.
This was different from the other hostels I have stayed in. The people I met in previous hostels were at least done with college and had held jobs for a bit. They wanted to travel to see the world, with an occasional party on the side. They had stories to share and dreamed of going to isolated places. They knew how to have their fun, but were up to spend weeks in Muslim countries with no access to alcohol. Traveling was their life, not a party before their life started.
Many people staying in the Barcelona hostel were in a different mindset. A Eurotrip was typically a graduation present. A few of my dorm mates had Yeezy’s tucked under their bed and would wake up the room blasting rap music at 6 am (they were white and from Texas, may I add). Most of the people I talked to have a plan once they get home. Many have jobs lined up, a few with more time until they graduate, and many already picked out their career paths for the next 5-10 years. This is their last time to party before they get old, apparently. Enter the Eurotrip experience.
Granted, I am in a different situation.
Like many fellow travelers, I have already graduated college and graduate school, tested out the real world, and saved money to travel. My airplane tickets, food, and everything else goes on my own credit card… and I would rather spend money on a nice dinner and glass of wine than bottle service at a nightclub.
I have the freedom of being able to choose what I want to do when I get home, but the fearful knowledge that I have no idea what that actually is.
I am no longer on the high-speed train moving from college to a job, then marriage and buying a home. That may be in the cards one day, but not today. Instead, I am seeing the world and living in each moment. I wake up every morning in complete bliss knowing that today will be different from yesterday. That alone is a beautiful and irreplaceable feeling.
I am taking a break from the set path and it is worth it.
But, with that break comes a bigger sense of responsibility to do something with my time. Is it writing? Photography? Learning a language? A startup?
At the end of the day, like many “Eurotrip” travelers, I still have to walk instead of taking taxis and spend my nights in hostels instead of hotels. The difference is, the travelers in search of a “Eurotrip” experience often have something to return home to. They have a set path. They will finish their last year of college, start looking for work in their industry, or go back to their jobs.
I don’t have the same sense of security that many Eurotrip travelers do.
I don’t even know where I want to live when I “get back home.”
Let’s be clear here: I am really lucky and have options. I could easily go back into the food industry. I could try to work up the corporate ladder, create new products or flavors. I could find a job and try to feel useful in a city that could one day become home. I could open a bakery. A yoga studio. A juice bar in Barcelona. I could write a novel. A travel memoir. Write about food across the world.
I have options.
There are a lot of things I could do with my life and I am very afraid of making the wrong choice.
If long-term travel makes you realize one thing, it is that life is incredibly short. You want to grasp it while its in font of you, and hold onto it before it slips away into the dullness of routine. Life is simply too short to be bored with it.
I don’t need a year of travel to find answers to everything. I don’t even need to figure out exactly what it is I want to do with myself or where I want to settle down (if I ever do).
If I found out the meaning of life, I would certainly have no idea what to do with the information afterwards.
But I do know that I want to spend the next year learning something. Rather than viewing this year off as a party or the “Eurotrip experience,” I want to experience the world and learn from it.
I want to use this year of travel to see the world and, hopefully, see my place in it as well.
(And I think I’ll leave Australians for weekends)
With that- I’ll see you in two weeks Morocco.