Do you yearn to travel the world or even just around Australia? I certainly do. Within most of us resides a traveller's heart, although generally worldly commitments and financial constraints limit the extent of our adventures. However, travel doesn't have to be expensive, and there are ways we can fulfil our wanderlust without breaking the bank.
Staying at backpacker hostels can be a great alternative to pricey hotels and bed-and-breakfast accommodation. Over recent decades the number of hostels in Australia has skyrocketed, and although the quality varies dramatically, places do exist which are clean, comfortable and represent good value for money.
When I was in my late teens I spent several months travelling around Australia. Back in those days most hostels were run by the Youth Hostel Association of Australia (YHA), the local branch of a world-wide conglomeration of accommodation for budget travellers.
Many years later, the YHA is still alive and kicking, offering some of the best cheap accommodation options in Australia. At $42 its membership fee is unbelievable value, providing travellers with not only a bed but discounted travel fares on many interstate rail and bus services, savings on popular tourist attractions, cheap meals and various other goodies. Although membership isn't required to stay at a YHA hostel, it does make good sense to join, especially if you're planning to travel for an extended period of time.
Dating back to 1909, the seeds for the youth hostel movement were sown when German school teacher, Richard Schirrmann had the idea of developing a network of budget accommodation options across the country to be used by school groups and older, independent travellers. In 1912 the first permanent hostel was established in a German castle and in 1919 the German Youth Hostel Association was officially established. Over the following decades the concept spread rapidly and hostelling associations sprung up around the world. In 1939 the International Youth Hostel Federation (Hostelling International) was founded and in the same year the hostelling movement begun in Australia with the establishment of YHA VIC.
Despite its name, YHA membership is not limited by age, and while most hostel guests tend to be young international travellers, families, couples and even much older people can enjoy the unique facilities that it provides. One of the most inspiring people I ever met at a YHA hostel was an elderly English woman who was hostelling alone around Australia, after years of travelling through Europe, Asia and America.
Youth hostels in Australia are many and varied, and are situated in every part of the country - mainly in popular tourist destinations, but also in smaller, lesser-known localities where visitors can experience small-town Australian life, well away from the tourist trail. Facilities range from rustic to quite luxurious, and hostels are rated according to a range of criteria, so you can have some idea what you're in for.
The structures which are utilised as hostels are often quite quirky, and as well as purpose-built tourist accommodation they include old hospitals, fire-stations, schools and even old rail carriages. Traditionally accommodation was very simple, consisting of separate dormitories for men and women. Travellers would sleep in double-story bunks, and on one occasion in Tasmania many years ago, I clearly remember triple-story bunks as well. While the dormitories remain as the cheapest option, these days (for an extra cost) couples often have a private double room, friends can share twin or triple rooms, and family rooms are available at many locations. In addition, many hostels provide the choice of staying in a mixed dorm, although this may not be appealing to everyone. While some modern hostels provide ensuite bathrooms for dormitories and private rooms, generally they are shared with other guests. However, each hostel is different: while large, modern and purpose-built hostels often have fancy amenities, smaller places generally won't provide such luxuries.
One reason that youth hostels are so popular with travellers is that they provide a wonderful opportunity to meet interesting people from all around the world. Therefore they always have large common areas: communal kitchens where you can cook your own meals (another great way to keep travel expenses down), indoor living areas and outdoor areas, which often include a pool. A lot of hostels also hold regular social events such as pizza nights, pool parties and special outings. Once again, each is different.
In a nutshell, if you're yearning to hit the road but need to watch your budget, purchasing a Youth Hostel Association membership may be just what you need. Not only does it provide budget accommodation in hundreds of hostels around Australia and oodles of other great travel deals, it also enables you to stay at hostels overseas plus take advantage of many other great discounts while you're over there. Whether you're planning a major round-the-world odyssey or simply want to take regular short weekend escapes, the world is your oyster with the Youth Hostel Association. For more information about YHA Australia and Hostelling International, check out their websites.
Where: Throughout Australia and many other places overseas.
When: Any time
Cost: Membership is $42 (over 26 years old); $32 for those under 26; $42 for family membership. Dormitory accommodation for members is usually from $22 to $38, depending on the hostel's location and the facilities provided. Private rooms are more expensive.
Web:http://www3.yha.com.au/ Phone: 02 9218 9090