Hostels are a great place to meet new friends and fellow travelers, and those that have stayed in a hostel would be able to relate to participating in the icebreaking activity called “Where are you from?”, “How long are you traveling for?”, and “Where are you going next?”
Florianopolis was my first stop after leaving New York. I arrived at the very social hostel Tucano hostel right before dinner, when everyone was out in the patio drinking caipirinhas. I must have spoken to at least 10 people that night starting my conversations with one of the three questions. Later in the night, it struck me that I was far far away from the New York social world, where the questions asked of me from acquaintances were inevitably “What part of town do you live?”, “Where do you work?” (usually some bank), “Where did you go to school?” (usually an ivy or nyu). Then people would proceed to brag (or complain) about where they work, how much bonus they get, how much they work, and where they live. In the world of Travel, one brags about how long they’ve been traveling and how many countries they’ve been to.
While these questions usually the trick of breaking the ice (and occasionally you ask all those three questions and find you have nothing in common), after about a week I wanted to smack my head on the table every time I had to repeat my travel story again. I occasionally found myself trying to avoid conversation with the ever revolving door of new travelers so as to prevent these small talks (Yes I know, shame on me!). This behavior continued for another month as I traveled to Porto Alegre (Brazil), Montevideo (Uruguay), and Buenos Aires (Argentina). Hostels have and always will have a dear place in my heart, but I was overjoyed the day I moved into my apartment in Canasvieiras, Florianopolis and signed to stay for 2 months.
I strongly urge you, at some point in your travels, to consider staying at one place for more than a month to “get off the tourist trail” and “live the local life”. Benefits abound:
- Searching for an apartment in a foreign country is exciting and allows you to see a different side of locals & their homes; allows you to experience the local culture apart from sightseeing
- Price – I am paying about $R30 ($12USD)/day for my one-bedroom apartment. Not cheaper than a hostel bed in Buenos Aires (around $10USD), but I have a whole apartment to myself!
- When you live next to locals, you will meet and befriend them too, and develop stronger relationships. Brazilians, especially, are a friendly bunch and my neighbor for example invites me over every time they have a family barbecue
- You have a kitchen, so you get to cook, shop at the supermarket, and explore local dishes
- You have more time to explore the surrounding areas in depth. For example, I bought a bicycle to ride around on the weekends and run errands
- You can develop a routine and invest time in personal projects – I am currently building out this blog and learning computer science through a web course.
Some things other awesome pluses not available at hostels:
- Stable internet!
- Personal space and privacy!
- My own full-sized bed!
- Not having to live out of a luggage! (Currently worried if everything I accumulated in these two months will fit in my baggage when I leave)
- Stable hot shower!
One big question you might have is how to make friends if you don’t have other traveler guests to ask the big 3 questions to. There are many ways!
- If you choose to get a roommate, you should obviously befriend him/her and his/her friends
- Couchsurfing – Courchsurfing has city discussion boards for the major cities; you can post there to look for new friends. You can also go to Couchsurfing meet-ups; most cities have a a weekly one and many have an “English hour” for locals to converse in English with native speakers
- Introduce yourself to your neighbors when you see them; bring them baked goods the old-fashioned American way
- Take a class, join a gym, go to a party… There’s nothing that bonds people more than a common interest
- Get out and about, and talk to everyone – the pharmacy cashier lady, the mail guy – everyone is usually curious about what a foreigner is doing living there. Be friendly and remember that a smile is the universal language for kindness.
Can’t stress this enough to my fellow travelers! I highly encourage you to pitch tent for a couple weeks and rent an apartment, I promise you will see a different side of the country and its beautiful people 🙂