For the past three months, I’ve been living in hostels. The Free Dictionary defines a hostel as:
2. An inn; a hotel
Yup, that’s where I live. I don’t have a permanent home in Australia.
Does it suck to not have my own space? Yea, kinda.
Is it hard to sleep when everyone is coming back and waking up at different times? Sometimes.
Do I ever get any privacy? Hardly.
Do I have a closet for my clothes? Nope; I roll them up and put them in my suitcase. If I know I need a shirt for work or something, I’ll hang it in the shower and hope the heat/steam gets the wrinkles out. I hardly ever ironed at home anyway.
Is there somewhere to lock up my belongings? Yes, I have a big locker where I keep my passport, wallet, laptop, and other valuables that I lock with a password-protected lock that I brought with me from home. I prefer this over a key lock because I don’t have to worry about losing the key.
What about food? There are kitchens in almost every hostel and places to keep your food. You are also given or in some places rent kitchen necessities like plates, bowls, cutlery, cups, pots, etc. Some kitchens are better than others, but almost all have shelf space and fridge space where you label your belongings and trust that no one is going to touch your food. So far, the only thing that has been taken from me is some bread and a jar of peanut butter. It was a brand new jar. And I love my peanut butter. In the grand scheme of things, though, it really wasn’t a big deal. I was hurt that someone would take my stuff, but I didn’t do much differently afterward except shove my shelf stuff further out of sight.
Aside from the kitchen, one way to feel more comfortable and worry less about getting your stuff stolen is to get to know the other people in your room. If you’re friendly, you’re probably less likely to get stuff stolen from you. Plus, most people aren’t stealing from each other; backpackers are pretty respectful. I used to lock my suitcase every time I got done getting my clothes out. Now I realize that no one wants to steal my underwear, so I no longer take that precaution. I live out of my suitcase but I tend to keep a messy room at home, so at least now my things are contained!
When I arrived in Australia, I had one week booked at the Space Hotel in Melbourne. After one week, I booked another, and then another. I lived there for a total of three weeks. I LOVE that hostel. It’s gorgeous. This is the view from the roof:
It has a hot tub on the roof. It has a movie room with loungey movie theater seats. This is no ordinary hostel… it’s real fancy. My first friends in Australia were made at Space, but I left because it was expensive: for a month, I would have paid more to live in a six-bed female dorm than at my apartment in Philly.
My next “home” was United Backpackers in Melbourne. I lived there for two and a half weeks. The location was great, I had a friend that had moved over there from Space, and it was cheaper, but I was living in a twelve-bed female dorm. When I told people this, they were shocked that I had eleven roommates. I will admit that it was a bit louder than Space as my bed was also near the door, but it wasn’t much of an issue. There was a cool movie room there as well, and I hardly spent any time in my bedroom. United has tons of free food and other fun events to get people down to the bar, so I had a really good time there. Melbourne is also a big, exciting city, so there are lots of reasons to be out instead of in your twelve-person bedroom. I wasn’t working much at the time that I was living there, so I hardly ever came home to go to bed early. If you do need sleep and are concerned about the noise in a hostel, though, remember that with hostel living, earplugs are your best friend. If you’re a light sleeper like me, an eye mask is also essential.
After Melbourne, I flew to Cairns on the east coast of Queensland to start my trip: one month of travel down the coast. I stayed in seven different hostels between Cairns and Brisbane. Some were really nice but some weren’t. I stayed in female dorms, mixed dorms, en-suites, four person dorms, six, eight, twelve, etc. I even got lucky one night when all my roommates had gone and I had a six person room to myself. That was my only night alone in three months.
At my eighth east coast hostel, I decided I would stay a little while to work and save before continuing my journey. I didn’t have that plan when I arrived… I only had two nights booked at Bunk Backpackers in Brisbane. Once I was here, I extended my stay for a week and then I made the biggest commitment I had made so far in Australia: I booked three weeks upfront. It saved me $117 AUD to book three weeks instead of continuing to book week by week. It was hard, not so much to cough up the money, but to make a three-week commitment to any one place. Three weeks? That felt like nothing in the office world back home, but here, in nomad life, it seemed like an eternity. Do you know how many places I could see in 3 weeks?! It’s unbelievable!
