Hostelling series: experiences

hostellingseries

Some people can’t stand the thought of sharing a room with some random stranger, other people love staying in hostels. When I travel, I mostly stay in hostels. It’s generally cheaper and it’s a great way to meet other people. I’ve had great experiences and not so great experiences (like everyone, I’m sure). Sometimes it’s really other people that ruin it, other times it’s my own common sense that I ignore or embrace. I’ve made friends, made wonderful memories that I think of fondly. Not sure when I’ll have enough of this ‘sharing thing’, but that ‘when’ is definetly not now. 😉

This is the first of a few posts where I share my hostelling experiences and touch on topics that all backpackers deal with sooner or later. So first up are my experiences. Stay tuned for more!

Early experiences

The very first time I ever stayed in a hostel was during camp in my last year of primary school (I was almost 11). I didn’t like it very much. The floor was dirty (lots of sand) and the other kids in the dorm just wouldn’t shut up. I felt very uncomfortable. That image stayed with me a long time. During my second year in high school, we went on a trip to Cologne (I was almost 13). Luckily, I was in a room with other well behaved girls. Other kids of our class in other rooms misbehaved so badly that our school was banned from staying at that hostel again. Since I went to a very strict high school, you can imagine how that was received! I am so glad I had no part in any of that. My third hostel experience was during a high school trip to Rome in my fifth year (I was 16). The hostel was clean, thank goodness. I don’t remember a lot about it, just that it was near the stadium, mostly white in colour with marble steps, that all the girls slept in one room (17 or so, the dorm was huge) and we each had a red metal locker that smelled very weird. Those were the early hostelling days, but all in school context.

Australia

In 2002 I travelled through Australia for five months. I arrived in Sydney with no accommodation prebooked. That is something I’ll never do again, by the way. I like knowing where I’m going to sleep the first few days! 😛 Since I didn’t have a lot of hostelling experience, I thought big hostels were the norm. My first hostel in Sydney was Hotel Bakpak on Pitt Street (now called Nomads Westend Backpackers). A huge hostel with wonky beds, bad matresses and bad ventilation. I didn’t know better and it was there that I made my first backpacking steps. It wasn’t all bad, but it’s not a hostel I would stay at again.

My hostelling experience in Australia is a mixed bag. I absolutely loved the smaller hostels along the Great Ocean Road, for example in Apollo Bay and Anglesea. Those were homey and cosy, and I enjoyed staying there a lot. The hostel in Tamworth was also great. The beds were comfortable, the sheets and duvets were clean, the showers were nice. Then there is Brooklodge in Donnybrook, a working hostel, which was one of my favourites in Australia. While it’s quite big, it’s also very cosy, with a lot of facilities, good beds and showers, and it’s just a great place to stay and work. I had a great time, met lots of people, played lots of card games. I helped some new friends paint black stripes on their car called ‘Roadkill’ (at some point, only one of four doors worked!). I joined in on road trips to Bunbury and on the way back to Donnybrook the bunch of us would stop in the middle of the road and watch the stars (traffic, there was none). The night sky is absolutely breathtaking, by the way. Memories are great and abundant. The Northbridge YHA in Perth was another favourite of mine. I don’t think the hostel exists anymore, because back then there was already talk about it being demolished. The quality of the building and the rooms was questionable at best (the dorm had no window, the place was run down), but I had such a wonderful time there that I think very fondly of my stay there. I spent Christmas of 2002 with our ‘Christmas family’, an amalgamation of people from probably a dozen different nationalities. We hung out in the lounge area, barbequed in the park and went on a river cruise together. It was great!

One of my absolute low points of my hostelling experience in Australia was Melanka Backpackers Resort in Alice Springs (apparently now closed?). An awful party place that I didn’t like at all. I just want to block it from my memory. Or what about the hostel I stayed at in Adelaide that had stains on the sheets, a sewage system running through the room with buckets hanging from it to catch any leakage, and bad dirty showers unfit for any person. I didn’t want to stay there, but at the time it was the only place we could find (wonder why, lol, but there was a festival going on and the city was packed). I used my own sleeping bag and pillow cover (that I washed after!), and needless to say I didn’t shower there.

