If you ever work or volunteer abroad, or even just stay in a hostel, you will at some point experience the thrills (and the spills) of communal living while travelling. This involves living in a large group of people living in close quarters with each other, usually sharing sleeping space and bathrooms, fridges and kitchens, you name it, you gotta share it.
How did I end up in this situation? Well, I was volunteering in Canada at a youth hostel. For 6 weeks I was sharing a 4-bedroom house with around 25 people! It was cramped. There were bunk beds in all the rooms and then a dormitory was set up in the attic, which is where I slept. We had our individual beds which were separated by a simple sheet, and that was it. Not a lot of privacy.
Actually, there was zero privacy, because between all of these people there was one bathroom. One. So, if you needed to shower or spend an extended amount of time in there, you had to TELL EVERYONE to make sure they didn’t want to use it first. Nothing was sacred. It wasn’t all bad though, here is a list of pros and cons…
Let’s start with the good stuff. One of the positive aspects of living in a cramped space with hordes of people is that everyone is together. So, if you don’t enjoy being lonely, don’t worry! There is never a dull moment and you will almost never be by yourself. If you are ever in need of a friend, there will be a human being in close proximity. Yay!
If you ever need anything, someone will have it. I can guarantee. Shampoo, conditioner, razors, first aid kit, a bottle of vodka. All the necessities! Luck favours the prepared, but communal living favours the underprepared (like me).
For the party-goers, communal living is something that is right up your street. Living with thirty people is a constant fiesta, especially in a youth hostel. In Canada, because everyone was working different hours, you could always find people drinking beer in the kitchen because time itself was like a made-up concept that only the outside world experienced.
It’s never quiet! This is a…oh wait, not a pro, definitely a con.
It’s never quiet! You can guarantee that even in the early hours of the morning, there will either be someone arriving or leaving, or someone will be partying, or someone will be snoring or talking in their sleep. In my case, in our staff house the floorboards were EXTREMELY creaky and so even if people tried their hardest to be quiet (a rare occurrence), it would still sound like an old lady yawning.
Another con, there are ALWAYS people around. I know I put this in the pros list but honestly, sometimes you need a break. If you are the kind of person who prefers to spend the majority of their time alone, then communal living and group accommodation is not for you! There is never any privacy, as I mentioned before with the bathroom thing, and this means you can’t just sit and watch TV on your own or even call anybody without SOMEONE knowing about it and hearing the whole conversation.
People steal your stuff! It’s all very well being like, ‘Oh Susan, do you mind if I borrow your hairbrush? I lost mine’ and Susan hands you her hairbrush, because like I said before in the pros list, people will normally have the things you need. Except, you discover that it’s not her hairbrush it is, in fact, your hairbrush that you LOST merely a few days ago, and now Susan is trying to pass it off as her own! ‘Oh, but Lauren we must just have the same hairbrush!’ Shut up Susan you thief.
How to avoid uncomfortable situations
How can I not have all these horrible things happen to me if I choose to try communal living when travelling? Look no further, here are some expert tips, tried and tested by yours truly.
NUMBER 1: Label everything. Don’t want the likes of Susan snatching your stuff? Put a label on it which clearly shows your name, not just your initials. Things that tend to go missing are toiletries and electronic chargers. If you think it’s weird putting a label on a cable, get over yourself and do it otherwise it WILL go missing.
NUMBER 2: Invest in some earplugs. They don’t have to be fancy; they just have to function. This is especially useful in youth hostels because they tend to be party hubs, and you will have loud drunk people coming in at all times of the night. You’re welcome!
NUMBER 3: Headphones are a must if you need that alone time to call your family or watch some Netflix by yourself. Travelling can be intense and plugging in your headphones for a bit can give you that bit of respite that you need.
WHY DO I STILL THINK COMMUNAL LIVING WHILE TRAVELLING IS IMPORTANT?
When you are travelling the world, and especially when you are young, this type of living experience is so important. I say this because it genuinely is character building and sets you up for cohabiting with others. You notice your own bad living habits and improve your ability to put up with others. In addition, you tend to be tidier and more conscious of the people around you, which is an excellent way of preparing to go to university. Furthermore, the opportunities to make friends are constant and communal living can be a genuinely enjoyable and fun experience.
P.S Susan is not real, I made her up, don’t be mean to any Susans.