I travel often. I also rent out my apartment on Airbnb often. Usually, these things coincide quite nicely. This week though, I found myself with Airbnb guests at my door and no travel plans in sight. ‘No problem,’ I thought. ‘I’ll just stay at a hotel for the week and crash with friends on the weekend.’ But as I scrolled through hotels, starting downtown and eventually moving to those in the (gasp!) suburbs, it became apparent why people were renting my apartment. Hotels in Chicago are expensive!
This is how I ended up in a hostel for the week, something I swore I would never do again after spending almost a year in hostels around Asia. Not that there’s anything wrong with hostels. In fact, some of my favorite memories reside within the paper-thin walls of a hostel in Cambodia, and there’s a breakfast I still dream about at a hostel in Vietnam. It’s just that I’m getting too old for hostels, you see. I’ll be–it pains me to type this–27 in a week. Lots of you reading this are probably laughing, or worse rolling your eyes. I know 27 isn’t old in the scheme of life. But in the scheme of staying in a room with bunk beds and strangers, showering in a shared space while wearing sandals and toting your own shampoo, drinking cheap beer and talking about where you go to college–yeah, I’m too old for that.
Luckily for me, Freehand doesn’t feel like a hostel. It feels more like a luxury hotel. Sure, there are bunk beds, but compared to my $50 mattress and $40 bed frame from Amazon (let’s hope my Airbnb guests don’t read this!), they were downright plush. And the bathroom? Gorgeous emerald tile and brand new appliances–so much better than my decaying tile and rusty toilet at home. The lounge downstairs reminds me of the Soho House, all swanky and dark wood and international decorations. The bar serves drinks with ingredients you would not see at a normal hostel. Balsam amaro, 7-year umeboshi vinegar, roasted corn reduction… What?? Then there’s the cafe, which manages to be indie chic without being annoying. The cortado was the best I’ve had in Chicago, and the baristas were funny and friendly, not snooty and too-cool-for-customers like some in other hipster hot-spots.
Aside from the hostel (which also has hotel rooms available for a premium price), my little stranded-at-home turned staycation situation was improved by the people I met. A girl from France, a PR pro from Atlanta, an agronomist from Mexico, and an English teacher visiting from Hong Kong. (It should be noted that these people were all “old” too, and all expressed the same hesitation to stay in a hostel again. I’m starting to think of Freehand as more of a guesthouse for professionals). Anyway, as we chatted in the lounge over coffee one morning, I began to remember why hostels in Asia were so much fun in the first place, and as they asked me for recommendations on things to do in Chicago, I realized how much of my own city I have yet to see. There’s a site I love called Live Like You’re Traveling, and it inspires readers to turn their everyday lives into an adventure. I was reminded of it while learning about Tequila in Guadalajara from my new friend José, and while walking by the lake with Maria, my new companion from Paris.
At home, it’s so easy to get drained by work and routine. I go to the same coffee shop every day, work at the same table, run on the same path. I wear headphones and don’t talk to random people at the bar. When you’re traveling, routine doesn’t exist and strangers are your new best friends. Overbooking my Airbnb might just be the best thing to happen to me this month, as I’m looking at Chicago with new eyes and am excited to explore both famous sights and new neighborhoods. It also gave me the itch to be traveling again, meeting new people, seeing new things, living out of a backpack in a cramped space with total strangers. Will I stay at a hostel on my next trip? Questionable. Is it a Freehand? I might make other exceptions, the jury is still out. But I will definitely be more open to new people and situations, and will make it a practice to live like I’m traveling every day.
Have a great weekend!