Who doesn't like staying in a fancy hotel? Everyone loves a bit of luxury, but when you're travelling far and often sometimes your choices have to be a little more down to earth.
Hostels are a great way to meet new people, but still there’s no guarantee that you’re going to meet great people. You could end up finding your new best friends, or get stuck with five of the most boring (or smelly) individuals on earth. The idea of sharing a bedroom with randoms seems crazy until you’ve actually tried it, but as long as you’re a person who can easily fall asleep anywhere when you’re tired (me!), you’ll be just fine.
Some hostels have single rooms which are still a lot cheaper than a hotel. It’s a nice little luxury to have your own private space, as long as the walls aren’t too thin. In the space of one week I spent nights listening to a man trying to repair his marriage over the phone, a couple planning a six month cycling tour and someone who sounded like he was running a late night cookery class via Skype.
For something a bit different, keep an eye out for a capsule hotel. These futuristic sleeping pods are not for the claustrophobic, but you get more privacy than at a hostel plus a choice of lighting colours and your own climate controls.
Honestly, I’m not a fan of camping. Why do you want to go on holiday and sleep in a tent? It’s cold. Until suddenly it’s hot and you wake up gasping for air, desperately trying to escape through layers of zips and nylon flaps. I once came scarily close to padlocking myself into a tent, but that’s a story for another day.
For a different point of view, I had a chat with my best friend Sandy, who thoroughly enjoys camping.
Over to Sandy now for her top reasons why she loves going camping:
1) You can get accommodation with a 5 star view for a 1 star price.
2) You go to the sleep to the sounds of nature, especially when you camp near the beach and you can hear the sounds of the ocean.
3) You can get creative with your cooking and see how many things you can make with only a campfire and a limited amount of cooking utensils.
4) For city people like me it's a great chance to actually see the stars properly, without any light pollution.
5) Most of the time you have no phone reception when camping. When you can't use your phone you are forced to make conversation with your friends and find activities to entertain yourself. You end up doing things like playing card games that you wouldn't usually think of doing at home.
6) You get to go to bed early which is one of my favourite things to do! (Editor note: Honestly, she’s not that boring, she just really enjoys sleep and I can totally relate to that!)
7) Camping is a perfect chance to really get away from the world and enjoy being alone with friends or with someone special. Or nearly always….
One time I went camping with a boyfriend at a deserted little spot up the coast. After parking the car found we had to walk about 1km to the campsite with all our stuff. We had to do several trips back and forth to the car. We’d just got everything sorted out, I’d set up my awesome reclining camping chair in a perfect spot and got an ice cold cider out of the esky.
Suddenly there was a rustle in the bushes and a sweaty man appeared, exhausted from a strenuous day of hiking. I assumed this random man would just say a polite hello and then continue on his way, but by complete unfortunate coincidence it turned out that he was some old acquaintance of my boyfriend. Next thing I know I’m kindly offering my awesome chair to this man and so I’m sitting on the ground while he’s getting comfy in my chair, drinking my cider and enjoying my hard earned ocean view!
You know, this is controversial but I’m still not sold on AirBnB. I’ve learnt that I value anonymity when I’m travelling. I just don’t feel comfortable in someone else’s house where they’ve made such an effort for everything to be perfect.
What happens if I accidentally break a plate? Or I have some kind of shower curtain related incident that ends in water dripping out of a downstairs light socket? I’m not even catastrophising, this actually happened to me. I have a track record of freak mechanical incidents in other people’s bathrooms.
Also sometimes I’m just a disgusting human. Like that time I went to Ibiza with newly dyed red hair and a spray tan. My hotel sheets and towels definitely knew all about it.
You can get away with stuff in hotels. AirBnB is personal. It’s someone’s house, they’ll personally be cleaning the room and they’re going to write a review of your guest behaviour. They’ll never forget your name.
Image: 123rf.com 98705707 Vadim Georgiev
Whether you're travelling with a suitcase, backpack, Hogwarts trunk or wicker panniers on the back of a donkey, packing for a trip always leads to some eternal dilemmas.
Will you be able to carry it?
