A lot of backpackers on a working holiday visa in Australia don’t have money. Sooner or later, everyone doing work and travel in Australia without an own camper van or car (even they might have problems to find a good parking spot) looks for a cheap place to sleep. If you have a job in a remote place, your employer might organize some kind of accommodation for you.
For every other situation, there are a lot of different possibilities of getting a good or bad nights sleep while backpacking in Australia: Living in hostels, illegal backpacker hostels on campsites, sleeping in a tent in a garden, renting a room in a share flat, try couchsurfing or sleep in your own car. Most people start their backpacking trip around Australia sleeping in hostels. But sharing a eight-bed-dorm for weeks can be nerve wrecking and very expensive. The longer I stayed in Australia, the more creative I became finding places to sleep. And the less I noticed dirt, dust and nature’s smallest crawling creatures.
Hostels are a great opportunity to get used to the backpacker life, to get a feeling for a new country, city, place and to make contacts. I usually met a lot of new people in hostels. Within my first two weeks in Australia, I spoke to more people, heard more travel stories and made new more friends than in the year before at home. I got great advise about sightseeing, finding jobs and traveling around Australia. I usually liked it very much to have a hostel as a base, be independent, go and come back whenever I wanted.
International snoring people sharing the dorm
But apart from sharing the room with some international snoring people, no privacy in common bathrooms and often a not very personal atmosphere, staying at hostels can be pretty expensive. Prices vary between 20 and 40 Dollars per night depending on the season, city and hostel facilities. Some hostels offer weekly rates and welcome long term stayers. But if you have found a job and really want to stay in one place maybe even a few weeks and months, it often makes sense to look for alternatives.
Especially in smaller towns or villages, campsites can be a good option. They usually cost half as much than hostels or even less, have shower and kitchen facilities and are not that far away from the town center. Just get a tent at the supermarket or in a second hand shop pitch it up. It’s even better, if you have a camper van. I had the best experiences staying on a campsite at Roebuck Bay in Broome. The weekly rate is around 90 Dollars for one or two people in a tent.
Colorful community with parties and body painting
At Roebuck Bay campsite, up to hundreds of backpackers stayed there at the same time in tents and with their camper vans in the dry season. Most of them were working in and around Broome.
It was a very colorful community on the campsite with music, guitar sounds, parties, some body painting action. I stayed there for weeks, met great people and had fun living outside. I didn’t have a car, but bought a cheap used bicycle to be able to get around the town and to cable beach.
The only downside: When I stayed there, it hadn’t been the most clean place on earth. The shower building for the backpacker camping area needed renovation and the open air kitchen was far too small and too basic for all the travelers staying there. I took it with humor. As a backpacker in Australia, you learn to cope with a lot of situations.
Read more about Roebuck Bay Campsite: www.roebuckbaycp.com.au
Outside villages and towns, it is possible to built up a tent or stay in a camper van in many places without paying. It is not legal, but no one cared about a group of two or four people camping in the outback. It was also possible to stay for one or two nights at an empty lonely beach as long as we didn’t leave any rubbish or set the bush on fire.
It happened just once to me, that I got fined for sleeping outside. That was close to Darwin, where me and some friends had just put some blankets on the floor in front of our car at a public picnic area. We got woken up by the police, who handed me out a ticket. The fine was more than 100 Dollars.
The great thing about Australia is, that there are free public shower and toilet buildings at many beaches. Also road houses offer showers for a small fee.
Camping in the garden of a shared house: atmosphere depends on the people
After a few weeks in Broome, I got to know some people, who lived there. And I got the opportunity to pitch up a tent in a private garden. Some other backpackers were doing the same. It was much cheaper than the campsite and we were all allowed to chill in the living room, use the kitchen and toilets. There was a hippie vibe in the house. There was a very chilled out vibe in the whole town with occasional parties at the beach.
Clash of characters
It was hot outside every day. In the house, we had a lot of guests and live music at the wooden verandah, went by car to cable beach, had picnics there and went swimming together. Well, it was not always just fun. We were a small international crowd of up to ten people at the same time, each a different character. The fridge was too small for so many people and there wasn’t much privacy. We were far too many people around in the three bedroom house and we also had arguments. We needed to clean the house. It was a lot more familiar than the campsite, where you can really do, what you want. But for a short time, it had been a great experience, that I don’t want to miss.
