Survival at the Hostel (Australia)

When imagining a hostel, I would always picture dirty rooms with tired facilities and cockroaches galore. What I came to find was a variety of different forms of accommodation around the same cost.

In Oz, I found that most hostels offer very similar things:

  • A recreation area – usually consisting of a pool table, and many benches.
  • One or many kitchens – all containing your basic cooking needs, with a few going so far as to containing a microwave.
  • An outdoor pool – A nice addition to a hostel, but the majority of the time looked a little dirty and run down.

I began my hostel experience on the West Coast, in Perth. I stayed in the Billabong backpackers for 2 nights between tours I had scheduled. This means that I have no idea if it was a good base for heading into Perth as I always got picked up. However, I do know that there was a bus stop right outside which regularly dropped people into the city, and a petrol station on the corner where everyone bought their food.
Billabong is a very popular hostel, with signs up all the time stating that you must book in advance. During my time in this hostel, I was in a 4 bed, female only dorm, and met a mixture of girls who’d been staying there for a week, and others like me who were using it as a base before moving on. There was a pool out back and a bar which seemed pretty popular. The rooms were always stifling hot but there was a small but noisy air con unit that probably could have been left on but no-one ever dared ask.
Our dorm had an en suite which was good enough, although I was never sure when it had last been cleaned, and the tap had come away from the sink making it awkward to change temperature.
The best thing about Billabong, and something I never came across again, was their free breakfast. In the morning you would pick up your crockery and cutlery set and head into the kitchen where you had a choice of corn flakes, bran, or coco pops, and both brown and white bread with an array of jams and spreads. This may sound fairly basic, but is the most choice I ever found on offer and was FREE!
After maxing out on the coco pops I would give this place 4 out of 5.

My next hostel is the start of our East Coast trip, where we began in what appeared to be a depressed Cairns. My agency lady at Peter Pans had booked our whole trip with my age and tastes in mind, but sometimes there just might not have been much choice.
We reached Cairns on a grey day with a storm looming, and got a free shuttle pick up from the airport by our hostel; Njoy. The name speaks volumes, and we’d already read a few dire reviews. The staff all seemed to be Brits, and we’re fairly certain none of them had meant to be there but had found themselves stuck, and in need of a job.
In Njoy we were given an en suite double, and it was certainly made out to sound like a luxury, but when we opened the door to our room we were confronted by a huge cockroach struggling on it’s back in the shower. After a bit of a struggle on our side we lost the roach out of the door we’d just come in through, and hastily blocked that one inch gap with our bath mat.
The bonus to this room was a working fridge. We were based in Cairns for 3 nights so being able to keep cold food in our room was a bonus, and soon a necessity as we found the place infested with ants. They found every little crumb we dropped and created lines all over the place. We soon shoved anything slightly food orientated into the fridge to alleviate the situation.
The kitchen was basic, the pool untouched (from all the algae), and everyone around the place looked utterly miserable, so we kept to our rooms and only came out when necessary. I’d give Njoy 2 out of 5.

Fortunately our next stop was Magnetic Island. Unfortunately we only had one night booked there. The island had expensive accommodation, even for hostels, and we ended up in Koala Bungalow Bay – which I think is the best option of them all.
Bungalow bay is a short bus trip across the island from the ferry terminal, costing a few dollars. We were in a private A-frame bungalow, next to the shared facilities. It was very much a camping ground and we would be classed as glamping. Our bungalow consisted of a double bed, fan opposite an air con unit, and a warm fridge. Its location was within a koala ‘sanctuary’ although we never saw any koalas ourselves. They appeared to be kept in the areas where you pay to breakfast with them. We didn’t pay for breakfast, but we did grab some of the cheap food they had on offer at their bar.
The shared facilities were good enough, with a warm and powerful shower, but the occasional bird did like to pop in and say hello, which if you’re not a bird lover, wouldn’t be too nice a surprise.
We checked out in the morning but had all day before our ferry back, so used their secure lockers by paying for a padlock instead of their open storage room. In having this, we continued to use the hostel’s facilities, and relaxed for a while on the bean bags in their nicely decked area. Overall, this was a hostel I’d happily have spent a week in. The pool even had people in it! 5 out of 5.

