“Is that your Dad?” The guy on the bunk above was asking while dangling his head between the ladder rungs. As his face reddened with the gravitational pull of blood, mine flushed with the potential increasing embarrassment that, at the ripe old age of 22, I was indeed travelling with a parent. I mentally prepared myself for secondary school jeers.
Meanwhile, Dad had charged back into the eight-bed dormitory, loudly proclaiming that it most inconvenient that the toilets were some way down the hallway. As he stared at his allotted, no-expense-spared mattress, he proceeded to question the ins and outs of hostelling.
And so, this is how my backpacking adventure with my Dad began.
For many travellers, hostelling is one of the best ways to explore a new territory: it's cheap, easy and a great environment to meet people and exchange classic traveller's tales. Of course, there is the matter of frivolously cleaned bed sheets, cramped conditions and the often raucous affair of bed time light switch etiquette.
In my experience, hostels are littered with hungover travellers, draped over the common room furniture having doggedly checked out far earlier than their swimming heads would like. Hell, I've even been (un)lucky enough to share a room with 28 people, with inches to spare between bunk beds and pervading bodily odour.
Rest assured, not all budget accommodation is like that.
Back in Wales, my dad and I had driven for miles along single-track trails, interrupted only by puddles and swathes of wild garlic, cow parsley and windswept trees. On arrival, we were greeted with utter silence. It was something of an enigma; never had I stood in a hostel so quiet.
There wasn't even an empty beer can or a single lonesome sock in sight.
Wary of the dead air, we had quickly set about hiking. We strolled under old stone bridges, past blond beaches and through fields of galloping horses, compacting the red volcanic earth firmly into our boots. By the time we had looped back, things at the hostel had comparatively 'livened up;' the shutters had been drawn, revealing a Welshmen framed by a wall of gaudy leaflets.
We checked in and in doing so, Dad handled the situation like he'd been backpacking all his life, chatting about travelling in Thailand. I stopped to ponder for a moment; Dad could quite easily fit into the backpacking lifestyle, after all, he already owns a rucksack, a Chang beer t-shirt and pair of patchwork hareem trousers. That's omitting to mention his collection of flip-flops and prayer beads.
What more do you need to be a backpacker?
My contemplating was interrupted with Dad's spreading expression of mild astonishment. Only then did I realise he was staring at an unmade bed, bewildered by the sheets neatly folded on the pillow. Admittedly, he took to the task very well, although couldn't help but comment on the lack of free toiletries and towels.
When Dad left the room is search of a towel, it was then that the red-faced hiker asked the dreaded question. The response I got was nothing more than a non-committal chuckle. That was it. He simply rolled back into his bed and continued to read a guide book on Welsh walks.
There are a lot of things that don't work in the travel realm: culture and Magaluf, Mogadishu and family travel.... I'm sure plenty of people would lump backpacking with their father into the same no-go category. But I have to disagree.
I felt like I had shared a little fragment of my life and he now understood a little better what my travels consist of. The great news is that now Dad has had a taster of hostelling, I won't be forced to hang a GPS tracker around my neck next time I head out into the world of wayfaring...
I foresaw some odd looks as my daughter and I determined to share a Pembrokeshire backpacking trip. Would they think I was an old man chasing a long gone youth with a new blonde beauty? Still, you can’t live your life in the shadow of cynics; the opportunity to spend one-on-one time with my daughter was irresistible.
Of course I hadn’t entirely reckoned on the DIY bed making, the toilets that were just about within stumbling night-time reach and sleeping cheek by jowl with strangers. In the event, it was a small price to pay and I did quite enjoy the back-to-basics experience. The walking, chatting and beer drinking all in the course of a walk along a spectacular coastline was wonderful.
Regardless, I won't be letting my daughter set off on another gap-year without some form of satellite tracking chip, even if I have to hide it in her backpack...
Want to find out more about walking, hiking and hostelling in Wales? Discover all Wales has to offer visitors here
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