This past weekend, Black Travel Summit hosted another Instagram Live as part of their “BTS Travel Indoors” series. This episode featured Reis Armstrong, a.k.a. The Hostel Healer, who shared his journey to becoming a black expat in Melbourne, Australia. Though he is currently based in L.A. due to COVID, he has called Melbourne home for the last year and is looking forward to returning in January 2021. Reis’ story is a very relatable one rooted in his growing spiritual detachment from life here in the U.S. and desire to see and learn more abroad. He has been able to travel to many countries due to the affordability of hostels which has doubled as an opportunity to meet some of the most interesting people he’s ever met and establishing lifelong friendships. He even got his name, The Hostel Healer, from a British friend due to his offering of tarot card readings in these hostels as Reis is a psychic medium. Of all the great anecdotes he shared, I found it most important to share today the myths that he and the host, Anita, debunked about traveling and staying in hostels, especially for black people.
I’ll start with hostels. Reis’ primary source for hostels is a site called HostelWorld which I have mentioned a couple of times here on the blog. HostelWorld is, as he described, the Yelp for finding hostels. It’s a database of hostels around the world complete with photos, amenities, dorming options, as well as an incredibly reliable rating system. I was first introduced to HostelWorld in 2017 when I traveled to Cabo. I have used it ever since and even used it in London in 2018 where I found an extremely affordable, clean, and centrally-located hostel–literally right next to the Tower of London. I wrote about the accommodation more in-depth in that trip’s blog post, but it was easily one of the best experiences I have had while traveling. Ultimately I was able to find it by not compromising the rating of the hostel. Though my Cabo trip wasn’t my first time staying in a hostel, I had heard first-person horror stories of hostels that were worse than anything I’d seen on TV due to choosing whatever was cheapest. But the good news is, hostels are not always what they are portrayed to be, and I think as traveling becomes more ‘mainstream’, more people are discovering that they are great options for accommodations. Here are some tips Reis had for first-timers:
- You get what you pay for: If you think “it can’t be that bad,” it’s probably worse.
- Never go under 7 stars: Reis himself doesn’t like to go below a 9 (8 for me), but obviously people have different priorities when they travel. It’s just better not to take the risk if you can afford it which you should definitely be able to if you’re choosing a hostel to begin with.
- Read the reviews: This I can personally attest to. To use London as an example again, I originally was tempted to go with a hostel in Shoreditch, a popular area for nightlife with a younger demographic. Seeing as it was my friend’s first time in London, I wanted her to be in the heart of everything, but an overwhelming amount of reviews about no hot water, dirty beds and showers, and thin walls reminded me to trust my gut. The HostelWorld reviews are truly honest.
- BRING SHOWER SANDALS: If you have attended any kind of camp or college, you know how important it is to have shower sandals. Under NO circumstances should you be traveling without them, especially in a hostel. Period.
- Try it AT LEAST once: Plain and simple, don’t knock hostels until you try them. I think this is generally a good attitude to have when approaching most things when traveling. 🙂
- *Bonus* Ladies, if you cannot afford a private room or just prefer to be around others, there is always an option for all-female dorms instead of mixed dorms.
A final note that both Reis and Anita talked about was how more people of color, especially black people, need to travel more. Representation is key when it comes to traveling because it can greatly alter our experiences. Obviously, traveling is a privilege. I have written and said this many times because traveling is an expense no matter which way you cut it. But if you want to, you can absolutely make traveling a possibility. Something he pointed out that I, too, first recognized when I stayed in a hostel was the abundance of young (18-19 year old) white people that are traveling. Sometimes it’s due to being on gap year and other times, it’s just because their parents sent them/allowed them to go with their friends. I was in total agreement that both of these options are things we should be encouraging with future generations/our own children, especially within communities of color.
Another thing I have written and said many times is how much value there is in traveling and the types of learning experiences you just won’t get in a classroom. When Malia Obama announced she was taking a gap year before her first year at Harvard University, everyone acted like it was a cardinal sin here in the States. However, we know that the U.S. doesn’t place much emphasis on or value in leisure or really enjoying life at all–it’s a work-first mentality. In contrast, it is very much the norm in other cultures to take a year between schooling around 17/18 years old to just figure things out, whether that be through traveling, working, or even volunteering. As a black traveler, I would absolutely encourage my future child(ren) to do that and would love to see that become a norm in our society here. I would hate for my child(ren) to think that they cannot or should not do something like traveling because of fears they have in their home country which is what I personally believe holds a lot of black people from the U.S. back from leaving our borders.
Every day, I see the appeal of just taking the leap and leaving my country and starting a life elsewhere like Reis and Anita (originally from the U.K.). I hope one day I will have an extended part of my life in another country, but until then, I will live through the stories that Black Travel Summit provides via Instagram Live!! The stream is available on BTS’ Instagram page if you would like to listen to the full conversation which I would highly recommend–there is a great segment about treatment of Aboriginals in Australia. I have linked both of their Instagrams at the beginning of the post, so be sure to follow. If you have any good or bad hostel stories, I would love to know in the comments!!
P.S. Reis’ recommendation for a hostel in Melbourne is United Backpackers.