Sometimes it’s not the hostel, but the people that make or break an experience. Like people sneaking in other people to stay in the room illegally, like people keeping the lights on all night on purpose just to mess with you, and like people blowing up in your face after a simple and harmless question. You never know what you’re going to get. Hostels attract a variety of people and usually, those huge hostels in huge cities attract a lot of party people. More than once I’ve had a crap time in huge hostels, because people were selfish and rude. If you want to party then go for it, but don’t continue the party and attitude in the room, eh? Luckily, I’ve also met wonderful people, made friends, laughed, enjoyed listening to people playing guitar, watched movies, enjoyed card games, and enjoyed home made curry at 11 pm. That’s hostelling too and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss all that for the world! 😀

Canada

I only stayed at two (big) hostels in Canada, one I loved and one I didn’t. I absolutely loved the HI Downtown Vancouver. The room was small, but it was clean and my roommates were friendly and considerate. Breakfast was included in the price and it was amazing! Bagels, toast, bread rolls, fruit, wow! Best hostel breakfast I’ve ever had! The eating hall was a bit small, but because you had to share a table, it was quite easy to break the ice and chat away! 🙂 Staff was friendly and helpful too.

The HI hostel in Calgary was dreadful! It wasn’t even the dorm or the people in my dorm. That was fine and I had some great chats with my roommates. It was the fact that the police had to come twice. First time because someone was drunk and agressive right in front of the door to my dorm (!), second time because of some weird, psychotic guy in the kitchen. That was just so scary. And when I stay at a hostel, I want to feel safe. Sure, things like this can happen at any place, but it happened there and it was awful.

New Zealand

Hostels in New Zealand have forever spoilt me. The ones I pick out are generally small, clean and friendly places where it’s easy to meet other people and have a good time. I guess it’s learning curve, because it took me a while to figure out what kind of places I like. Sometimes you don’t have much of a choice and you just wing it. I’ve rarely had issues in New Zealand though, not even when I stayed at big places like the Auckland International YHA (around NYE) or Downtown Backpackers in Wellington (now called The Hotel Waterloo). Those kind of big places don’t leave much of an impression to be honest. They’re quite impersonal and interchangeable. I prefer not to stay at these huge places because I always feel a bit lost. For me, it’s the small personal places that do it. Doesn’t have to be super fancy, just as long as it’s safe, clean, cosy and friendly, and you’re halfway there.

Not everything was great though. Rosemere Backpackers in Wellington was a very noisy place with bad matresses and poor facilities. Staff was friendly enough, but I wouldn’t stay there again. Te Anau Lakefront Backpackers was a bit rundown and facilities could be cleaner, but it was okay and the staff was very friendly. I liked Onuku Farm Hostel near Akaroa a lot (the deck and view was amazing), but the quality of dorm beds was questionable/inconsistent and the toilet in our room desperately needed a good scrub down. Still, the good atmosphere at Onuku made me overlook those things and I ended up staying twice as long as I intended to.

A few times, it was the hostel owner that influenced the vibe. The owner of the Frauenreisenhaus in Christchurch (which doesn’t exist anymore because of the earthquakes) was difficult and scared me, but the hostel was in excellent condition with amazing facilities (comfortable beds, big kitchen, tons of appliances, tv room with hundreds of dvds) so I would still have recommended it. Reviews for Alpine Lodge in Queenstown were lower than I think they deserved to be (in 2005 it was around the low 70% but I’m surprised it dropped to 63%). Yes, the owner was a bit weird and when I arrived I had to wait for hours before I could check in because he wasn’t there at all. On the other hand, he was doing his best keeping the creeps out of his hostel. A dodgy guy wanted to stay and the owner just said there was no room. Another guy was kicked out the hostel for lying about his immigration status.

Generally, I’ve had great experiences in New Zealand hostels. You already know my favourites: Hopewell (Marlborough Sounds, BBH), Lazy Dolphin Lodge (Curio Bay, BBH) and Tramper’s Rest (Nelson, BBH). But there are many more great places out there. A few places that I recommend: Hogwartz (Dunedin, BBH), Funky Green Voyager (Rotorua, BBH), YHA Arthur’s Pass. My advice? Have a look at what’s out there, decide what kind of place you want to stay at and don’t stay anywhere that makes you feel uncomfortable.

Why hostelling?

As you can read, hostelling is an interesting ‘something’, where a combination of good sense and a bit of luck go a long way. Sometimes a place looks good on paper, but it disappoints in reality. Other times, you pick a place and it’s an absolute gem. Some places are forgettable, other places are etched in your memory forever because you loved it so much. Some people you meet on your adventures even become your friends! Of course, part of the experience is your own attitude. If you’re considerate, friendly and have an open mind, chances are you’ll have a great time! Hostelling is definetly not for everybody and that’s okay. I wonder when the time comes that I’ll get enough of it. That time hasn’t arrived for me yet! :-). In sum, here is why I stay at hostels:

  • It’s a great way to meet people and make friends
  • Staying in small, homey hostels teaches me something about local life
  • It’s generally cheaper and more personal than staying at hotels
  • I can cook my own food and don’t have to spend a lot of money on eating out
  • When I need to, I can treat myself to a private room

Let me know what you think of this post and stay tuned for more posts on hostelling! 🙂

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