For a long time, being in New Zealand at the start of the pandemic felt like being very far away from Covid. Then, that changed. Case numbers were still much lower than in many other countries. Still, NZ was quick to adopt measures to prevent a total outbreak. End of March 2020, it went into total lockdown. All businesses were closed except for essentials like supermarkets. You were not supposed to go out if it wasn’t necessary, and then keep your distance from other people. All that usual social distancing and lockdown stuff. For me, this meant spending lockdown in a hostel in Auckland. For most introverts, hostels are already the stuff of nightmares. Being stuck in one must have been hell, right?
Actually, no. Here’s why.
Hostel lockdown rules
Being in a hostel during lockdown was a completely different experience from being there at a „normal” time. That’s because they took a few measures to keep infection risk at a minimum. So let’s start by looking at those:
- Only two people per room
- All common areas were closed
- The kitchen was only available at specific times, to make sure it didn’t get too crowded
Making dorms private
The first point, obviously, is not going to get a complaint from me. I shared with a fellow German I’d already known for a few weeks, so we knew we’d get along. Though we were basically stuck together 24/7, it never became an issue. We’re luckily similar enough in temperament not to get on each other’s nerves. In that, it almost felt more like private accommodation than a hostel.
Not many entertainment options
Closed common areas meant you were confined to your room unless you went outside for a walk or some grocery shopping. Basically the only things you could still do. But no common rooms, TV room, hanging around the dining area or anything like that.
We made a point of going outside every day just to get away from the room. Often for long walks around the city that would take us several hours.
On top of that, the hostel staff did everything they could to make being stuck in the room more enjoyable. You could rent the board games and DVDs that would usually be stored in the common room (though you’d need a laptop that could play DVDs). They scoured the internet for an endless supply of quizzes and sudokus they printed out for us.
The manager even offered her dog for walks, or some cuddles, if you needed them. The pup was quickly dubbed our emotional support dog!
The only chance at social interaction
The kitchen quickly became our go-to gossip central. Even if we could only use it for brief times throughout the day, it meant seeing some faces other than your roommate. This was where news was exchanged about the pandemic and, in particular, about the state of the repatriation flights to Europe, where most guests were from.
While it was always nice to see others and occasionally people had interesting updates, I must admit the kitchen times could also get somewhat exhausting. If there was no news, it was just the same fears and complaints going around. It could drag on your nerves. Add to that the annoyances when some people didn’t stick to their allocated times, thus making the kitchen more crowded than it should be. Cooking could become quite stressful.
Still, most of the time we all bonded together over the shared experience and tried to cheer each other up.
The real hardship of spending lockdown in a hostel
The whole time, you were surrounded by travellers facing the choice of either going home now, abandoning their trip or staying, at the risk of becoming stuck. This could be hard on an emotional level.
Almost everyone was upset and scared. We didn’t know when we would make it home, as almost all regular flights were being cancelled. If we did go home, in the hope of resuming the trip later was precarious at best. Visas would have expired by then and no one knew back then how long the lockdowns would last.
Worse than being stuck was also the need to decide what to do in the face of all the uncertainty. For the longest time, I had planned to stay in NZ and wait it out. But eventually, I decided to go home when possible. I hated having to cut my trip short by about half a year, but if I didn’t take the chance to leave with a repatriation flight, I had no idea when I’d be able to get home again or how the situation would develop in NZ until then. This was a dilemma I shared with many others.
Lockdown in a hostel? It’s all about the experience
Lockdown in a hostel is not difficult because of the normal challenges of hostel life for introverts. Social distancing pretty much eliminates those. It was a challenge because of the many uncertainties all of us shared at that time, no matter where we spent the lockdown.
I’ll always look back on these two weeks in hostel lockdown as a very special time. It was difficult on so many levels. But there was also a camaraderie and friendships that were made the more intense by the experience.
Could you imagine spending lockdown in a hostel? Or have you maybe been stuck in a foreign country yourself? Share in the comments!