I remember the first time I stayed in a YHA hostel in Australia. It was a new hostel in Sydney, built on what's now called the "Big Dig" archaeological site in a historic neighbourhood called The Rocks. My bunk had it's own light and USB charger, and I remember sitting on the rooftop deck watching the setting sun change the appearance of the city's famous Opera House.
That experience 8 years ago gave me high expectations when it came to hostels, and though most haven't been quite as luxe, I've found YHA Australia's hostels to be consistently clean, friendly and modern, and their brand is by far the one I trust the most when I travel. So when I set out to explore Australia's East Coast from Cairns to Canberra, I was excited to experience YHA hostels in nearly every one of the 17 cities I visited.
What is YHA Australia?
YHA Australia is a branch of Hostelling International (HI), which is a collection of not-for-profit hostel organizations in over 80 countries.
When you stay at a YHA Australia hostel, you're automatically enrolled in the YHA membership program, which gives you discounts at Hostelling International properties around the world, as well as special rates for activities and attractions around Australia. These include discounts on travel with Greyhound Australia, a free intro dive with Reef Magic Cruises, discounted admission to Tjapukai Aboriginal Park in Cairns and more.
One thing I like about YHA Australia is that the organization is quite transparent, and makes documents such as their constitution and Annual Reports available on their website for anyone who's interested to view and even download.
Why Choose YHA Australia Over Other Hostels?
Honestly, I've stayed at some great independent hostels in Australia. I've also stayed at a couple of YHA hostels I wasn't very impressed with. But one thing I've found is that YHA hostels are more consistently good compared to independent ones. Sure, they're not always super clean and they may not always be in the centre of town. They're hostels, after all. But YHA has a criteria of things that their properties must have, including 24-hour access for guests, wifi and communal areas including a kitchen. Each hostel must also meet all safety and health codes regulated by the state and city they're located in.
YHA also has a grading system for each of its hostels: Wilderness is the most basic, and means the hostel is on the rustic side - then follows Grade 3, 4 and 5. Most of the hostels I stayed at during my trip along the East Coast were Grade 4 and Grade 5, and they all fit their grade (with the exception of the Hervey Bay YHA, which I honestly felt belonged a grade lower).
YHA Australia's Sustainability
One thing I noticed consistently was a strong commitment to sustainability. All YHA hostels had recycling options, which sometimes even included special bins for recycling used clothing and mobile phones. There are also continuing efforts to make the hostels more eco-friendly - for example, the Yamba YHA has motion sensor lighting in the bathrooms to save energy, the Brisbane City YHA uses a rainwater tank for flushing toilets and other YHA hostels now have things like low-energy lighting, dual-flush toilets and even solar panels.
The organization also encourages guests through signage to save water, energy and waste whenever they can, and there's an option to add $1 to every online booking which goes to YHA's Sustainable Hostels Fund. The organization matches each donation, and the money goes towards projects that help make YHA Hostels around the country more sustainable.
Traveling Australia with YHA
Every YHA hostel I stayed at in Australia had its own special charm. There are some cool properties like the converted railway carriages at Sydney's Railway Square YHA and the beautiful mansion that operates as the Newcastle Beach YHA. Even my least favourite properties had some great features like balconies attached to the rooms (Airlie Beach YHA) and a lovely pool surrounded by tropical gardens (Colonial Village YHA).
YHA is also a great option if you're traveling with one of Greyhound Australia's bus passes. I was happy to find out that there was a YHA in every one of the 17 cities and towns I stopped at along the east coast, with the exception of Mackay (which unfortunately didn't offer much to visitors without a car anyway).
Each YHA hostel offered the ability to check in after hours whenever I arrived on a late bus, and I never had to wait for a room to be ready if I arrived in the morning. You should always check reception hours in advance, as some hotels close for a bit during the afternoon. If you arrive outside those times, just call or email the property and they'll give you easy instructions on how to pick up your key.
Most of the YHA Australia hostels I stayed at were either in the centre of town, or within walking distance to popular attractions. Those that weren't either offered a free shuttle that you could sign up for, or provided information on the local public transit. Some hostels even provided shuttles to and from the Greyhound bus stops, which helped a lot.
