The noisy couple sharing the bunk above you (what’s that squelching sound?). The guy who seems to live in the kitchen. Roommates who snore, have smelly feet or are just plain weird. Other people’s hairs in the shower (and not just head hairs).

Hostels. We’re all familiar with them. You could be in Australia, New Zealand, Fiji… unless you’ve won the lottery, there’s a very good chance you’ve stayed in a hostel or 70 on your travels.

They become our home from home, and our travels are shaped in no small way by the hostels we stay in and the people we meet in them.

It’s the people you meet

My humorously disastrous experiences include a rundown place where one old lady, who obviously had a 100-a-day smoking habit, snored like a herd of buffalo all night.

I got zero sleep and had a job interview the next day. Needless to say, 
I didn’t get the job.

A fellow British girl in a Sydney hostel was incredibly miserable for her entire stay. She moaned constantly about everything; from how late a roommate got up (these people are on holiday, for God’s sake) to Sydney itself: “Once you’ve been to Circular Quay there’s not a lot to do”, she said, despairingly. Sydney? Oh no. Nothing going on at all.

In San Francisco two incredibly uptight Canadian girls (the only uptight Canadians I’ve ever met) took the hostel’s numbered bed policy very seriously.

I hadn’t realised – I just picked a bed at random (gasp!) – which unfortunately turned out to be the wrong one.

Despite being the only occupied bed in a room of four, rather than take their pick of the three spare beds, they stripped my bed, sheets, belongings and all and stuffed them on top of a cupboard.

Because of my terrible transgression, from then on the atmosphere was what you might call strained. I think they wanted me to go to prison, ideally.

The usual suspects

Then there are the usual suspects. The insensitive people who think nothing of returning at 2am to a room full of sleeping people and switching all the lights on, rustling about in plastic bags and taking out your battery charger mid-charge to plug in their goddamn hair straighteners.

All while having a loud conversation on the vital subject of whether they should wash their hair now or in the morning. Adding: “Oh, did I wake you up?” 
It can be necessary to arm yourself with ear plugs and an eye mask (and a few deep breaths) to get a decent night’s sleep. Looking stupid is a small price to pay.

The good news is that for every inconsiderate person, there are many more who aren’t.

Hostel life is continually made easier with more and better hostels opening all the time, with fewer annoying rules, greater flexibility and an increasing range of facilities.

The best ones feel more like hotels than hostels, with 24-hour receptions and such luxuries as air conditioning, swimming pools and individual bed lights. You need never leave. Who cares about the opera house? (It’s pretty ugly inside, anyway).

Some even have their own cinemas – with free popcorn too.

The huge number and range of hostels in Australia range from the big inner city hostels, minutes from the pub and kebab shop, to the rural eco hostels, where you can be at one with nature by making friends with the wallabies and trekking through the rainforest on the doorstep.

From Slovenia with love

The minor irritations of hostelling are largely outweighed by the uniqueness of the whole experience.

There are few other environments where you are thrown together so randomly with so many different people from all over the world.

Among my many brief and strange encounters is the scary American guy who turned up in my dorm room in Hawaii late one night bleeding profusely from multiple cuts on both arms.

He said little by way of explanation, used all the bandages from my first aid kit and disappeared the next morning as mysteriously as he had arrived.

Some you’ll never see again – especially the bitch who stole my Levis out of the dryer in Perth – but many more will become travel mates, flatmates, workmates, or more than just mates.

What initially bonds you together can endure long after you return home. A friend from Slovenia, who I met in a hostel in Melbourne, came over to London for my birthday when many of my other so-called friends couldn’t be bothered to go up the road.

She made up for all the other lazy arses who couldn’t be, well, arsed.

Hostels allow us to live our dreams without getting (too) out of pocket, 
and we get the added bonus of meeting fellow travellers from across the globe and all walks of life along the way.

And for that, despite the snoring, smelly feet and numbered bunk beds, we should be eternally grateful.

Why we can’t live without hostels

*Discounted trips, tours…. and beer.
*Ace freebies like films and popcorn, breakfast and barbecues.
*A clean bed and a hot shower for as little as $20.
*Getting a bed for the night, doing our laundry, getting a cheap feed and booking our next bed/trip, all in one place.
*The unique hostel atmosphere with its melting pot of nationalities and cultures, and meeting people from all over the world, both weird and wonderful.
*Without them we wouldn’t be able to travel very far or stay for very long (unless we have rich parents).
*Plus, bunk beds are nostalgic reminders of school trips of yore (when little Johnny wet the bed above you).


Long-stay accommodation

Who are you?
Bertrand Cavalier, 23, from France

Why did you choose long-term accommodation?
Hostels are more expensive. Plus I like to feel at home, especially when I stay a long time in the same place.

How much – and what do you get for your cash?
For $160 per week, a room shared with one person. All bills included, internet, back garden and a barbecue. Minimum stay is a month.

What’s the best thing?
You get to meet people from many countries.

And the worst?
The behaviour of some people who don’t really care about the house. Some people don’t have any respect. It’s stupid.

House/Flat share

Who are you?
Lina Johansson, 25, Sweden

Why did you choose a house share?
I prefer this because it feels more like a home. It feels good to come home, kick off my shoes and just pass out in my own bed.

How much – and what do you get for your cash?
After a lot of researching we found this place for $130 a week each, plus bills (internet; $20/month each and electricity; $35/month each). We have a room each, a shared kitchen,living room and bathroom.

What’s best about it?
We live next to Rushcutters Bay Park – perfect for walks along the harbour and picnics with cute guys – and Kings Cross is just around the corner. People in the cornershop know my name.

And the worst?
I had to sign a lease for a year. So when I want to go travelling I have to find someone to fill my room.