By Rebecca McCourtie
EXCITEMENT, that’s what I felt when I got in a taxi at the train station and told the driver to take me to my next volunteer gig at a hostel in central Tel Aviv.
So far I had been a chef at a chateau, a goat milker, a cheese maker, a gardener, a beekeeper, a honey extractor and an English teacher. After leaving Sweden I had been making my way around Europe volunteering. Essentially the deal was, I worked five hours a day, five days a week and got free board in return. It had worked an absolute treat to date! Well… mostly a treat, except for the goat farm stint when I had to leave early because I had a severe allergic reaction to the goat hair. Aside from my sinuses almost exploding out of my nostrils, I had had nothing but positive experiences and it was a no-brainer for me to T-something up in Israel doing the same sort of thing. Thinking hostel work might be fun and something different, I organised a three-week stint at a hostel in central Tel Aviv.
Like I was saying, excitement filled my body as I hung my head out the window of the taxi and allowed my lungs to breathe in the warm muggy air and my eyes to absorb the bright lights that illuminated the skyscrapers in the dark of the night. When the driver pulled up outside the hostel, I paid, got out and made my way up the four flights of stairs with my heavy bags. My excitement disappeared when I walked into a room full of eighteen year olds. ‘SH*T!’ Eighteen year olds who were all drinking, smoking, running around and generally acting like eighteen year olds.
I was greeted by the VERY young manager on the night shift. ‘Hey, who are you?… Rebecca who?’ This wasn’t a good start! I had organised with the boss to volunteer, but the manager hadn’t been filled-in and wasn’t expecting me. After a few brief introductions, explanations and pleasantries, I was taken to ‘the bag rack’ outside. ‘Just leave your bags here.’ I reluctantly put my downs in the open area, cautiously aware of the fact that anyone of the heavily intoxicated, financially questionable teenagers could steal from me.
‘So if my bags go here, where will I sleep? My bags won’t stay out here the entire time will they?’
The young man looked at me perplexed, as though he couldn’t understand why I was nervous about my personal belongings being stored on an oversized shoe rack out on a terrace with zero security. He may not have had anything of great value in his luggage, but I had my laptop, jewelry and basically my entire life in those two bags. The last thing I wanted was to leave everything unattended in amongst barely legal drunkards.
‘Yeah, your bags will stay here the whole time because the room is small. It’s OK, I think they will be OK.’
The child-manager’s tepid reassurance towards the safety of my belongings was not satisfactory, nor was the tiny room with ONE double bed that I was expected to share with all the other volunteers.
‘I am not sleeping here and sharing a bed with strangers.’
Again, he looked at me perplexed as to why I would have a problem with one bed and four people!
‘I’m almost thirty, I’m too old for this sh*t. I need my OWN bed!’
Evidently my message wasn’t getting through.
‘That’s not an excuse, thirty is NOT old’ said the 19-year-old child running the shop. I tried to accept the words of the barely-legal baby telling me I wasn’t old. I knew I wasn’t old, but I also knew I wasn’t young enough to be playing ‘stacks’ in a bed with three male strangers a decade younger than myself.
I exhaled: ‘OK fine. Not only am I not young enough for this sh*t, I DON’T want to share a bed with three strangers.’
He looked back at me, not willing to lose the battle: ‘you can sleep outside on the terrace if you want. There are chairs out there. People sleep on them all the time. You’ll be next to your luggage that way.’ The more the young man tried to convince me to stay, the more horrified I was becoming with the arrangements.
‘Sorry mate, call me a cab. I’m going to another hotel. This isn’t going to work!’Reluctantly, the young man called me a cab and asked me one more time why I was leaving.
‘Well, outside of the fact that I am not comfortable top’n’tailng with three to four strangers, I am also not OK leaving my bags unattended and out in the open. Before you say ANYTHING else, even if I WAS comfortable being in close proximity to you under a bed-sheet, its too freaking hot this country to snuggle! See you later!’
With that I grabbed my bags and fanged it down the stairs and out onto the street. What a disaster that had been! It wasn’t a good start, but like everything in life you just have to deal with it! When life knocks you down, you gotta get back-up.
I managed to book myself another hotel using the wifi on my phone during my brief ‘tour’ of the hostel from adolescent-hell. It wasn’t glamorous, but it would do for three nights while I sorted out what the hell I was going to do with myself! I was definitely not young enough to handle that situation, but old enough to know that I didn’t have to do anything that I didn’t want to do!
Indicators that you’re probably too old to be backpacking (but screw it, you should do it anyway!)
When you took your first trip overseas:
- Technology wasn’t ‘Apple’, it was the apple shaped pocket at the front of your backpack that could store your portable CD player and allow your headphones to feed through to the outside.
- Mobile phones weren’t smart, but looking under the payphone and getting the box’s number, emailing that number to your Mum, T-ing up a time and getting her to use a phone-card to call you on said payphone WAS!
- MacDonald’s was a place to buy food and use the toilet, not tap into free wifi.
- A couple of steps before phone cameras, your camera took film… digital what now?
On this trip:
- Shared dorms with bunk beds are a NO, given that the likelihood of you bouncing instead of breaking is slim to none.
- The room isn’t the cheapest room unless it has wifi, in fact it isn’t even a room without wifi, it’s a shanty!
- Breakfast inclusive rooms are a MUST! Your body can’t function without breakfast… including coffee… did I say coffee already?
- The single most horrifying accommodation option is SHARED BATHROOM!