RIGHT OUTSIDE THE SLIDING DOOR of my hostel cabana in Puerto Escondido, Mexico, three young ladies and a dude with tribal tattoos all the way down his back wade around the pool, chat, and laugh. On the other side of the cabana, more young travelers are playing billiards, listening to music, and bantering about. At night the laughter increases and the additional sounds of clinking beer bottles and a blender concocting who-knows-what mixes with the revelry.
While all this is going on around me, I sit on the living room couch tapping on a keyboard. I’ve been here for three of five nights now, have seen people come and go and, other than through recognition of accents, have no idea where most of the guests are from.
It’s not like I’m a snob; I don’t go out of my way to avoid anyone. In passing I generally try to make eye contact and say “hi.” It’s just that I don’t have any desire to mingle. It’s a combination of things I guess. I’m literally old enough to be most of these travelers’ father (a young father maybe, but still disturbing).
I know — like Aaliyah said — that age ain’t nothing but a number, but from what I hear through the sliding door, I have nothing to add to anything being said. When the answer to any question is “let’s go get some pot!” I fail to see common ground.
I’m also here under very different circumstances. Most are here during Semana Santa to party. I came to just chill out and, to be frank, use the available wifi. It’s a sort of writer’s retreat for me, just with a lot of distractions.
The accommodations certainly don’t force me to converse with anyone else either. Everything I need is right here in my cabana: en-suite bathroom, full kitchen, a coffee table, and a TV showing lots of English movies. I leave to go to the beach, eat, or pick up some groceries, and have a quick dip in the pool. Aside from that, everyone can take solace in the surety that I’ll be right here when they look over, ass planted firmly on the couch.
I’m not always like this. Some of my best friendships were made on the road, but sometimes it happens. The question is: Is it OK?
I can’t help but feel a little guilty. I should be out there, asking and answering the fail-safe questions, “where you from?” and “where have you been?” I should be cheers-ing with a Corona in my hand, pocketing the 8-ball, and making witty jokes in front of the communal television.
There is always some sort of stigma attached to the loner. “What’s wrong with him?”; “I feel sorry for her”; “Why isn’t he drinking and partying with us?” But maybe there’s nothing at all wrong with him. Maybe she prefers to be alone. And maybe his dad’s an abusive alcoholic.
I don’t often stay in hostels, but in the past I’ve usually made more of an effort to fit in with the crowd when I have. Being on this side of the fence opens up a new perspective: There is absolutely nothing wrong with being the introverted traveler. [Editor’s note: This post was published in its original form here.]