Lessons I Learnt Working in a Hostel in Montreal, My Home City

When I dream of travelling, I think about faraway towns, unrecognizable surroundings and people I have never met before. I dream of somewhere that will inspire me to create, learn and grow. Most of all, I dream about getting as far away from where I am now as possible. While the sentiment of wanting to leave home makes me feel a bit like an angsty suburban teenager, which I very much once was, I believe it’s inevitable for wherever you live to lose its novelty. 

I grew up in a small town, close enough to Montreal to explore it every weekend, but far enough that I could spend years visiting, without it losing its magic. Sick and tired of my own town, I’d make the journey out to Montreal to spend hours strolling through the quaint Plateau area, incredible downtown buildings and beautiful Mount Royal. 

16-year-old me loving all things Montreal from the view at Mount Royal to the metro system.

If you asked a 16-year-old me why my biggest dream in the world was to travel it was because I felt I knew everyone and everything where I lived. Sure I was a cocky teenager, but I think that sentiment settles in at every age, no matter how small where you live is. I wanted something new and for a very long time, Montreal provided me with that. Until eventually that novelty wore off. Though it took me moving to a new city to understand, that initial novelty will wear off everywhere. It’s not Montreal’s fault, I just needed an attitude shift. 

Making my way back to Montreal

Last summer my partner and I wanted to move out together and Montreal became one of the cities in the running. However, as my boyfriend is a Toronto native, who are kind of bred to believe Toronto rules over Montreal, he needed some convincing. We embarked on a two-month work exchange at a hostel in Old Montreal, which would give us the time to see the city and find an apartment if we decided we wanted to stay. Now, I had the pressure of showing him the beauty of Montreal, which I had kind of forgotten about myself.

Old Montreal 

Though Old Montreal is probably the one place every tourist has visited in the city, I had really only been there a handful of times. It really never felt like a place that was worth my time, bustling with tourists and old buildings where only the outside walls were actually historic, hiding renovated workspaces within. Ironically, it became the perfect place for me to fall back in love with a city that I thought I knew.

One of the best and worst things about staying at a hostel anywhere is you almost never have alone time. This basically means you’re always meeting new people or going on adventures which I think together help contribute to any great trip. We worked around 20 hours a week in the hostel in exchange for a warm bed and food, but that only adds to the travel experience. Most hostel work allows you to meet so many new people you wouldn’t meet if you weren’t working behind the front desk or the person in charge of the kitchen that day. 

Lessons learned inside the hostel

When I was talking to a colleague who was born and raised in Paris about how much I longed to visit his home city, he replied with “it’s really not worth your time.” I think it’s so easy to forget how desirable your city can be to anybody who doesn’t live there, this was definitely a lesson I was taught once again in the hostel. One of my favourite things about hostels anywhere is that there are people from all over the world. People from countries I had visited and those from countries I could only dream about visiting, and they were all choosing to be in my hometown. 

My partner and I in the front, amongst friends met at the hostel, Auberge St Paul.

When travelling it can sometimes feel easier to meet new people than your regular life, especially while staying at a hostel. Everyone is looking to meet friends, looking to exchange stories and to go on adventures. It’s a huge part of what I love about travelling. Yet, I found all of these people looking for the same things in my city. There are also more than just tourists to meet with similar interests. Montreal is a city with 1.78 million people and a third of those people are immigrants and expats. People looking to meet new friends, exchange stories and go on adventures. 

While travelling elsewhere I thought it was incredible that I could meet friends literally by just going outside, going to the beach, going to live music, even on the bus. But when I really consider it, I didn’t meet these people because I was travelling, I met them because I was going out and I was open to meeting people. If I am looking to meet new people, there are bound to be other people looking for the same thing if I’m just willing to be as much out of my comfort zone as I am while I am travelling. 

I think it becomes easy to get bored as the novelty wears off wherever you live. Staying at the hostel made me realize how many people there are to meet within the confines of my own city. It also helped me realize how many people are choosing to come to visit and live in my hometown and I never want to lose that magic that they feel being in Montreal again. 

Lessons learned outside the hostel

During our time out of the hostel, we’d go on day-long walking trips exploring the little islands nearby, bike rides along the canal and trying all the restaurants trying to find our favourites. We’d end every adventure going for ice cream at the same place, Cacao 70, a shop we found on one of our first days. We soon became regulars and it was something so simple but indulgent that it made us feel so much like we were on vacation. 

There was this one restaurant, Jardin Nelson, that I remembered dreaming about eating at when I was a kid. It’s an upscale spot, more expensive than our normal budget, that looks like it’s out of a fairy tale. Previously, I never would have thought about indulging or treating myself, but we went to eat there without thinking about it because that’s the type of place you visit while travelling. This really made me start to consider why I love travelling so much. 

I started to realize I treat myself so differently when I’m travelling. I am more willing to spend money, way more open to conversations, I spend more time away from home. I keep my eyes open, looking around at everything on walks. And so I have to ask, do I feel happier when I travel because I’m somewhere else, or is it because I am treating myself, meeting more people, more creative and inspired. All of this can be done, no matter where I am. 

Part of the reason I get so much out of travel is that I am spending time, money and attention to make sure I get something out of it. Even though Old Montreal is only a twenty-minute walk from where I live now it still feels like a warm and fuzzy travel location. Somewhere I feel nostalgic about visiting as if I had never been there or I can’t walk over there any day. It’s not that Old Montreal has the novelty that my faraway dream cities, it’s just solely how I acted while I was there. 

Beyond the hostel

We went to the hostel unsure if we were going to choose Montreal to move to, but we figured we’d stay and if we liked it we’d find an apartment. I don’t know if I showed my boyfriend the best version of my city or if I played the proper tourist, but I can tell you we are still here, so it couldn’t have been that bad. 

That being said, now that we are living in our place it can be hard to apply lessons I thought I’d never forget from the hostel. I think this is because at home I have to sometimes force myself to get out since it’s easy to get too comfortable. Instead of planning travel, I am trying to plan trips around my city, realizing there will always be so much I don’t know about Montreal. 

You can so quickly find “your” places, people, routines when travel is all about being outside of your comfort zone and having to rediscover those things. But truthfully discomfort is never that far away. It may just be a town over, or at a new restaurant, new job, it could take one new person to show you a new world within a city you think you know every corner of. 

Montreal is a city that has more festivals than weeks in the year. Festivals that center around art, religions, countries, restaurants, places I can’t discover without attending just one of these. I think a huge reason as to why I love travel is because I have no choice but to be out of my comfort zone. I am more creative, more confident and closer to the person I want to be when I am travelling. That all being said, I now know it doesn’t take all that much and I don’t have to go too far to get there.

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