Our next destination was Airlie Beach, which we arrived at in the evening when all the clubs and bars were pumping out their music. Not my kind of scene, and so not a great first impression. It was like a wannabe Ibiza, and the brits loved it. Most of the backpackers here were part of the bars and clubs meaning that there would be no hope of a good night’s sleep if you were based there. We’d been placed in a hostel which is co-owned by Nomads and Base. It was like a campsite, but with permanent buildings. Due to the hostel ground’s immense size, we didn’t have any problems with the noise of the town, and even had our own facilities. The toilet didn’t look great but didn’t smell either, and the shower was warm. They had a bar, swimming pool, numerous shared facilities and a good laundry hub. We also stopped by and used their facilities on a day we arrived back from a boat trip. Hostels are so handy for free showers sometimes! For our needs I’d rate it a 3 out of 5.

The Southern Cross at Agnes Water has a few issues it needs to deal with. They have a shuttle bus which picks up people from the greyhound bus. This gets in at 6:30am. When we went up to reception the lady said, ‘I can check you in, but reception doesn’t actually open until 8am’. Now why would you set your reception to open at 8am when you pick people up every day at 6:30am?! Next, she made us wait while everyone else got ‘checked in’, and once we had all been seen to she took us to our rooms, which we found were 10metres away from where we’d been sitting all that time. Most hostels have a map on reception to point you to your room. It saves her and us the hassle, if they just point it out when checking in. The place isn’t even that big. Then she told us that none of the doors have locks on them, right as she opened a door up on someone who was sleeping. Later, when we were catching up on some sleep, the same thing happened to us. A couple opened the door on us and said they’d been checked into our room. So there’s something going wrong with their room allocation too. On top of that we’d been told that we had a free breakfast included and to go to the kitchen when we were ready. What we found was the remains of the cheapest white bread you can find, and a couple spreads. Yes, we’re in a hostel, but I’ve been to Billabongs remember!
The hostel itself was nice. It was based in the middle of nowhere with a nice looking pool, the room had a big shower in it, and the shuttle to and from town was very handy, but the little things let it down. If they change their reception hours and give rooms locks, I’d give this a high score, but for now; 3 out of 5.

Next was a place called Pippies in Rainbow beach. In this small town there’s a street with the backpackers along it, and Pippies seems to be the most hippy hostel. The reception staff were laid back and said to not worry about a late check out. I feared that their reclined attitude may reflect upon the cleanliness of the place, but thankfully, it did not, and our room and shared bathroom were clean enough. There was an issue of a mound of black hair clogging up the shower drain, but I could place that blame on the occupant of the black-haired girl in the one other room we shared the bathroom with. Our room even had a balcony with a table and chairs, overlooking the pool. Our free breakfast here was once again bread, but at least we had a choice of white or brown. 3 out of 5.

Our longest stay was at Halse Lodge in Noosa. Halse Lodge is part of the YHA and also has a restaurant and bar which is popular with the locals, giving the whole place less of a backpacker vibe. We had shared facilities here which appeared to get cleaned every other day and could’ve done with being cleaned every day as there were a lot of people sharing the two showers and toilets the hostel had. We also struggled to find the right time to cook in the kitchen, but that’s probably the same for every hostel, we just hadn’t needed to before. It’s very convenient that there’s a restaurant on site with a 10% discount for guests, and we used this opportunity on more than one occasion. The room itself was nicely decorated and at no point did I fear that a cockroach or spider would join us. As they have a restaurant, there’s no free breakfast here, but we had no problems with the staff, room, or facilities so I’ll gladly give them a 5 out of 5.

Begrudgingly we headed into Brisbane. Being a big city, we didn’t have high hopes for a nice hostel. At Brisbane Base Embassy, what we found was a maze of corridors with rooms off of them that somehow were cool enough to not need air con. It was also quiet enough with double glazing. However, the bathrooms were filthy even after the cleaners came out of them. I felt like they were just pushing the wet toilet paper around the room a bit more rather than cleaning it up. I didn’t even dare shower there. I spent as little time in those rooms as possible. Being a city hostel you also assume there will be noise once the clubs close, and there was. I got woken up at 3am to lots of ‘woo’s and shouting, and even though this place has a 24 hour reception, no one appeared to move them on or advise them to be quiet on entry.  3 out of 5 – it would’ve been a two with the lack of air con as well, but thankfully the rooms were chilled.

