Every year, roughly 80,000 travelers from at least ninety countries pass through the doors of HI New York City, the largest hostel in the Americas. Each week, Narratively’s Daniel Krieger will spend a few hours in the landmarked building on New York’s Upper West Side, listening to their stories for our Hostel People series.

Melissa Cretin, 38, New Orleans

Why did you come to New York? To see my daughter, Madeline, who flew in from New Orleans. I’ve been living at an ashram in Virginia, and part of the reason for that is that my husband and I got separated.

HI New York City
HI New York City

Eight months ago, I had color in my hair and Botox and a Range Rover. But now I’m done with the American idea of success that’s shoved down your throat, and I’m doing a hard reset. I played that game, but it was so empty in the end. So I sold my car and went to an ashram in Charlottesville called Yogaville. I got my spiritual name from the guru recently. It’s Muktidevi, which means “goddess of liberation.”

During the time I’ve been there, we decided to get a divorce. It sounds grim, but it’s okay. It’s amicable. We’re following a book called “Conscious Uncoupling.”

This year has been an awakening for me. I got pregnant at twenty, and it took me till now to be able to do what I want. I’m being appropriately selfish.

Why a hostel? I love the atmosphere. And I wanted to expose Madeline, who’s seventeen, to what backpackers are doing and what the vibe feels like in a hostel. I’m excited that she’s been able to witness other young people coming to a foreign land and letting their plans unfold. I think she can now visualize herself doing something like that. She’s been raised in an affluent town outside New Orleans in a very small bubble. I was raised there, too, but I’ve had the chance to travel. I want to expose her to different options before plowing into college and getting on a traditional path that we are socialized to think is the only path.

How did you get into yoga?
I started practicing after Hurricane Katrina eleven years ago. I was getting ready to start medical school and Tulane University had to cancel the fall semester. That put me on a different path. It devastated our city. We had no electricity for months. I had PTSD pretty significantly. Most of us did. I started running for the first time in my life – ten miles a day on a treadmill, which led to an injury, which led to a yoga class where everything inside me just went still and quiet. I thought, ‘this is how people must feel when they leave church.’ A few years later, I went to a yoga-teacher school. It was really a blessing in disguise that I didn’t drop a quarter-million dollars on an allopathic medicine degree because I got exposed to holistic nutrition and Ayurveda and other modalities that are actually more effective.

What was the highlight of New York? Navigating the subway has been an empowering part of this trip. To get on the right one that’s going in the right direction is exciting. Last night, we were waiting for the uptown B train at 59th Street, and there was this gentleman who started talking to us and said he’d been waiting for the B train for 25 minutes. As it turned out, he was staying at this hostel. (He’s from Paris; his name is Julian.) I told him we were going to find our way to the 1 train, and he followed us. In an instant, we went from being tourists to being locals guiding a tourist because we knew where we were going, and we were able to get him there. We talked a lot about the benefits of meditation, and he left inspired to find a meditation teacher when he goes back to France. It was fun to be able to help someone else get where they’re going.

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Come back to Narratively next Wednesday for more Hostel People.

This interview has been edited and condensed. HI NYC management has granted permission for this project, but plays no role in shaping the stories and has no affiliation with Narratively.

Daniel Krieger

Daniel Krieger, a contributing editor at Narratively, is a freelance journalist in New York. He contributes to The New York Times and his work has also appeared in Fast Company, Wired, Slate, Salon, and New York magazine.