There are countless backpacker hostels the length and breadth of Australia, and when you’re short of a dollar or two, they can provide you with the welcome relief of a bed for the night and a roof over your tired and travel-weary head. However, as you will undoubtedly expect or may even know yourself, it depends entirely on the quality of the hostel as to just what kind of roof you find yourself under. The general rule of thumb being the more budget the hostel, the stuffier and smellier the dormitories are likely to be, and the less clean the shared facilities will be. The communal kitchen will have sticky surfaces and a microwave that looks as if a chicken curry has exploded inside it, and the shared showers will probably leave you feeling dirtier than you did before you’d used them. You may even be unlucky enough to share your bed with a whole host of those infamous little critters, bedbugs.
Many of the budget hostels will also promote themselves as being ‘party’ places, often organising daily drinking excursions in and around their locations, and if you are not a party animal, you could find yourself feeling isolated and doubtless frustrated with the lack of sleep you will inevitably get due to innebriated travellers arriving back to the dorms at various hours of the night. As a backpacker though, I didn’t particularly care about any of that, as, lets face it, the less money you can spend on somewhere to sleep for a night, the more money to spend on travelling around a country. Therefore, choosing a hostel that meets health and safety requirements, or that has soundproof dormitories, wasn’t high on my list of priorities.
There are, of course, hundreds of reputable hostels out there that do offer clean and valuable accommodation to shoestring travellers, and common sense and word of mouth will usually tell you which ones you might want to avoid.
When I was at the most penniless point in my travels, and had traipsed wearily from one fully booked hostel to the next with my bulging rucksacks, one strapped to my front and one to my back, a battered travel guide in one hand, and a bottle of water in the other, my eyes positively lit up when I spotted a flier stuck to a telegraph pole advertising Australia’s first 30 bed, mixed sex dormitory, with beds for less than 10AUD a night. Bingo! I quickly realigned my bags, took a gulp of warm water and set off to find my saving grace.
To be fair, the hostel was very new and modern looking, and at first glance appeared to be a bright and cheerful place to spend a night or two. It was when I was shown the dormitory that my heart sank down to my battered flip flops. Chaos ensued within, and I knew I wouldn’t be getting much sleep that night. Rucksacks were crammed into every available bit of space and damp clothes hung from light fittings and bunk bed rails. The smell of stale sweat and festering feet hung heavy in the air and I noticed with dismay that I had been allotted a bed right at the back of the room, meaning I would inevitably end up tripping over something or someone in the middle of the night if I had to use the bathroom.
So it was with a heavy heart and a degree of caution that I pulled the itchy blanket around my shoulders that night and tried to make myself look as invisible as possible. I must have been exhausted though, as I didn’t wake up until several hours later, and it was to a sound that I had hoped I was imagining; grunts, loud groans and the squeaking of bedsprings, now that can only mean one thing in my experience, and I’m sure you don’t need me to elaborate!
I truly didn’t want to open my eyes but a warped sense of curiosity got the better of me and I peeked nervously out from under the blanket to see where the sounds were coming from. I was unfortunate enough to have a nauseatingly clear view of a naked young girl sitting astride a naked young man and who, for want of a better description, was being bounced up and down upon as if he were a human trampoline, or better yet, a frisky young colt! Now I had seen a lot as a backpacker, but I had never seen this before and as I glanced to the top bunk I saw that there was a girl lying curled up in a fœtal position, being involuntarily rocked back and forth by the young lovers fevered movements below. How awful, I really felt for her and I suppose she was too embarrassed to say anything, mind you, nobody else in the crowded dormitory had uttered a word either. In my head I rehearsed exactly what it was that I was going to say to them both, but I lost my nerve and gave a pathetic cough instead, which neither of them acknowledged. In fact, if anything their frenzied cries got louder and so I put my headphones on and cranked the volume up as loud as it would go.
I can only assume that the young lovers weren’t at it all night, certainly when I woke up several hours later the bed was vacant and the girl who had been on the top bunk had gone as well. I bet she’ll think twice before she books herself into a bargain priced mixed sex dormitory, I rather think I will too.