Our final hostel was Nomads in Byron Bay. This large hostel was based down a back street from the main street of Byron. We’d already heard that our hostel was a ‘party hostel’ but I found it hard to believe that all the others weren’t the same. Like Airlie, Byron had a party atmosphere, and many Brits drinking throughout the day – this time trying to be surfers or hippies as they go.
This hostel has unisex toilets and showers as well as female only toilets and showers. Most of them are based in the same section but there was a female only room at the end of the corridor near to our room, which was useful. Our private room contained a bunk bed of a double bottom, and single on top. Unfortunately it was DJ night so they had music ‘til 10pm, then the party moved onto the street below, to a nightclub, and came back into the hallways around 1-2am. None of the hostels in Byron seemed to be bad for location, but I do feel like there would have been a quieter one than Nomads. 4 out of 5.


Overall, the accommodation chosen for me was fine. At the end of two weeks moving from one to the next, I’d had enough, and I didn’t want to see another hostel for a long time. The prices do vary depending on the amount of privacy you’d like, and being in the older age bracket than your average traveller, I chose to spend that little bit more whenever I could afford it.

For most travellers, if you don’t mind a bit of muck, partying with the rest of them, and sharing with a bug or two, then you’ll enjoy your time in hostels. I’m just sharing my opinion of the ones we visited to give you another perspective of where to stay.

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#JustDoIt

I’ve been told that I try to do everything now, that I need to slow down, and to hold off things until I’m older. But what I’ve always thought was…

‘What if I don’t get any older?

People try to save money all their life, intending to use it when they’re retired, then they find they’re not as nimble as they once were and can’t visit places they’ve been waiting to go to all their life.

Then there are the ‘off-putters’. The ones who say that now isn’t quite the right time for them. They may be waiting on a raise at work, or trying to raise a family. Either way they feel that whilst they’re doing one of those things, they can’t do much else. These people will never find the right time.

I was one of those people, and it was while I was walking around The Forum in Rome that I realised my mother was already at a point in her life where some traverses may be too difficult for her. As I scaled hills and hopped over relics in the sweltering heat, I could imagine my mother asking for a coffee break whilst trying to find a nice shady tree. She’s been retired for nine years, and in that time has taken every opportunity to travel. Most destinations aren’t too laborious, but she now has her sights set on Machu Picchu, a tricky place to:

a) Get to

b) Breathe at

I’m a firm believer that you can do anything if you set your mind to it. I’m also a firm believer of thinking outside of the box, and when people tell me you can’t just go off travelling the world after spending so many years forging a career path, I say yes you can! It’s difficult, and it certainly takes guts, but if it builds you more as a person, then it’s worthwhile.

The Ever Evolving Pack List

The Pack List

Getting your pack list prepared well in advance of setting off is probably one of the best things you can do right from the off. I made my decision to leave the country back in January, and since February I’ve been updating a pack list and purchasing items from the list as I go.

So far I’ve come up with the below. I’m yet to decide on clothing, so that will come into it closer to the date.

  • Clothes and Shoes
  • First Aid & Prescriptions – Make sure you stock up on any prescriptions you may need before leaving as the county you’re going to might not have the same kind of cost/service as your own. Australia’s healthcare is notoriously expensive so I’m hoarding whatever I can before I go.
  • eReader & books – I’ve got hundreds of ebooks already stored on my eReader, and currently plan to take one or two paperbacks with me for the beach
  • Phone
  • Chargers – Mostly usb cables to fit into my plug charger
  • Netbook
  • Passport, vaccination book, I.D.
  • Insurance and Visa Documents
  • Travel Pillow – I looked into the best one to choose and decided that a 2 in 1 would be good, with a loop to attach it to my bag. In the end I went with this one – http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B007REVRGI
  • Ziploc bags – Great for keeping belongings dry and away from creepy spiders!
  • Microfibre Towel – Light and dries quickly. I chose this two pack so my boyfriend had one – http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00OXS67M0
  • Number padlock – I chose this one for a colour to stand out from the crowd, and ALWAYS chose a number one ‘cause it’s no good have a key padlock then losing the key for it… http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B003KIUKMC
  • Ipod – My phone doesn’t have enough space for music (it’s kinda old!), so I decided to buy a 2nd hand ipod nano. That way I have music on the go, but can also change it every so often with my external hard drive of music and my netbook. I went for a 7th generation nano from ebay. I found that if it’s an auction finishing midweek you’re more likely to get a slight price reduction to the auctions finishing on the weekend. I managed to get mine for £65.
  • Make up & Remover
  • Nail Clippers
  • Hairbrush
  • Adapters – 2 should be suffice
  • Toothbrush & Paste
  • Shaver
  • Travel Guides – I’ve read through the guides already so might just write up notes from these/take pictures, and leave them behind.
  • Notebook & Pen – Always good to have a pen handy, but I might leave the notebook.
  • Moisturiser
  • Camera & SD Card
  • Travel Money – Just to start me off. I should have a bank card soon after getting there.
  • Sewing Kit – Something many people have said would be useful to have but I might just leave.

