Why We Hostel: Sue Schaffner

22 December 2015

toy car sitting on a map

After years of being a tourist, I became a traveler at the Venice Santa Lucia Train Station. It was not that I had not been on family vacations or taken a train to a new destination. I had even spent the past six months living on a kibbutz in Israel, touring the Holy Land, with a jaunt down to Egypt. It seemed, however, those were just preludes to the defining moment of my lifelong passion for travel. The November in Venice was cold and many Venetians were staying indoors, warming their hands with their cappuccinos. The hostel in Venice was quite empty, leaving me feeling alone in the big world. After a few days, I decided to move on - and that choice changed my life. With Eurail pass in hand, and no plans, I arrived at the Santa Lucia Train Station. The terminal had a destination board with many trains leaving for faraway lands. I saw trains that could take me to Paris, Zurich, or Munich. The trains were frequent, and the possibilities endless. Each choice would bring a different adventure and change my life in unexpected ways. It is like the butterfly effect of the chaos theory. A small change in one place can result in a large difference later. The train to Paris would mean Napoleons and the Louvre – perhaps it would mean that I would now be working in a Parisian bakery or at an art museum. Certainly, it would be beer and brats if I went to Munich from Venice. What would my life be then? Would I have become a teacher, an astronomer, a mother of three? Instead, I took the train into Austria, where I found people who could pronounce my name (in fact my last name was on every tram). I ate my first, but not my last, mozartkugel, and I spent Thanksgiving with people in Salzburg, with fellow travelers I met in the hostel. They were Canadian, but spent my American holiday with my traditions, well close - we had chicken and spatzel, and it was a wonderful occasion. A few years later, a friend of mine charted my horoscope. When she was interpreting the results, she asked if I had traveled yet. At the time I answered, “Yes, I have done my travels.” How little did I realize that my life would revolve around travel, and, concurrently, hostelling, and creating intercultural understanding that I attribute to a last minute decision in the train station in Venice. I still get chills when I am hostelling and see a destination board. My mind wanders to the endless possibilities I have yet to encounter.