“That’s the trouble with you American girls,” said the naked man standing two feet away from me. “You’re all so prude.”
I nervously peered toward the door, silently begging my husband to hurry up and come back into the room. “It’s ok, it’s ok. It’s not my wish to make you uncomfortable. I’ll put my clothes back on.”
And thus began my initiation into the wild and crazy world of international hosteling. My husband and I had just sold or given away everything we owned and bought one way tickets to Asia.
Our boredom with our previous life had driven us to desperation and we decided it was far better to start fresh, with open minds.
An open mind is a great thing, but I wasn’t quite sure my mind was THIS open.
We had just checked into our first hostel, a small, clean spot on Lavender Street in Singapore. I had spent the last few days telling my husband how much fun hosteling could be. I was an experienced hosteler, you see. I had spent a summer hosteling in Europe and I had the time of my life. Just one problem. My previous experience had included traveling with about 30 other American students.
While we had shared hostel rooms with strangers, the rooms were primarily made up of people that I knew. I had also spent some time hosteling through France solo, but had made a point to choose female-only rooms. This was my first taste of a co-ed hostel room.
My husband and I had checked in at the front desk of the hostel and decided it’d be more fun to meet people than to have our own private room. Co-ed room it was!
We walked in, dropped off our bags, and as I settled in with my travel journal, he went off to shower. A few minutes later, in came “the German.” We exchanged a few pleasantries about our various travel intentions.
I told him we were unemployed and looking forward to the trip of a lifetime. He told me had just broken up with his girlfriend and decided to take off on a trip during his summer break from university to find himself. All was going well, until I heard some rustling and peered over at him. He was completely naked, sifting through his backpack. Presumably in search of clothing.
“Oh! Oh my gosh! Do you want me to give you a minute?! I can step outside,” I stammered, my cheeks hot and my palms sweaty. That’s when he informed me that “American girls were so prude.” And he put his clothes back on.
He wasn’t wrong. I was absolutely unprepared to be confronted with stark nakedness. To be honest, I didn’t think having a guy changing in front of me was all that weird. I had spent a ton of time in theater and at the pool and it really wasn’t that big of deal. I had just never been around someone who was so open about it. I was used to the whole “swimmer’s deck change” process. You know, guys changing while mostly being covered.
It was pretty shocking, but you know what? I got over it.
And here’s the thing – my first awkward experience with international hostelling has become part of my experience. Part of my story. That’s the thing with travel – what makes us uncomfortable in the moment makes for funny recollections in the future. My husband and I still laugh at the memory of “the naked German.”