Maybe it’s the “youth” factor that puts some people off, but after staying in a couple of YHA hostels this year, I’m a convert to this form of budget travelling despite the fact the y-word no longer applies to me.
Until recent years, my image of youth hostelling was stuck in the 1970s. In fact, I’d tried it back then when backpacking in the UK and not been a fan. But times have changed, and that venerable institution the Youth Hostels Association (established in the 1930s) has been clever enough to change with them.
Not only do you no longer have to share a room with half a dozen strangers (unless you want to), but there’s also no imperative to cook for yourself every night, and the facilities in some YHA establishments rival hotels – I’m talking swimming pools, rooftop bars, and cinema lounges. Locations are generally excellent, and some of the YHA’s more than 70 hostels around Australia are in some pretty interesting buildings, from converted train carriages in Sydney to the 1850s Fremantle Prison YHA, which is the only accommodation in Western Australia with UNESCO World Heritage Status.
Last week I stayed in a “penthouse” suite on the rooftop of the Melbourne Central YHA, and the image at the top of this page is of my room there. Not bad for a youth hostel, I reckon!
There are three penthouses at this hostel, private double rooms with ensuites and a small kitchen/luggage area too. The rooms open onto the rooftop terrace, where there are barbecues, chairs and tables…perfect for summer evenings but not so great last week in mid-winter. Despite that, on a sunny afternoon when I checked in, it was being well-used by two young women practicing their Bollywood dance moves! And if you’re thinking about late-night revellers keeping you awake, don’t worry, it’s closed at 10pm.
The days of lugging around a sleeping bag or sheet are gone. Here, all linen is provided and my private room also came with towels, soap and shampoo, a hairdryer, safe, coffee machine (and pods) and a small fridge. Just like a hotel room, but much cheaper than most, at $114 for the night (mid-week rate). Add to that a location on Flinders Street, handy to Southern Cross Station, the Yarra, and plenty of other Melbourne attractions and what more could you want?
Earlier this year, my partner Glen and I stayed at the Adelaide Central YHA, another rather trendy place in a great location. It’s easy to spot as one wall is adorned with a huge mural. We had a family room (double and bunks), which had a small balcony overlooking leafy Light Square, which was more than enough room for the two of us.
One of the great things about this hostel, especially for those on a tight budget, is the “freebies” offered, including free pancakes for breakfast each morning. After a big day out, we also opted to dine in, buying vouchers for the $5 hostel dinner offered three nights a week. Everyone was helping themselves from the big pots of spaghetti bolognese – and it wasn’t bad!
Most of YHA’s 70 hostels around Australia offer free wi-fi, and some have extras like use of bikes, walking tours, pub nights and other activities for those who want to make new friends.
YHA is also part of the world’s largest budget accommodation network, Hostelling International (HI), which has more than 3500 hostels in 60 countries. I’ve written elsewhere about the benefits of staying in a hostel in Europe, and this year’s experiences in Australian hostels have only confirmed my belief that mixing it up between the luxe and the low-budget is the way to travel. No matter what your age, you should try it!
A Glass Half Full stayed as a guest of YHA Australia.