Anyway, now, almost one month into living in Brisbane, I am about to book three more weeks because I’m working here and have some plans (for once) that I’m saving for. I actually did look for an apartment so that I could get a chance to take a break from living in an eight-bed dorm and have my own space, but shockingly enough, realtors don’t seem to want to rent to someone who can’t commit more than two months to an apartment. I found one that was perfect, but they needed a six month commitment. Six months? HA. I had a hard enough time with 3 weeks. Anyway, there was my decision made for me: I’m staying in the hostel.
If you’re looking to do this type of travel and plan to stay somewhere for awhile, it’s best to find a place where there are other long-term guests, because it’s hard to meet new people every day that are going to leave a few days later. It was fine when I was one of the people leaving too, but when you’re staying and the other people leave, it’s just sad. And vise versa: I stayed in a small hostel for two nights during my trip and everyone there was long-term but me. I felt like a total outcast. I was “just passing through” as they said, and they didn’t seem too interested in getting to know me. I try not to act that way toward people now that I’m the long-term person, but I understand how they felt: you put a lot of energy into meeting people, and it can be exhausting. Sometimes I don’t feel like meeting someone and partying with them for a night when they’ll be gone the next day.
If you can’t find this specific information about a hostel online, call the hostel or go stay somewhere and if it seems like everyone is up and leaving after a night and you’re interested in staying for awhile, ask the front desk about it or try another hostel. If you work for accommodation, you’ll have a better chance at meeting long-term people because you are all working and most likely living there together. I haven’t done this because I prefer to work for cash and then use that to pay for living (when you calculate the cost of living and the hours worked at a hostel, it typically works out that you’re making less than minimum wage at the hostel), but it’s a great way to meet people and if you don’t have a job otherwise, you might as well work to live for free.
In Brisbane, one of my roommates and the person I share my bunk-bed with is long-term too and weirdly enough, from Pennsylvania. We had another girl in our room from England who stayed for awhile, but overall it’s just the two of us and everyone else comes and goes. The room isn’t full most of the time, so I’m not always living with seven people. It’s nice to have one other long-term person in the room, and there are other long-term people who live at the hostel. Free breakfast and free wifi are also awesome perks of this place. Plus, I have a friend staying at another hostel nearby that I met at Space in Melbourne, and she lives in Brisbane now too.
Before Australia, I had stayed in some hostels in Europe and one in Puerto Rico. I had never booked a stay in a hostel alone before Australia. Now that I’ve done it, I know that it is not scary. Book on Hostel World, booking.com/hostels, Hostels.com, Hostel Bookers, etc and check the ratings. This is really important because there are some crappy hostels out there that you can avoid if you book based on rating and the number of people who rated it. Also, ask other travelers for advice on places to stay. They may have more of an inside scoop than any of those sites.
As for the rest of my time in Australia, I plan to keep moving, so I don’t think I’ll be living anywhere but a hostel due to my commitment issues with apartments. There are other options for travel accommodation, though, such as camping in tents, camper vans, sleeping in regular cars, airbnb, staying in hotels, or committing to longer periods of time and getting an apartment. In Australia, use Gumtree (the Australian version of Craigslist), and Flatmates.com.au when looking for a place to live.
In America, staying in hostels is less common and not even something I consider or remember to look at while traveling there, but they exist (so I hear!). I always look for hotels but I’m curious how American hostels compare to other countries, so when I’m in the US again I’m going to try some out.
Hostel living isn’t for everyone, but I find that it works for me. I can come and go as I please (except for the few week commitments that I choose to make or not), if I feel like it I can walk downstairs to meet new people, and the room is cleaned for me. It’s nice to have the option to be social or not, and you’ve got trips that hostels put on too. There are shuttle buses to the airport, the bus stations, and some local attractions. Some even offer meals, so most of what you need is in the building. They’re also typically centrally located whereas an apartment that you rent may not be.