I’m not really a huge fan of hostels; I don’t like to share a kitchen with 20 people at any one time and even less so, a bathroom.
However, some hostels have found the way to make the pleasure outweigh the pain. Yes, you’ll still be in a bunk bed that looks like it was issued by the prison service and you’ll be woken up at all hours by fifteen people hurtling through the door, slamming on the light and proceeding to start a drinking game in the middle of the carpet BUT there are all the new mates, a 24/7 social life – whether you want it or not – and of course, a night’s accommodation that costs you loose change.
Australian hostels are some of the best I’ve ever experienced while backpacking. Undoubtedly there are some grubby ones in every city but the larger, well established hostels seemed safe, clean and great value for money.
Plus, I’ve yet to come across one that does that annoying European thing of locking you outside for the best part of the day. After a long flight from Thailand I arrived at the Three Ducks Hostel in Paris, which, incidentally, was horrendous on every single level – aside from that, it closed between 12pm and 4pm every day so you were evicted on to the streets regardless of your sleep deprivation/hangover/lack of money.
These are my top four hostels in the backpacking capitals along the East Coast of Australia – south to north.
Base at St Kilda
Great atmosphere and small enough to feel instantly friendly. This hostel is close to the beach and just a 15 minute tram ride from central Melbourne.
St Kilda is the city playground by the beach. Boutiques with a vintage vibe, tiny coffee shops and indulgent patisserie, lively bars in the evening and a relaxed pace in the day. Just 6km from the city, it has the best of everything.
Clean dorms, nice kitchen with a large lounge seating area, plenty of computers and a bar area that is packed after dark.
If you’re a girl, head to the Sanctuary dorms. Luxury for ladies only, these dorms have nicer bedding, tea and coffee and a welcome pack with towel, shampoo and conditioner. I always book the Sanctuary and have never been disappointed. If you’re a girl travelling alone, it’s a nice touch of home comforts and feels like you’re easing yourself into hostelling.
It’s impossible to feel lonely at Wake Up. Located on Pitt Street next to Central Station and just a short walk from George Street, you’re in the heart of backpacker heaven.
I have stayed here many times and find the emphasis is on fun and getting you in the spirit of joining-in which is great, especially if you are travelling alone. There are free, weekly city tours and trips out to Coogee and Bondi. Some of the dorms are on the smaller side and kitchen is tiny, given that this hostel feels huge.
The bar, called Side Bar, is great value and turns into a packed nightclub every night of the week.
It’s the far end of Pitt Street so you’re looking at a 30-40 minute walk to Sydney Opera House and Circular Quay but it’s the hostel everyone talks about and well worth a look.
Brisbane City Backpackers
I practically lived at this hostel. I stayed for months and didn’t want to move on which is testament to the atmosphere. Blessed with the beautiful Queensland sunshine, this hostel benefits from an outdoor pool overlooking the city below.
It’s at the top of Roma street so it’s not central to the city but it’s only a 10 minute walk and I think the fact that it’s slightly outside the city is the reason that the atmosphere is so great. It’s a hostel where people seems to arrive and stay for a long time rather than a stream of people passing through.
As well as the pool, you have lots of balcony space, a cinema screening free movies every evening, a great bar and some fantastic bar meals.
There is some sort of entertainment in the bar most evenings and FREE wifi.
This is a ‘love it or hate it’ hostel, probably due to its enormous size. personally I love it and there are a few reasons.
The first has to be the bar, it’s the place to go in Cairns regardless of whether you’re a guest at the hostel or not. Wristband deals for cheap drinks, free food vouchers if you’re staying for more than three nights, evening entertainment from pub quizzes and live bands to semi-naked jelly wrestling.
There’s a nice pool and plenty of TV and lounge space. The kitchens are nice and spacious and the hostel is very clean.
Cairns is small so the hostel is as central as any and just a five-minute walk to the Lagoon and harbour.
If you’re looking for somewhere with a personal feel, this really isn’t it but if you’re looking to throw yourself into the action, head first, there’s nowhere quite like Gilligans.
Booking a Hostel
- In summer and at peak times like Christmas, New Year and the holidays I’d always recommenced booking in advance as I’ve been unlucky a couple of times by pitching up casually to find every single bed was booked.
- You’ll often get a cheaper rate the longer you stay and the more people who share the dorm, the cheaper the bed will be. Think about whether you want a single or mixed-sex dorm; 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 or more beds. I once stayed in a 20 bed dorm and wouldn’t recommend it – it had all the camaraderie of a hospital ward.
- You usually have to leave a deposit for the key which can be up to $20. They will want this upfront and in cash so have it on you when you check in. You get it back if you return the key and your pillowcase when you leave.
- Not all hostels have lockers so always check when booking if you’re carrying a laptop or camera that you want to leave.
- When I book a hostel I’ve never tried before I usually just book two nights and extend it after the first night if I’m happy there. It’s tempting to book all your nights in advance as it’s cheaper but if you’re unhappy it will feel like a long time.
- Say hello to everyone as soon as you walk in the dorm for the first time. It can feel scary but it’s much easier to go in looking happy and enthusiastic than tying to speak up later on and feeling that you’re not part of the group or giving the impression that you don’t want to be included. Close bonds are built in dorms and if you’re travelling solo it’s really important to have that support network.
- Enjoy every minute! It’s the cheapest laughs you’ll ever have and some of the best memories will be made with your dorm mates.
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