I’d never considered staying in a hostel until I started planning my travels in Australia. My mental image of them was one of old buildings with too many creaky, old bunks and questionably clean sheets crammed into a dingy room. And I imagined the people who commonly stayed in such places to be appropriately dingy and questionable as well. This image was formulated early in my life, and it was simply one I had never gone back and reassessed. So, when I started planning my travels and trying to figure out how on earth I could afford them, I clearly needed to reevaluate that image.
Even once I accepted that hostels weren’t as sketchy as I had imagined for most of my life, I still had reservations about them. Everything I read online about them was about preparing to protect yourself and your things in a hostel. Bringing padlocks and cable locks to secure luggage and sleeping with valuables were recommended to prevent theft. Some sites even recommended carrying pepper spray, especially if you were staying in a coed room, which I frequently was. After reading all this I was pretty nervous about staying in my first hostel, but I quickly learned that as long as I was smart I wouldn’t have any trouble.
I kept my valuables with me at all times, either in my bag, between me and the wall on my bed, or checked into the hostel reception’s valuables storage. I didn’t worry about my clothes and toiletries in my main bag; I figured those were easier to replace anyway. However, I never had anything stolen, and I didn’t lose anything on my travels either.
I never felt unsafe either. None of the hostels I stayed in fit my “ancient building dingy bed” image from my childhood. Some were certainly older, but the rooms were well kept, and they all had a certain character to them. Some hostels were “party hostels,” either because they had a bar in the hostel or because they were very close to the city night life. Some hostels were quieter and, to me, nicer, since I’m not really the party type. My favorite hostel though was a party hostel. Called X-Base on Magnetic Island, it was a cluster of cabins set along the beach. The reception building had a restaurant and bar built on a deck, which extended out over the beach. The bar got quite loud at night, but the cabins were far enough away that the noise didn’t make it hard to sleep. Even when the bar was loud, the deck was fairly quiet, and it was a great place to sit at night and look out at the sky and ocean.
The biggest thing I learned about hostels is that it’s often best to choose your own. I booked my trip through a booking agent, who booked everything for me. Most of the bookings were nice, like X-Base and most of the other hostels I stayed in. However, some, like the first hostel I stayed in, weren’t really to my taste. They were just a bit dingy, and they just had a vibe I didn’t really like. I think if I’d booked my own accommodations I would have found places that appealed to me a bit more.
On the whole though, hostels were a great way to go. They were affordable, most were located right in the middle of the sites of interest in each city, and they were a great way to meet other backpackers and find new travel partners. I made several new friends in just three weeks traveling through Australia. Meeting people and having a place to sleep between adventures were the only things I hoped for out of a hostel anyway.