The hostel was having a mixer that night. We had seen the signs advertising happy hour and the first free rum and coke offered, and toyed with the idea of ‘stopping by’ after dinner. Already the young backpackers lounging in the lobby, all looking sun kissed and like they had been places, had more of a party vibe than our previous stays.
I wasn’t really sure if I felt like being social. It felt so much easier to just grab an ice cream with Lindsey and retreat to our room. We justified the early night in, reassuring each other that ‘we were really exhausted’ and ‘kinda over the party scene.’ But really, my curiosity was just overpowered by some of that elementary school anxiety; no matter how old you get, there’s something intimidating about interacting with complete strangers in an unknown setting.
We pushed through the crowd in the lobby to get to our room, everyone laughing and engaged in animated conversation. My arm was grabbed right as we reached the end of the tunnel, and one of the employees shouted over the music that there was one minute left of the free drink hour. He motioned to the dispenser of rum and coke, which had exactly enough of the concoction left for two more people. Lindsey and I glanced at each other, shrugged, and took the last two glasses as he announced over a microphone that the hour was over.
We sat down at the corner of a table, removed from the rest of the crowd, and attempted to look busy in a game of Jenga. It was one of those versions where the blocks have obscene dares written on them. After Lindsey refused to flash the bartender (rightly so), she had to down her drink in compensation. She went to the bar to retrieve another, leaving me alone with my awkwardness and naughty jenga blocks. But I refused to look at my phone or follow her in a buddying up fashion. The girls next to me, conversing wildly in accented English, looked nice enough. I leaned over and asked if they were going out later.
They didn’t hear me over the music.
I glanced around. No one seemed to have seen my failed attempt. I slid over a seat and repeated myself.
One girl turned towards me with brows furrowed, yelling,
‘What did you say!?’
This was going really well as you can see.
I figured it would be more embarrassing to abruptly stand up and shuffle away, so I tried yelling my question once more. This time, her face lit up with understanding. The other two girls turned to face me as well. We talked immediately about how bad our drinks were, as it was the first thing in common. They asked to join in our Jenga game, and were actually eager to carry through with the mischievous dares. Lindsey came back and we shouted to them about Maine and our childhood friendship over the Justin Bieber playing through the speakers. Us, the two Americans, and three girls from Germany, France, and Bolivia, spent the rest of the night chatting about where we’ve been, where we dream to go, stories about home and on the road. We went out dancing at a local club and walked back together, making plans for the beach the next day. It was one of the highlights of my trip, and so simple and easy. We just had to take that first step.
Although that glass of alcohol was one of the worst things I’ve ever tasted (and I drank my fair share in college), the act of accepting it changed up my perspective on this journey. And no, that’s not advice to accept drinks from strangers. It was simply a small action that represented a bigger picture. A bigger picture about saying yes more. We are all creatures of habit. I find that I have to keep reminding myself to push past these limitations of what feels the easiest and most comfortable.
Of course, there are many factors I can’t control, but I do have power over whether I take the free cooking class, or instead scroll through Facebook on the free WiFi.
Do I take the sleeper train for the local experience, or indulge in the comfort of a plane for a higher price?
Wake up for the sunrise, or sleep in?
Attempt to use the language, or reiterate my English?
Street food or restaurant? Tour or figure it out ourselves?
I know it’s about balance, and I’ve also come to know that your travel experience is like a web spun by the choices you make.
So, do I try to join in, or stay in my room?
Do I drink the free rum and coke?