(I consider this a follow-up to my Tourist. vs. Traveler vs. Vacationer post.)
Back in 2004, on my first trip to Western and Central Europe, I stayed at hostels. CouchSurfing didn’t exist at that time and hospitality exchange websites were not in abundance.
In 2007, I CouchSurfed for the first time, in Istanbul and it greatly changed my perspective on traveling. Since then, I have avoided staying at hostels, not just for the expense, but because of the bubble.
A lot of hostels have a feeling that are entirely different from the city in which they reside. You walk in and instead of the low-rent toilets and showers that you’d find elsewhere, you are greeted with a first-world level of service and accommodation. Also, you end up surrounded by people like you, English-speaking (to whatever extent) people from other countries. Maybe you talk to some locals that work at the front desk, but how much time can they really offer?
Even if you don’t want to stay with someone, sites like CouchSurfing offer the opportunity to just meet up for “Coffee or a drink”. I’ve had life-changing experiences with people that I walked around with for a few hours.
I am not generally judgmental of how people choose to live their lives. What bothers me is inaccurate perception. If you are out to see museums or nature or something specific, I can respect the fact that you aren’t necessarily there for the people. But if part of your desired travel experience has to do with culture, how much of that are you getting by being surrounded by similars and only having cursory interactions with locals?
Can you defend bouncing from city-to-city, staying at hostels, if one of your travel goals is local culture?