I always over pack, especially for long distance trips. I've recently been travelling with, to quote the manager of a hostel in Adelaide, a suitcase the size of a small apartment. I made a similar mistake when I first arrived in Australia, bringing with me a backpack which I couldn't even carry on my back.
The other extreme is a Polish bloke I met on an Uluru tour. He had one small bag, smaller than my average work day handbag, for six months of travel. He explained that he had simply had two pairs of shorts, two t-shirts, two pairs of socks and two pairs of undies. One set to wear and one to wash. In a hot climate, he said, that’s all you need.
Do you really need it?
My theory is that I just never know what might be waiting for me on my journey. I might need dresses and shoes for fancy dinners. I could be overcome with a sudden urge to work out three times a day, for which I’ll need a range of active wear and a specific pair of trainers. What about when I need to rustle up a suit for my dream job interview? In Darwin?
I’m also guilty of packing clothes that I absolutely love but will probably never wear. My same few black t-shirts will be on constant rotation while that beautiful pale blue sundress will never get worn because I’m too scared of spilling my dinner down it.
Can you actually find anything in there?
When your bag is too full it will basically vomit its contents out across the room as soon as you try to find anything. How I ever lived without packing cubes I really can’t tell you. Those black mesh zip up bags in assorted sizes have revolutionised my life.
I’d always been taught that it's a great space saving idea to tuck small items into shoes inside your suitcase. But this always lead to the question of which pair of shoes did I actually put my extra-warm socks in?
During a winter trip overseas I took a pair of knee high boots to be reheeled, only for the shoe mender to point out that my entire sock collection was still stuffed inside. He and I can both be grateful that I'd packed my undies in my other pair of boots.
A few months ago I moved to Perth from Sydney. Most of my friends in Sydney think I've lost the plot. They're forever coming up with questions like "Isn't Perth just a small country town?", "Is there anywhere to go out?", and "Do they have Uber over there?".
Yes we do have Uber, but that's not even important compared to all these beautiful reasons to visit Perth and the West Coast of Australia.
1) Meet a quokka at Rottnest Island
Just off the coast of Perth, Rottnest Island is home to the cutest marsupial on earth, the quokka. These little guys were made to be social media stars, so if you want to snap a quokka selfie you'll have to come to Perth.
2) Relax at Cottesloe Beach
Characterised by its shady Norfolk Pine trees and chilled out vibes, Cottesloe is Perth's iconic beach destination. Cottesloe also levels up against east coast rival Bondi by having its own edition of Sculpture by the Sea every summer.
3) Be amazed at the Pinnacles Desert
It doesn't take long for the west to get wild. Drive just 2hrs 15mins north of Perth city centre and you'll find the Pinnacles Desert. No one really knows how the Pinnacles came to be here, set in bright yellow sand, while all surrounding areas are either white sand or red dust. The more you look at these curious limestone structures the more you see, with animal shapes, faces and more seeming to reveal themselves on the surface of the rocks.
4) Taste all of the wine at Margaret River
When it comes to wine, the Margaret River region is renowned for some of Australia's favourite drops. The area is also packed full of popular surf beaches like Injidup, Yallingup and Three Bears, and it's only 3hrs drive south of Perth.
5) Catch a game at Optus Stadium
Recently voted the most beautiful sports facility in the world at the Prix Versailles 2019 international architecture awards, Perth's 60,000 seat Optus Stadium is a whole new experience for sports fans.
6) Dance the night away in Northbridge
On a Friday and Saturday night, Perth's main party district has a huge choice of venues and streets packed full of party goers all the way through the night. There's also a big underground party scene in Perth, and without the lockout laws that have been imposed in some Australian cities a night out really can mean a whole night. Start your night with a beer and a pizza at the Northbridge Brewing Co.
7) Frolic among the flowers at Kings Park
Kings Park is Perth's largest inner city open space, with a multitude of gardens to explore and breathtaking views across the river to the CBD, South Perth and beyond.
8) Sip a fancy coffee in Fremantle
An entire destination city in itself, Fremantle's markets, cappuccino strip cafes and harbourside restaurants attract locals and tourists on every sunny day. Visit Fremantle Prison for a history lesson with the chance of a supernatural presence.
