It’s unbelievably easy to slip into the backpacker life again, complete with all the joys and pitfalls. It took less than 48 hours for me to realize this via an experience that can only happen when everything you own fits in a backpack and you live among strangers you call friends in a makeshift community that is a hostel.
The hostel I stayed in was about a 10-minute walk away from Central Station in Sydney. Reviews said it had a nice, homey atmosphere and the nightly rates were pretty good.
When I arrived, the place was small and cramped with the reception, TV lounge, kitchen and outdoor barbecue area on the ground level. Two upper levels contained four rooms so I’m guessing the largest capacity was around 30 people. Each floor had a bathroom (toilet, shower and a sink) for everyone to share and there was a separate female-only bathroom (toilet, two showers and a sink) outside.
Being the lazy sloth that I am, I decided to use the shared bathroom down the hall instead of lugging my stuff outside and around the corner to the female-only bathroom. Well, little did I know that the door’s lock was broken and some guy ended up walking in on my shower. Good thing mineral deposits covered the glass surrounding the shower stall and acted like a foggy barrier to protect my modesty (and his).
Because the door opened directly on the shower, I’m not sure who had more of a shock – me or the poor guy. As elegant as I could be standing naked with shampoo dripping into my eyes I said, “Um, I’m pretty sure I locked that door.” The guy, to his credit, averted his eyes quickly and apologized for barging in. Needless to say, I finished that shower in record speed!
Prior to my travels, I think I would have been tremendously embarrassed by the experience. Americans are, despite all the sex and violence in the media, mostly ultra conservative about nudity and things (in contrast to Europeans). However, I simply brushed it off as one of those weird hostel encounters and didn’t really think anything of it. After all, this happened to me in London as well, so I figured everyone was due at least one of these awkward situations during a trip.
When I got back to my room, I made sure to tell my roommates about the lock on the door and advised them to use another bathroom. Later that day, after sightseeing around the city, I noticed a sign informing people of the faulty lock and to knock before entering. Apparently the guy, or someone else who experienced a similar shock, told management as I know I didn’t even bother.
Situations like this would never happen to the high-flying jetsetters and the five-star hotel guests of the world. Family holidaymakers and people with only two weeks of vacation a year would never encounter this either. But this awkward, slightly bumbling interaction is so typical of the backpacker life.
Regardless of how uncomfortable the circumstance is, these are the little moments you remember forever. These are the stories you tell to other backpackers, who laugh in understanding, or to friends at home, who gasp in horror. This is well and truly a backpacker’s life.