Mike's Australia by Mike Dixon - HTML preview
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The modern backpacker hostel came into existence about twenty-five years ago. My involvement began when I was working as a divemaster on boats taking tourists to the Great Barrier Reef. I have friends who got into the business through mountaineering and others through sailing. We saw a need for cheap basic accommodation and set out to provide it.
Since those early days, the industry has evolved into something quite different. Looking at the advertisements on the internet, I am sometimes disappointed to see how commercialised everything has become.
My wife and I sold our hostel twelve years ago. I have no financial interest in backpacking and will do my best to give independent advice.
Q. Why stay in a backpacker hostel?
A. a) It's relatively inexpensive;
b) a good hostel has a communal atmosphere;
c) you can meet people and share experiences.
Hostels come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some are huge resorts that cater for the travelling party animal. Others are small and laid back. Some provide accommodation for fruit pickers. Others are more like eco-resorts. Many have private rooms with en-suite as well as dormitories. Laundries and kitchens are always provided. Internet access is the norm.
Many hostels belong to organisations: notably VIP, YHA and Nomads. They are meant to ensure high standards but do not always succeed. Surf the net and see what they have to offer.
Get personal advice from people who have been on the backpacker trail. Talk to friends and use social networking sites like twitter and facebook. Different people have different tastes. Try to learn from people like yourself.
Most backpackers are under thirty but many are older. Backpacking is a state of mind. I had prosperous middle-aged guys leave the Sheraton and stay with me. They had been out on dive boats and had met their younger diving buddies in town. When they learnt that my place had private rooms they booked into my hostel so they could be with their friends.
Finally, a note on backpacker buses. Some people love them. Others have nothing but scorn for the drivers and their passengers. I suggest you ask around and get advice before buying a ticket. One young lady told me she was using the buses because she was travelling alone. She figured there is safety in numbers. I wouldn't argue with that. If you feel insecure seek the company of people you understand.
Picture: my hostel, now demolished to make way for new development.