9) Catch some waves at Scarborough Beach
Scarborough's pristine white sand and excellent surf breaks are a big draw for beach lovers from all around the city. Spend your evenings drinking at the many bars along the beachfront, checking out the view from the perfectly located Sunset Hill or shopping at the Sunset Markets.
10) Swim, snorkel and dive in paradise at Ningaloo Reef
Australia's most beautiful marine life is right here on the West Coast. Walk just a few steps into the ocean from the virtually untouched beaches to swim amongst stunning corals, brightly coloured tropical fish, turtles and whale sharks.
For those who aren't quite sure, backpacker hostels in Australia offer budget accommodation, mostly in shared rooms with bunk beds. You might stay for one or two nights, or a whole lot longer.
Some hostels are full of quiet, sensible people, while others are known to be hectic party hostels. The best hostels sit somewhere right in the middle of that scale.
Read on for 10 things that you'll only understand if you've experienced hostel life for yourself... for everyone else there might be some surprises!
1) Sharing a bedroom with strangers
Yes, it’s strange to start with, but everyone is in the same situation. Privacy is virtually non-existent, so everyone respects each others space. Keeping your valuables in a locker is always a good idea, as is wearing some kind of clothing to sleep in, but remember that 99.999% of roommates you’ll encounter are no more a thief or a creep than you are.
2) The unshakeable belief that Fruity Lexia makes you sexier
In fact so does any wine that comes in a 4 litre box, but only, and I repeat only, when consumed within the walls of a backpacker hostel. Being seen drinking goon at parties in the real world will absolutely never, ever get you laid.
3) Getting the bottom bunk
How awesome does it feel when you check into a hostel and find that you’ve scored a bottom bunk with a power point next to it! Top bunks can sometimes feel a bit more private, but going up and down that ladder in the dark soon becomes an absolute pain.
4) Creating an entire meal from stuff left in the free food
It’s true that backpackers never, ever turn down a free feed. But aside from that, the concept of a free food shelf in the hostel kitchen is a little way of paying it forward to each other and reducing food waste. Need some rice or pasta to go with your dinner? Check the free food. Flying home today and don’t want to take your teabags and a jar of Vegemite with you? Leave them on the free food shelf.
5) Writing your name on your food bag
All your food lives in two reusable shopping bags, one on the kitchen shelf and one in the fridge. The chances are your food won’t get nicked, but if your bag’s not clearly labelled with your name, room number and departure date it will be thrown out by staff on fridge cleaning day, or end up on the free food shelf.
6) People having sex in dorms
While all the other beds are occupied. Yes, people do this. Even on top bunks. Most top bunks can handle it, but you won’t know for sure until you’ve tried. As a general rule, the noisier a couple are the less likely it is that they’ve ever met each other before. Think this is absolutely disgusting behaviour and you’d never do it a dorm in a million years? Try spending a year living in hostels and then we’ll talk again.
7) Needing about $10 in coins every week to do your laundry
Even if you do manage to wash your whites separately, girls can be assured that all white bras will end up grey after about six months on the road.
8) Knowing there's never a perfect time to get up
If you get up too early you’ll have to be quiet as a mouse because other people in your room are still sleeping. Same time as everyone else and there'll be a queue for the showers. Sleep in too late and before you’ve even got out of bed to brush your teeth the hostel staff will come waltzing in to change the linen on the empty bunk above you, do the hoovering, and maybe even stop to chat.
9) Going on long distance road trips with a bunch of people you’ve only just met
Back home you wouldn’t dream of having a good laugh with some random strangers at the pub then going on holiday with them a week later. But in the backpacker world, that’s exactly what you do. You might even go all in and buy a car together.
10) Friends disappearing from your life as suddenly as they showed up
You went up the coast sharing tents, beers and maybe even boyfriends, but that’s no guarantee you’ll even see their face on Instagram again once you’ve parted ways. But don’t despair just yet. There’s a really high chance you will form friendships that last a lifetime, you just won’t always know which ones they are until you’re somewhere further down the track.
