The One Thing I Miss Because of This Hobby

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The one thing I miss in this hobby

The One Thing I Miss Because of This Hobby

There’s one thing I miss because of the points & miles hobby. Yes, this hobby has significantly improved the quantity and quality of many of my travels, but there’s something I miss in this travel hobby. I have a feeling I’m not the only one.

My Previous Travels

Before getting into the points & miles hobby, I was definitely a “budget backpacker” traveler. Whatever was the cheapest, most cost-saving way to get from A to B was my preference. Unless this involved significant losses of time or unbearable hassles, I chose the cheapest route. That may explain a lot of my decisions about value extraction and not paying for things I don’t use / want / need in this hobby.

The same applied for lodging: find the cheapest option. As such, my friends and I spent a lot of nights at backpacker hostels. Yes, it’s totally safe. No, it’s not like the horror stories on the news or the movie “Hostel”. It’s an inexpensive way to share a room with others (there are private rooms at most, for a bit higher price but not much), have a shared bathroom down the hall, and simple furnishings at an inexpensive price.

I even stayed at a hostel last month in Dakar, Senegal, since there were no options where I could use points. For $7/night, I stayed in a room with 4 strangers and simply kept my stuff in a locker. It’s pretty close to “free”, which is always my desired price on lodging.

The One Thing I Miss

At the hostel in Dakar, I was reminded about my favorite thing hostels offer that this hobby doesn’t: community. Here’s what I mean by that. I travel solo a lot. Fly solo, check into the hotel room solo, sleep in my own bed, then walk around the city solo the next day. There are a lot of trips I take where my wife isn’t able to go, due to her schedule.

Before I got into the points & miles hobby, staying at hostels always had a guaranteed new friend to explore the city with. It’s commonplace for people at hostels to ask a stranger in the common room or breakfast area to explore the city together for the day.

I’ve explored numerous countries with random people from all over the globe, and that’s something I miss in this hobby. When I use points & miles to stay at a hotel alone, I’ve tried striking up a conversation with other people at breakfast. Maybe they want to explore together. The standard reaction is akin to looking at me like I’m probably a serial killer. People respond like I’m trying to lure away unsuspecting victims. It seems like most people sitting alone at hotel breakfasts aren’t open to exploring together. Deep down, I’m sure many of them really do want someone to see the city with. The trick is figuring out how to tap into that.

Final Thoughts

The one thing I miss in this hobby is having someone to explore with during solo travels. I wish people I encounter now could be more open and spontaneous like the people I encountered in hostels previously. It would be great if people would be open to exploring a new city with a new friend—rather than seeing this person as a stranger. The one thing I miss with this hobby is that, at least in my previous travels, solo travel didn’t remain solo for long. Am I alone on this? How do others find new friends to explore with during solo trips?

Ryan Smith
Travel hacker in 2-player mode, intent on visiting every country in the world, and can say "hello" or "how much does this cost?" in a bunch of different languages.

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  1. I travel a lot with my kids, 12 and 15. We usually rent apartments for the kitchen (and often price as well), and I find those even more isolating. Although we don’t usually connect with other guests to the point of exploring together, we’ve noticed staying even in a hotel feels more social.
    Recently we stayed in a hostel in Argentina and while we didn’t even converse that much with the other guests, the atmosphere was so much more congenial l booked another hostel for an upcoming Mexico trip.
    Of course I have to choose the hostel a bit carefully, but we definitely enjoyed the sense of camaraderie.

  2. Have stayed at many hostels in my life. More than 100 different ones I have to think. Certainly more than 75. (Hostelworld apparently deleted most of my stay history! Think I had at least 60 reviews on there) Used to always mix hostels with cheap hotels. For very long duration trips (multi-month to year+) – for most – hostels is a must. No one has enough points, and relatively few have enough $$ to live it up every night. 7 months straight was my longest non-stop trip. Constantly on the move every few days except for a couple of 2-week breaks or something like that. Hostels were great.

    At this stage of my life, stuck with limited short trips (No longer than 3 weeks) due to work and very specific travel purpose / objectives / places, as opposed to more general exploration / wandering – I’m not so interested in staying at hostels and meeting other people, though I did a few years ago in the Azores. But that was just for a night. In Svalbard a few years ago did stay in a private room with shared bath, but there were common areas where you mingled – so that was nice.

    With that said….I can see where you’re coming from. You can always dabble with a hostel every once in awhile even in places where you have enough points. It’s not all or nothing.

    For a new thrill – try traveling WITHOUT A CAMERA – AT ALL. In 2010 did a 4 month RTW trip and I did not bring any camera at all. No regrets – it was liberating, but I built up to it with shorter trips without a camera prior. Did buy souvenirs and post cards though.


      • – Realized I was remembering photographs sometimes more than the experience

        – Wondered how my perception of a place was altered when I focused on still images (Wasn’t into video then) / pretty places rather than just reality

        – Tired of worrying about getting electronics stolen/broken

        – Got tired of taking photographs (The 7-month journey, plus many others…weeks – months) and organizing them, staring at a computer screen

        – Realized photographs rob the present to satisfy the future

        – Wondered how the perception of travel would be different if I wasn’t always spending time trying to get a good snapshot

        – Was I traveling for myself, so to speak, or for others?

        – Can’t take photographs with you when you die / reincarnate…no sense in getting attached to such things.

        On earlier trips – often took 1 day out of every couple of weeks and toured without a camera. So…the idea was nothing new from that standpoint. But then I went a few days-week+ with no camera at all. Nor one on my cheap mobile at the time. (Current mobile – which I seldom carry with me – has no camera. Cheap feature phone) Then I went the full monty for a 2010 RTW trip!

        On one trip in 2012 – a few months..had no camera, nor computer! Relied on Net Cafes – a hassle, but the trip was well planned out and more hub-spoke type.

        – My recent trips I have used a camera. And I’ve gotten more into video. Nice Manfrotto tripod too. But in the not too distant future (5 years?) …I will leave the electronics behind again…but that is another story!

  3. Couchsurfing can be a way to meet people in new places. You don’t have to stay with hosts. You can request someone to show you around the place where they live, have a meal with you, a cup of coffee. Couchsurfing is about connecting people, not just free accommodations.

    My husband and I hosted for years. We had some great experiences with strangers who became friends.

  4. Hey Mark,
    Don’t you think solo travel becomes a function of age? Students stay at hostels; older adults should be staying at hotels.

    Sorry if I’ve offended anyone.

  5. On top of free walking tours Mike suggested, AirBnB Experiences is a great way to meet other solo travelers. I met some great people in co-working places too. They’re like hostels for grown ups with a bit more money. 🙂

  6. When international I actually make 20-30 great friends during every single solo trip I take (at least 10 trips a year). The trick is free walking tours and pub crawls. Even if you don’t want to “party”, when in pub crawls abroad, you meet so many great people to explore with. Best times of my life and I can’t recommend it enough. In the US it’s harder, but I also think that has to do more with how most Americans are…

    • A lot of places I go don’t have those free walking tours. And I loathe pub crawls. When walking tours are available, they’re great. Didn’t find any of those in much of Africa or the Middle East yet 🙁


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