As you know from Part 1 of this blog post, I had been feeling a bit lonely on the road due to the quiet nature of low season in New Zealand. There are only so many hikes you can do by yourself before a lush fern is just another a fern and that cool waterfall looks about as special as a leaking pipe under pressure. It wasn't that I didn't appreciate these things, but I missed appreciating them with somebody. My travel buddy, Noah, is always with me and makes for some great photos, but he's the quietest of them all. Luckily, as I mentioned at the end of the previous post, my final week in New Zealand turned out to be one of the best.
After returning from The Rock cruise, I checked into Mousetrap Backpackers. Not only did I find both my new bus friends, but I was welcomed by a wonderful staff and invited to join a hostel potluck dinner. Talk about a feast of food and a great group of people! In the days to follow, my hours in between writing were finally filled with a vibrancy and atmosphere I had sorely been missing. Surrounded by a truly amazing new group of friends, I flew in the sky while parasailing, cursed hills mountain biking, dodged paintballs army crawling, helped with group cooking, and laughed to the point of crying.
Nothing brings people together quite like good food.
Oh, and drank lots of beer while doing that group cooking. Can't leave that one out.
I was cooking with a German, just trying to fit in!
Sometimes these types of hostel friendships simply develop organically, and you just get lucky. This was partly true of my time in Paihia, as I have no doubt we would have made a great time for ourselves in a prison watching paint dry. However, the hostel also had a fantastic physical set up for these interactions and a wonderful staff. The house itself had 2 cozy lounges side by side, both with rustic warm fire places, comfy couches and eating areas. There was also a balcony veranda that ran the length of the building with beautiful sea views. It was perfect for relaxing over a cup of tea in the morning and discussing the day's plans. Like many hostels, there were quiet hours late at night, but there was also an area away from the private rooms where we could stay and talk til late. The activities we did together were fun, but these late night talks bonded us all more than anything and I miss them already.
I didn't say our talks were particularly refined.
The staff also helped this inclusive feeling by often being present in the lounges and interacting with the guests. I've been surprised how infrequently I've seen this at hostels in NZ. Staff are often very friendly, but not really interacting beyond the reception desk when a guest has a question. Of course you need alone time too, but one of the best parts of working in a hostel in meeting all of the people. I loved that the crew at the Mousetrap hung out with the guests, getting to know us and vice versa, even when not 'on the clock'.
One of the biggest influences, however, was each other. As I've long suspected, I found guest interactions really can make a difference on bed nights. I was only planning to stay a couple of nights in Paihia and then move on. However, on my second night I found myself sitting around a table with this awesome group of people laughing and sharing and creating community and said 'Man, I really don't want to leave'. When one of them said, 'Great, don't!', it was all I needed. I had been searching for a community hostel experience, and finally found it.
What made me laugh and become convinced of my 'group influence on bed nights' theory was that one by one, night after night, we would convince each other to stay just a bit longer. 'Oh come on, just get the bus another day!' 'No, don't leave tomorrow, we are all going to play paintball…and I want to shoot you!' I know at least 3 of the other people in our impromptu group of 7 stayed a few nights extra each. Not only did I have a wonderful recharge of my desire to travel, which was seriously beginning to fade at times, the hostel also directly benefitted from our small community we created together.
Hostel crew paintball outing. We're pretty badass.
While for a moment I was a little bummed I was going to miss out on seeing another famed area in the north as planned, I thought 'What is the point if I can't share it with somebody?' I realized I'd much rather enjoy more of the beauty of where I already was (Paihia is already stunning) surrounded by great people, than seek out something new, alone again. And what a better place to do it than a hostel? After all, what is a hostel if not a place for people to join together and create community? So many places say 'More than just a bed', and Mousetrap is definitely living that statement. Deciding to stay longer was a flashback to the original conversation I had with my bus buddy. He said "Yea, it's like the end of that movie, Into the Wild". I had excitedly responded, "Yes, exactly! 'Happiness is meant to be shared'", because, well, it is. Lucky for me, I work in an industry that lives that every day.
Have you noticed a positive correlation between guest interaction and bed nights? I'm sure others of you suspect it as I did, but has anyone actually seen it work? What other things do you do to create community? Sign in and comment below!
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