What’s missing? I’ll be revising the list again at the end of May.

Planning the Big Move!

 With new year’s resolutions come new ways of thinking. Most people plan to be different or make a change, but the majority of us forget these resolutions and go back to how we were. Change is difficult. It’s not easy to break the habit.

For me, this year, I decided to make a change that I can no longer back out of – or at least not very easily. I decided to leave my British life behind and go to Australia.

This wasn’t a spur of the moment decision. I have always wanted to work in other countries, and over the last few years become a little addicted to travelling, so after spending most of last year at home waiting for my boyfriend to return from yet another production abroad, I’d had enough being the one holding the fort, and decided 2015 was my year.

I began my destination search by looking up working visas. As a beginning destination for my lifetime away, I wanted somewhere I could easily integrate into. I narrowed it down to Canada, Australia and New Zealand. America was out of the running as I was only able to get a working visa if I was still in education. Canada only allows a small amount of people in each year, and only process requests at certain points of the year. Australia and New Zealand however, are very accepting of British Citizens, and would process my visa at any time and offer up to 23 months on a working visa. So the decision was made. I would start my journey in Australia on a 12 month working visa, and extend it from there if I so wished.

I made a preliminary plan of places to visit. I have a relative in Brisbane, and friends in Sydney and Melbourne, so it was set. I’d start in Brisbane and work my way down the coastline.

Once this decision was made, I applied for the visa, which cost $420AUS. I received confirmation of acceptance in less than 2 weeks. As soon as I was accepted, I started organising my trip.

I began my research by popping into my local STA travel centre. STA are great for tour groups, and handling the details you may not have time to go through yourself, but I must stress, that while they offer ‘the cheapest deals or your money back’, these are not compared with online deals. If you’re still a student, look them up. They’re great for student deals.

After speaking with an STA advisor, I knew that I’d need to sort out the following things for my working holiday:

  • Flight with stopover
  • Comprehensive Travel Insurance
  • Bank Card
  • Phone SIM card
  • Vaccinations

Booking the best flights

STA helped me determine the best time of year to leave. Our summer months are expensive because of the school holidays, and from September onwards is expensive as it’s Australia’s summer, so it seemed best for me to leave in June.

STA had given me a fly cost of £780 to Brisbane with a 3 night stopover in Dubai. I took this information and searched with the following websites:

www.skyscanner.net – I always find the easiest way to search for fluctuating flight costs is by going to sky scanner. On their site you can search for the whole month for your destination airport and be as broad as all airports in the UK, narrow it down to London, or minimise it even further by setting it to your nearest airport only.

From searching on here I narrowed down my dates even further.

www.kayak.co.uk – To ensure I get the best deal I always need to compare it with another site. My favourite comparison site is Kayak as I usually find the exact same flights but a tiny amount cheaper. Every little bit helps, and in this case, a saving of £20 could be a night’s accommodation!

I managed to find flights with Emirates for £740 with the three night Dubai stopover from www.lastminute.com, via Kayak. Once I was paid, I booked my flights and moved onto the next part of the process.

Comprehensive Travel Insurance

When it comes to insurance, it can get very confusing as to who includes what and the things you do and don’t need included. A lot of people will use a price comparison site to compare insurance quotes, but these companies weren’t offering the specifics that some people might need.

