Monday, 26 October 2015

Hostel 101: What to know before you book a hostel

If you're planning a big trip, need a cheap place to stay and haven't been in a hostel before, there are a few things to know before you go.

Hostels are perfect if you're low on funds or travelling for a long time. They're also great if you want to meet some new people. Depending on the country you can find some pretty cheap prices – I once stayed in a hostel in Fiji for £6 a night and got a free upgrade to my own private room with ensuite. Likewise, in Asia hostels can be as cheap as £2 a night. Australia, New Zealand and popular European cities are slightly more pricey though so expect to pay between £11-£25 a night.

Base, Magnetic Island, Australia: Credit Rachael Brewin-Caddy @Brewinx

During my last trip to Australia, I stayed in a lotttt of dorms. We were away for five weeks and this was the only way to make money stretch. Some of the hostels had been recommended through STA Travel or came included in tours. The rest we picked through a selection on It's definitely worth asking around for recommendations or checking out Trip Advisor for reviews though, because some of the cheaper places were just as nice, if not nicer than those that were more expensive.

In Australia we stayed at:

Wake Up! Sydney Central $39
Byron Bay Backpackers Inn $26
Islander Backpackers, Surfers Paradise $30
Base Brisbane Central $30
Kingfisher Bay Wilderness Lodges, Fraser Island (Included as part of our Fraser Island Tour)
Palace Backpackers Hervey Bay $25
Nomads Airlie Beach $28
Rambutan Townsville $18
Base Magnetic Island $32
Calypso Cairns $23
Ferntree Rainforest Lodge, Cape Tribulation $30
Bounce Sydney $40

*Our price per night

Palace/Next Backpackers Hervey Bay, Australia: Credit Rachael Brewin-Caddy @Brewinx

I'd happily stay in most of these hostels again, but if you're not used to dorms it can be difficult to adjust. But fear not, I've made a list of things to know before you go – prepare for your new life of bunkbeds, cold showers and instant coffee.

1. Not all rooms are the same

I've stayed in a 32 bed dorm in Fiji so I feel pretty much prepared for anything. In Australia we stayed in a mix of rooms, from private twin rooms to dorms of 10. All the rooms are different and you can choose what suits you. You'll usually find that the bigger the dorm, the cheaper the room and we found that some of these cheaper rooms were actually quite good. Many of the 6 bed dorms were cramped but the 8 or 10 bed rooms allowed each person much more space, which is perfect if you like to spread out a bit. If you reeeeally like your space and don't fancy sharing, then consider upgrading to a private room. This is a much cheaper alternative to a pricey hotel room and is worth considering if you're desperate for a good night's sleep.

2. Reviews are more important than price

It's not always the most expensive hostels that are the best. By far the best hostel for us in Australia was Rambutan in Townsville. We booked this way in advance and somehow managed to get a private bunk room for £16 – £8 each! The hostel was clean, the staff were helpful and facilities included a restaurant, bar and outdoor swimming pool, all decked out in a cute boutique style.

Rambutan Townsville, Australia

We also stayed at Base – Base hostels are one of the most popular hostels in Australia and Base Brisbane Central was one of our more expensive stays. We arrived around midday and checked in to our 10 bed dorm. When we arrived our beds were covered in other people's clothes and still had dirty sheets left on from the previous person. What was worse was the communal bathroom – hairs and tissue everywhere and what suspiciously looked like pee on the floor. We checked out and went elsewhere.

In fact, we stayed here instead:

Mantra on Edward, Brisbane, Australia: aka best decision ever

3. Personal space will be limited

Not all hostels will give you much space – usually you'll have a tiny corner of the room for a rucksack or suitcase, and sometimes a locker. The lockers are normally pretty small but are useful for storing away things like your passport, spare money, credit card etc. Just make sure you bring a spare lock as these aren't always provided. I found at a few places my lock was too small to work, so invest in a bigger one if possible.

4. Cleanliness could be questionable

Some hostels are clean, but you'll find some that could do with a decent scrub. If you're a bit of a hygiene freak like me then I recommend bringing plenty of antibacterial hand gel and a spare pair of flip flops that you can wear in the shower.

5. People will snore A LOT 

I said it on a previous post and I'll say it again. Earplugs are your best friend and are probably the only way you'll get a decent sleep.

Kingfisher Bay Wilderness Lodges, Fraser Island: Credit Rachael Brewin-Caddy @Brewinx

6. A one night stand could happen in your room (yes really)

Luckily this didn't happen to me, but I've heard stories of it. It's normal for people to get drunk in hostels. If you've been to uni/college then you'll know what student halls are like – hostels are just like that. People get drunk and go looking for action, and sometimes personal space gets violated. So be warned: it could happen.

7. The location's not always great

Double check where the hostel is before you book. Sometimes the cheaper places can be in a dodgy part of town or miles away from anything you'd actually want to see. If the hostel seems good but looks far away, check if they have a free shuttle that will take you to the tourist parts. We stayed in Calypso in Cairns which was quite a way out, but a free bus went every hour to the city centre and airport.

Cape Tribulation, Australia: Credit Rachael Brewin-Caddy @Brewinx

8. You will be dragged on a bar crawl 

Most hostels have organised events so that travellers can get to know each other (sometimes getting to know each other too well, ref point 6), and this means that you'll most likely be asked by staff to go on a bar crawl the minute you arrive. Hostels also normally have different events on each evening so make sure you check these out – who can say no to a free pizza night?

9. Breakfast isn't always included

If it is included, don't expect a fancy all-you-can-eat buffet a la Sheraton. You'll most likely find a few bits of limp bread, dry cereal and some peanut butter. If this isn't your thing you're best going to the local supermarket, getting your own and making use of the shared kitchen facilities.

10. You'll meet the best people

If you're staying in a hostel, don't be shy. One of the best things about a place like this is that everyone will try and be your friend. You're guaranteed to meet loads of interesting people and bond over a mutual love of travel. And what's better than that?

Base, Magnetic Island, Australia: Credit Rachael Brewin Caddy @Brewinx

 Traveller days X


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