Image: Poidabro [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]
Australia eh? It's all sunny and full of animals that can kill you. Spiders too, spiders that can kill you. Well, yes that's all true, but here's some lesser known facts to prepare you for normal life in an Australian city.
1) It gets cold in Australia
Seriously. We have cold winter days here, especially in June and July. Aussies wear coats in winter, just like everyone else. What we don’t have here is central heating, so we just sit at home with no heating whatsoever and huddle up under layers of blankets while we’re watching TV. Some areas of Australia even get snow, enough that there’s a whole region of ski resorts around the Snowy Mountains, just south of Canberra.
2) No-one actually drinks Fosters
All those adverts on TV back home, where blokes in the outback are sitting around swigging cans of Fosters and hanging out with their pet kangaroos? Sorry mate, all just one big marketing con. Australians love a cold beer, but it’ll be a Coopers, James Boag’s, Little Creatures, or any of the legions of other local beers that taste so much better than Fosters.
3) Australia doesn’t have any copper coins
In fact, 1c and 2c coins were withdrawn from circulation back in 1992. It took me weeks to realise this because when I first arrived in Australia there was a copper coin rattling around in my purse, a copper coin which I just assumed was a 1c coin. Nope, it was just a penny that was suddenly a long, long way from home. Pricing in shops is often still down to the cent, but the total value of cash payments is automatically rounded up or down to the nearest 5c.
4) You can’t buy fireworks in Australia
Anywhere. Except for one day a year in the Northern Territory. Only licensed pyrotechnics professionals are allowed to buy and use fireworks. What this does mean is that every big public event, sporting occasion or even just most Saturday evenings in Sydney’s Darling Harbour, will end with a firework display. New Zealand celebrates Bonfire Night on 5th November, but Australia doesn’t.
6) You can’t buy booze in the supermarket
But there is a supermarket devoted to booze. It’s called Dan Murphy’s.
7) Australian English isn’t always very British
In fact, it’s more American at times. Over here we watch movies not films, wear pants not trousers and if you’re in the market for a new home you’ll need to see a real estate agent. Why are they so ‘real’? And another thing I’m pretty sure we’ve inherited from the US - the ad breaks on TV are in all the wrong places. You can’t make a cuppa between one programme (I mean, show) and the next because there’s no break in between!
8) Australian’s love to watch 'the footie’
You’re absolutely right in thinking ‘footie’ must be short for football, but in New South Wales, ‘footie’ means NRL (National Rugby League). In Victoria and Western Australia, ‘footie’ means AFL (Australian Football League), which is the game that you might have heard of as ‘Aussie rules footballs’. Both leagues kick off in March, with grand finals around the end of September. A couple of weeks later the A-League starts, and that’s the football league. Except most people insist on calling it soccer.
9) There’s a huge subculture known as ‘bush doof’ parties
Dance music took a long while to gain popularity in Australia and any music with a repetitive electronic beat was derided as ‘all that doof doof music’. Party people were being judged in the cities so they took the party out to the bush. That means ‘the countryside’, by the way. Nothing to do with pubic hair. ‘Doofing’ is not just about music but also incorporates experimental arts, health and wellbeing, with an ethos of everyone being kind to each other and to the environment.
10) ‘Thongs’ are not a type of underwear
Thongs are flip-flops and they’re not just for the beach. Thongs are standard day-to-day footwear and it’s only really necessary to swap them for something more substantial when you’re in the office or at a wedding. Wearing thongs to the shops, out to lunch, or to any casual social occasion is just plain normal.
Here's an idea, let's go to Melbourne!
So.. Melbourne eh? What do you hear about Melbourne? Oh it’s so much more cultured than Sydney! There’s all these amazing clubs and bars but you have to go and find them down back alleys, it’s more of a locals place you know. And it’s got trams! Such a good way to get around! Oh and you must go and ‘do the Great Ocean Road’.
I arrived in Melbourne on a Saturday afternoon in early November 2004 after a tearful and nervous departure from Sydney, from all my new friends and from the infamous backpacker hostel that had been my home for the last two months. I couldn’t possibly spend so much of my precious working holiday year in one location, yet I just didn’t want to leave!