For me, I wanted to make sure my insurance covered the following:

  • Stopovers / short trips outside of my destination country i.e. Fiji
  • Passport & cash cover
  • Extension cover
  • Personal Liability Cover

I scoured the internet for people with previous travel experience, and who they suggested getting insurance with. Most suggested were these two sites:

Nomads – www.worldnomads.co.uk

True Travellers – www.truetraveller.com

Yes these companies are a quite a bit more expensive than most, but they’re higher for a reason. I found True Travellers website really helpful, as they had an online chat service to answer any questions I had before going ahead and choosing with them.

As I’m stopping over in Dubai for more than a day before heading onto Brisbane, I wanted to make sure I was covered already, but I was also looking into a mini holiday on the Fijian islands whilst I’m still in the area. True Traveller can cover you for up to 7 days depending on the duration of insurance. Having this on top of my cover for Australia and New Zealand really calmed me as I knew I’d always be covered the entire time I was out there. On top of that, I’d also be able to extend my insurance no matter which country I was extending it from. You’ll find that most of the cheaper insurance companies won’t allow any extensions and require you to return home before taking out any more insurance with them. This is no use to people who have no real plans to return!

During my research with what other backpackers had said about passport and money cover, it was decided that it was worth the minimal extra to cover such an important document and small cash I may have been carrying.

Having never really taken much notice of any previous insurance I’d taken out over the years, I was suddenly made aware of ‘Personal Liability Cover’. This freaked me out. As soon as I read what it was for, I imagined myself accidentally killing someone with a wombat! No one would want that. So this cover immediately became one of my top priorities in my search for the perfect insurance.

Bank Card/Money

You must create a bank account in Oz within the first few weeks of arriving so that you have a tax file number and account to actually get paid into. One of the biggest banks around is the Commonwealth bank, so these generally seem to be the best one to go with for ease of access to money.

I’ve also been introduced to Transferwise by a friend of mine who’s out in Oz already. By using transferwise to move cash from your UK bank account into your Australian account, you’re not losing as much money in the process as you would if you just transferred the cash directly from your British bank.

‘Transferwise converts money at the real mid-market exchange rate’

This is something I’ll be able to report back on better when I’ve used it a bit.

Phone or Sim card

Telstra has the best signal overall in Australia, and that’s VERY important. Australia is HUGE, and you’ll see from this map how vast the areas are without any signal at all.

http://opensignal.com/coverage-maps/Australia/

When I’ve been looking through volunteer listings, I’ve seen a few mentioning whether they have signal or not and they always mention TELSTRA, so this is clearly the best by far, and the one I’ll be buying a sim for.

Having an old iphone 4, I was undecided as to whether it was time for me to buy a new phone with more storage or just stick with what I’ve got and just make sure it’s unlocked for other sim cards. In the end, it just didn’t seem worth turfing out the extra cash for something I already owned that was still working perfectly.

My contract runs out a week after I leave the country so in May I’ll be telling O2 that I’ll be cancelling my contract. As a pay monthly customer I’m able to request for my phone to become unlocked free of charge. I just need to fill in this form:

https://www.o2.co.uk/apps/help/help?qid=1&q1=2&route=unlocking&case=Handset%20Unlocking%20Form

Vaccinations

Last year I’d received my first jab of Hep A, meaning that if I topped it up this year, I’d be covered until 2025. So off I popped to my local Doctor’s for their Saturday morning travel clinic. Each doctor will handle vaccinations differently, and depending on where you live or how much time you have until you travel, you may find it easier to book into a private travel clinic such as Nomad’s.

My local doctor allows you to book an appointment letting them know there and then which countries you will be visiting, and they will order the correct jabs for you. Oz and NZ don’t really need anything, but I wanted my Hep updated so that if I did go onto Fiji, I’d still be covered jab wise.

Planning ahead and organising your vaccinations through your doctor means that you won’t need to pay for anything. There are the more exotic jabs such as yellow fever for example that will require a small charge, but all of these will be minimal compared to a private clinic, so it’s always suggested that you try and sort them with your doctor first.

That’s where I’m at so far! If you think there’s anything else I should be considering, let me know. I’ve made a preliminary packing list which I’ll share soon, then will probably update closer to the time.