Sharing A Room With Strangers

New Bunk Bed, with sheets
Image by goldberg via Flickr

I recently visited Vancouver, a popular city in the summer, and decided to save a little cash by staying — as I had before — in one of the city’s three hostels. I chose the downtown one, set on a pretty and quiet street filled with tall trees and upscale apartment towers. The beach and waterfront was a few blocks away.

People often think of staying in a hostel, sharing a room with people who might (gasp!) snore or smell funny or stagger in at 4:00 a.m. (most likely), as something only 20-somethings do, and only in far-away places like Prague or Beijng.

I’ve stayed in hostels — way past the age of 20 — in Las Vegas, Washington, D.C., Ottawa and Baltimore; Ottawa’s is legendary, set in the thick stone walls of a former prison.

In many hostels, anyone can stay as long as they have government-issued photo ID and the money; in Vancouver, this was $38 for a room shared with three other women, all strangers, in four bunkbeds. There was a sink in the room, a moveable fan (no AC) and four hopelessly small lockers.

Vancouver that week was brutally hot and humid. There was a shared set of showers and toilets, several of which were out of order.

Why on earth would a sane adult choose to share space with people they’ve never met?

I’d rather go cheap than sit at home never traveling.

And, having attended summer camp ages 8 to 17 for eight weeks at a stretch, and boarding school ages 8 to 13, I’m used to sharing a room with people I don’t know.

At the hostel, two of my roomies were young European girls, one of whom had just moved from a small town in Germany, alone, to work for six months on a visa in Canada, then in L.A. Within minutes of meeting, her, I liked her enough to make an introduction to a young friend of mine in L.A. and one in Vancouver — instantly finding her two new, nice contacts.

I enjoyed meeting her, enjoyed remembering the terror/excitement of moving overseas for a long time in your youth, (I moved to Paris for eight months when I was 25), and openly admired her chutzpah for so doing.

I was an only child, and had never had to share a room at home.

Now, it seems pretty normal.

Here’s Maureen Dowd in The New York Times:

The serendipity of ending up with roommates that you like, despite your differences, or can’t stand, despite your similarities, or grow to like, despite your reservations, is an experience that toughens you up and broadens you out for the rest of life.

So I was dubious when I read in The Wall Street Journal last week that students are relying more on online roommate matching services to avoid getting paired with strangers or peers with different political views, study habits and messiness quotients.

A University of Florida official told The Journal that a quarter of incoming freshmen signed up to a Facebook application called RoomBug to seek out a roommate they thought would be more compatible than a random selection.

Other students are using URoomSurf. It makes matches with questions like these: How often do you shower? How neat are you? How outgoing are you? What’s your study/party balance? Is it O.K. for your roommate to use your belongings?

…But co-habiting with snarly and moody roomies prepared me for the working world, where people can be outlandishly cantankerous over small stuff.

So true!

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6 thoughts on “Sharing A Room With Strangers

  1. Suzanna

    Having been in the U.S. Navy for many years, I’ve had to share very tiny spaces with a LOT of women for months on end, and barracks rooms with many roomates as well. It does teach you how to get along with strangers, that’s for certain, and how to respect each other’s space, what little there is of it in berthing on a destroyer.

    I will say this though, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I loved every minute of it looking back; even the disagreements seem like small specks compared to the fun we all had.

  2. It also teaches you how little space any of us really needs. If you enjoy your roomies, you’re doing well. If there’s a lot of friction, it’s tough. I remember radio wars with my roomie in eighth grade — mine being the loudest was, of course, the one that got confiscated!

    One of the things I enjoy most about the sweetie is all the pillow talk, probably something I learned to enjoy sharing rooms all those years.

  3. I think this is a great way to see the world when you’re young. What “young” is may vary, but basically – if you can sleep well and have no special needs, this works well and provides lots of freedom and sometimes interesting encounters.

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