I found myself in the upbeat beachside suburb of St Kilda, and checked into a hostel upstairs from the famous (in backpacker terms) Elephant & Wheelbarrow pub. A good Aussie pub with an Aussie pub band, full of good British backpackers enjoying one of Victoria’s many nods to British heritage, beer served in pint glasses. The longstanding unique attraction of the Elephant & Wheelbarrow was the weekly Neighbours Trivia Night.
On Monday morning I thought I’d go and find a job for the next few weeks. I wandered round the city centre and found myself about as inspired as I would be in an average British town centre. One that had been around for a while but hadn’t managed to retain any old world charm.
So the obvious thing to do then was apply for some kind of sales job from an ad in a backpacker magazine, and that's how I ended up on a train to an interview in the suburb of Richmond that very same afternoon. Cue my first, only and mercifully quick journey on a Melbourne train.
I took a window seat and eagerly looked out to see if anything interesting would go past. Obviously, the only thing that went past was Melbourne. Whilst I was busy trying to take an interest in the industrial estates of urban Victoria, the bloke sitting opposite me decided to start talking. Uh-oh I’ve no idea where I am or where I’m going and now I’ve got a public transport weirdo.
Weirdo: “Hello, where are you going?”
Me: “Job interview”
Weirdo: “If you’re looking for a job you should come and work with me. I’m working at Sexpo this week”
He places his hand on my knee. I thank heaven I’m wearing trousers, not a skirt. I look away from the window and glance at his face. He has that peculiar pale and sweaty look of someone who rarely sees daylight because he’s busy in his bedroom watching very inappropriate things on the internet.
Train pulls into Richmond. I run three blocks and find myself shaking, but not from interview nerves, on the doorstep of the company I will refer to as Crap Toy & Gift Sales Pty Ltd.
As usual I am completely inappropriately dressed, because this isn’t a real job interview, it’s a motivational lets-get-all-fired-up session where a guy tells a group of backpackers about the crazy amounts of money they can earn to fund their travel dreams, and all we have to do is sell his fantastic products door-to-door around the offices and industrial states of nearby suburbs. In the run up to Christmas these amazing bargains just sell themselves! Look at all these fabulous stocking fillers! Of course saying “not for me thanks” is all too hard and I find myself agreeing to come back for a trial day tomorrow at 10am.
I should step back in time now and tell you what I had done over my weekend in St Kilda. In short, I had a very nice time with a very nice bunch of backpackers from my hostel. We drank goon, we found a pub with a free sausage sizzle and $4 pints. I even allowed myself to be kidnapped for a girly Sunday night watching the TV premiere of the last ever Sex & The City episode on a big screen, in a cocktail bar while drinking cosmopolitans. We went for dinner on the Monday night and I told them about my new job and it seemed like I was joining this little gang and we were making our home here in St Kilda and living the backpacker life…hold up…hang on.. wait a minute…
Why was I here, living someone else’s backpacker life? Everything was nice enough here, but these good people has never been to Sydney. They’d chosen Melbourne, this was their backpacker experience. Mine was carrying on without me back in Sydney.
Tuesday morning, 9am. I called Crap Toy & Gift Sales Pty Ltd and firmly told them I would not be starting work that day, or any other. I booked a flight for 2pm. I checked out of the hostel and the guy even refunded the rest of the week I’d paid for. “Have a great summer in Sydney!” he said as I ran out the door to the tram.
Cover image: commons.wikimedia.org David Wallace [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]
When booking a recent trip, I noticed that I had amassed quite a few Virgin Australia Velocity points over the years. Virgin Australia had recently been pushing their business class services, maybe that was the reason why a business class seat to the Gold Coast was available for 13,800 points + $14.99.
Business class not only involves one of those enormous seats that I can usually only stare at with lust as I board the plane and make my way through to cattle class, but it also involves a free visit to the Virgin Australia lounge. Where everything is free!
I don’t mind telling you I’d been dreaming about the lounge almost as much as I’d been dreaming about the trip itself. I’d never seen the inside of an airline lounge before.
Nicki Ranger is a freelance writer currently based in Perth, Western Australia.
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