(Illegal) backpacker houses: crowded, dirty, cheap and anarchistic
In Australia, there is a problem with illegal hostels. Private owners can make a lot of money with renting out beds to backpackers in overcrowded and often dirty places. The backpackers usually have to pay less than in official hostels. And very often, there are not a lot of rules to obey. I stayed in one of these illegal houses in St. Kilda in Melbourne, for around two weeks. I knew, that it was illegal. It got closed by officials while I was staying there. Within a few days, I had to find a new accommodation. There were no consequences for me, no fines, no problems. It was just stressful to find spontaneously a new place to stay long term.
I had seen the advertisement for that backpacker house on the gumtree website. When I had a look at the house and the room, that I should share with two other girls, I was not overly impressed by the condition of the house. Dirty dishes were standing around. Empty bottles. There was a garden in the back, where around 30 backpackers from all over the world were able to chill in a very traditional Jewish neighborhood.
The slightly run down backpacker house was not the best place on earth, but alright and very central. I honestly didn’t really think about if it was legal or not. I didn’t think about fire alarms, which didn’t exist. I didn’t think about too many beds in the rooms (as the big city hostels didn’t give me much space either and were a lot more expensive). I didn’t care too much about all the dirty dishes in the kitchen. I went there basically to sleep, had a few chats and beers with my house mates and was happy, that I just had to pay 120 Dollars a week. But yes, if was probably not the safest place as room mates, that I didn’t know, brought friends “home”. There was no specal time, when people had to stop partying wherever they wanted in the house. Not everyone behaved extremely social. But no one was interested to provoke stress either.
Loud music at night
Afterwards, I went to another probably illegal backpacker house, that I had found online. It was in St. Kilda as well, very close to cafés, bars, the sea. But it was much smaller. 12 people were sharing three spacious rooms. Again no rules and not a lot of cleanliness.
I paid around 150 Dollars a week. And it felt more homely than the hostel. Everyone living there had a job. We had cable TV and a big living room. There were parties at the weekend. And once a week, the manager or owner came around to collect the rent.
Some of the house mates behaved a bit egoistic, played loud music at night, damaged a few things in the house and made me sometimes wish, that I had my own place.
I understand, that there are always two sides of the story. Of course, it is not right to make profit from backpackers by renting out some beds in overcrowded rooms illegally, don’t care about cleanliness and safety and don’t pay taxes.
Not many alternatives in cities
But there are really few alternatives in big cities for backpackers. It is difficult to find a room in a share house or flat for just a few weeks, because there are really a lot of backpackers around. Many hostels are far too expensive and overcrowded as well. I even saw hostels renting out beds in the cellar. And even if the minimum wage is high, most backpackers just get the worst jobs or have problems to find a job and cannot pay that much money for accommodation. At the same time, you have to live in a central location to get to your workplace. So I understand every backpacker, who tries different ways.
It took a few weeks in Melbourne until I found a great deal online: Renting my own furnished room in a share house. The house was in Windsor, which is a lively neighborhood with many cafés, second hand shops at rainbow flags.
After a few weeks of moving between hostels and backpacker houses, I was so thankful to have my own place. And I lived there with two flat mates, two students. The girl, who normally lived in that room, had been on holidays for six weeks. That was perfect for me. The house itself was not in a great condition. It was all old and needed some paint from the outside. But I really enjoyed staying there for 150 Dollars a week. I didn’t sign any contract or anything, but had to pay a few weeks rents in advance.
Cleaner coming once a week
After the six weeks, I moved to another share apartment in Fitzroy, another very hip part of Melbourne. I had also found it online. It was a room in a very luxurious apartment. And the guys, who lived there, offered a room to backpackers once in a while to have company. I paid 150 Dollars a week and stayed for a month. There was even a cleaning lady coming once a week. And from the rooftop, I had a beautiful view over Melbourne. Honestly, it was great to chill and to relax, but it was much more boring than staying in the hostels or backpacker houses.
It all has advantages and disadvantages
So, no matter where you stay and how much you can save: It all has some advantages and disadvantages. The important thing is to feel good in your place. I realized, that I didn’t like some places, structures or the whole situation around me. Sometimes, it didn’t help to safe a few Dollars, if I hated coming home in the evenings. But you don’t really always know beforehand, if you like for example the people, that you are living with. Just don’t stay in a bad situation. You can always change it. You are very free as a backpacker. I sometimes forgot that while I was suffering or complaining about something. But it is not really ususal to sign any kind of long term contract as a backpacker.