4 a.m. on Monday morning, and I am standing at the Clark and Lake Blue Line station waiting for the train to show up. My time has come to leave Chicago. The sun is not due to rise for at least two hours. I don’t know how I am functioning. I didn’t go to sleep at the hostel. The past four days have been nothing short of eventful.
Staying in a hostel is an experience and adventure in itself. I started choosing to stay in them when I travel last year. I was flying into Chicago for one night and didn’t want to spend money on a true hotel room. I found a hostel in Lincoln Park for the night and was hooked.
This trip, I was in Chicago for four days to attend Riot Fest and travel. I’d been to the Wicker Park neighborhood several times and fell in love. From the trendy cafes and boutiques to the views of the city and hipster-like 20-somethings like myself, it feels like home.
IHSP is a hostel immediately off of the CTA blue line stop at Damen. It is in the heart of Wicker Park. This was by far my best hostel experience to date. The energy and excitement that buzzed through me as I bounded down the stairs of the train station towards the hostel was indescribable.
From the moment I walked in until the time I left, it felt like home. The front staff included guys and ladies about my age, just a few years older. They were all friendly and welcoming and easy to talk to. I found myself hanging out in the front office late into the night talking to the night desk guys, Dan and Sam. As it got later, more of us, including those two, made our way to the rooftop lounge/deck type area to smoke, drink and just hangout.
That rooftop was THE meeting place for us travelers staying at IHSP. The first night, I went to The Academy Is’ secret show at Double Door and then came back to the hostel. My friend staying with me suggested we take out Dunkin Donuts onto the roof to eat and decompress from all the excitement of the day. So we did.
As we ran up the stairs, excited to get to the roof, we met a group already hanging out up there. Phillip was from Germany. I forget where everyone else from that first night was from. But over the course of the next few days, I met and hung out with guys and girls from England, Australia, Canada, Germany, the West Coast (haha, still in the states) and South America.
The second night, I was sitting in the living room writing in my travel journal and saw Dan walk by showing around a new guest. I saw that this boy was staying in the same mixed dorm room as I was. About 15 minutes later, Dan walks back in and starts playing the keyboard. Then a few more minutes later, that boy came back to sit down.
I beeline over to him to introduce myself and make conversation. It just comes to easily and I am soon sitting down trading stories with him. His name is Kevin. He is driving from his home in Canada to his new home and job in Toronto. He’s just staying the night. One by one, we attract a group of others staying in the hostel. First, it is Jack from England. Then it is Elana from the West Coast. Next comes Patrik from Australia. Then Imogen from England joins us with her friend. Each person just came up and asked to join us. None of us knew each other before this pow wow happened.
Five of us mutually decide to go grab drinks and dinner together. Kevin is very keen on my idea of taking alcohol up to the rooftop after dinner too. We just adventure out into the crisp, but wet Chicago night. It is already almost 11 p.m. We find an Irish Pub down the street. Then we rush into the Walgreen’s at about midnight to get alcohol.
After a lot of food, drinks and laughter, our group makes the way up to the roof. We sit around a table and drink. We talk. We watch as this drunk, bald, fat middle-aged man jams out to his hardrock music. We talk about why we are in Chicago and what our homes are like. It feels like a family. The night is clear and stars are shining over our heads. Everyone shares their alcohol and snacks. We share stories. The only thing missing is a campfire. I’m in my pajamas and a flannel.
Sam and Dan come up with their drunk friend, Corey. He is smashed and entertains us. He falls over. We throw food into his mouth. He blabbers on about nothing in particular. Phillip, my Germany friend, comes up and finds us. He joins.
I could say so much more about Chicago and the hostel. But THIS- these stories and experiences are what a hostel stay should be like. You are supposed to make new friends and share experiences over drinks. You are supposed to explore the neighborhood and take photos with these strangers. Traveling has a beautiful way of bringing people together. It is invaluable.