Why Facebook is Ruining Hostels
I recently took a trip to Nicaragua while between jobs. It was only for 10 days but I managed to see a lot and get a good sense of the country. It also happened to be the first time traveling alone in a long time.
Since I was traveling alone, I ended up staying in hostels. As I’ve written in the past, hostels are great. They are places where you can meet like-minded people that want to do like-minded things. Sometimes you get the raw end of the stick and end up in a dark, cramped, dorm room but more often than not, they are one of the highlights of a trip.
But there’s something that’s dramatically changed the atmosphere of hostels in the past few years. The first time I stayed in one was Europe in 2007. Back then, no one had smart phones. Wifi wasn’t ubiquitous and people actually had to make an effort to find a computer and get on the internet. Same with Southeast Asia and South America in ’09. Sure, it was a couple years later, but in the less developed parts of the world, the internet revolution had not quite caught on.
I remember very clearly walking, in the sweltering Bangkok heat, to an internet cafe, opening the door, feeling the blast of the ice cold AC, and sitting down to let my friends and family know that I was still alive and kicking. Back then, you couldn’t really dilly dally online because the bastards are charging you by the minute and the connection was shitty. You went in there, fired off a few important emails, maybe peeked at your ever precious Facebook feed and some news, and got out.
So you may be thinking, “Wow, that really sucks. Paying for internet by the minute?! Actually needing to physically go somewhere to go online?!” And you’re right, paying by the minute does kinda suck and so does not having internet access at your finger tips. But with that being said, if I had a choice, I’d choose that experience over what hostels have become now.
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Maybe it’s a case of looking at the past with rose colored glasses but I remember hostels as being incredibly social. A lot more social than they are now. People still read their books and did their own thing but a much larger part of the time was spent socializing with others. When you came back from a day of sight seeing, you ended up making your way to the bar or common area and having a chat with whoever else happened to be in the room.
This last trip to Nicaragua, sometimes I didn’t know if I was staying in a hostel or a drug den. At all times of the day, I’d see people with their faces buried in their iPhones, the faint glow of the screen revealing just how much they drank the night prior, mindlessly browsing something or another on Facebook. They would sit motionless except for the casual flick of their thumb as they scrolled through their never ending news feed.
The ease of pulling out your phone, logging into the free wifi, and jumping on your Instagram, Facebook, what not, has made it so that legions of backpackers spend entire days sitting around browsing social media. You don’t have to walk down the street in the sweltering heat, you don’t have to choose between spending your money on internet or beer, and you don’t have to interact with the real world if you don’t want to. And so these people, phone in hand, waste away their days in the virtual world.
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So what’s the big deal? I guess it depends on the perspective. On one hand, I’m a firm believer that vacations are your time, your money, and therefore you get to do whatever the hell you want. Me judging others goes directly against that belief. On the other hand, it’s really such a shame to see people spending their days in a foreign country browsing Facebook on their phones. There’s so many things to see, do, and experience outside of your familiar little social media bubble. The next time you find yourself immersed in your phone, you should really ask yourself, “What’s the point of traveling half way around the world if all I’m going to do is check on what’s going on at home?”
Maybe this is a classic “get off my lawn” moment for me. Maybe I’m just getting old and don’t truly appreciate all the rich, insightful, and inspiring posts on Facebook, Instagram, and whatever else is out there. Maybe I simply don’t get it.
But I also remember a time before social media became intimately interwoven into our daily lives. And I remember that those times were great. So maybe, just maybe, I could be right about this.
Related post: Unplugging in an Increasingly Connected World
from → Travel Advice