Several of the hostels I stayed at also offered activities that guests could get involved in, which is a great way for solo travelers to meet new people. I participated in a BBQ on the tropical patio of the 1770 YHA, scored points at a trivia night on the Yamba YHA's rooftop deck, enjoyed cheap but delicious pizza at the Coffs Harbour YHA and watched movies beside a cozy fireplace at the Newcastle Beach YHA. Many locations along the coast also offered surfboard and bike hire, some for free!
One thing I like about YHA is that although most of the hostels encourage guests to socialize with each other, they're not party hostels. This makes them suitable for all types of travelers. If you want to go out and have fun, it isn't usually too hard to find fun places to go and other travelers to go with, but YHA hostels usually have noise curfews and alcohol rules so things don't get too crazy.
About a day or two before you arrive, YHA sends out a reminder email about your upcoming stay, which includes hostel details, suggestions about things to do and the option to check in online. I've never seen this option with a hostel before, and was delighted to find that it shaved a few minutes off the check in process, since all I had to do was show the receptionist my passport to confirm my identity.
Another thing I noticed at the YHA hostels I stayed in was that I never had to wait for a bathroom. Even if there was an ensuite in the dorm room, there was always another one somewhere on the property that could be used if needed. In the communal female bathrooms, there were always enough showers and toilets. There wasn't always soap or hand dryers, but none of the non-YHA hostels I stayed at had them either and it's easy enough to be prepared for this (see packing suggestions below).
What to Pack for Your Hostel Stay
When I travel in hostels, I like to keep a little amenities kit in my bed, which allows me to keep everything I need in a safe place, without worrying about losing anything. It usually includes hand sanitizer, lip balm, a pack of kleenex, my room key, and everything listed below that's small enough to fit. Whenever I go out, it fits nicely in my bag, and contains some things that are useful wherever I go, including trips between cities on the Greyhound bus.
• Hand soap is something that many hostels unfortunately don't have, and though most of the YHA hostels I stayed at did have it, I was glad that I had packed some just in case. A small squeeze bottle of liquid soap was enough to last me an entire month.
• Eyeshades were another thing I was glad to have, particularly in hostels where each bed had an individual reading light. There were also times when roommates checking in late or leaving early turned on the room light, which isn't ideal for light sleepers who don't like to be blinded at 4 in the morning. Eyeshades solve this problem really well.
• Ear plugs are something I personally don't like to use, but they do come in handy. Even if people are respectful when checking in and out in the early hours of the morning, it's usually impossible not to make noise. You may have roommates going in and out of the room, and you might also have to share a room with someone who snores loudly.
• A small padlock is another thing you'll want to bring with you. Most YHA hostels in Australia have lockers in the dorm rooms, and though your roommates most likely aren't gonna steal your stuff, it's always good to be safe, particularly if you're traveling with a laptop or DSLR camera.
• A pair of sandals is good to have, since the showers are used by a lot of people. As someone who has done housekeeping in hostels before, I can honestly say those shower floors don't always get as clean as you'd like to believe they are.
• A towel is also good to have with you, since some hostels charge for towel rentals and others may not rent them out at all. You can also hang it over the railing of a bottom bunk for a bit of privacy.
• An extra battery pack or extension cord is good to have if you'd like to keep your electronics fully charged. The newer city hostels might have USB chargers for each bunk, but most hostels won't. An extension cord will also give you the opportunity to make some friends, since some hostels may have limited power outlets far from the beds.
What does it cost to stay at YHA hostels in Australia?
Like other hostels, prices fluctuate depending on the dorm size, the location of the hostel and the time of year, but most of the YHA hostels along Australia's East Coast are between $25-$30 per night for a bed in a dorm. If you're staying for several nights in a row, many hostels offer discounted packages, which sometimes also include things like breakfast, premium wifi and local activities.
If you plan to spend a couple of weeks or more traveling Australia, I highly recommend that you consider purchasing a YHA ePack. ePacks are online packages that you can use for 5, 10, 15, 20 or 30 nights at YHA hostels across Australia. Not only are they easy to book, they give you a much better rate than booking individual nights at each property you plan to stay at. Though each pack is only valid for 2-3 months (depending on which pack you buy), the nights don't have to be used consecutively.
I used the 15-night ePack during my trip along the east coast of Australia, and it covered most of my accommodation between Cairns and Sydney. I was able to use it for up to 3 consecutive nights at each location, and I kept track of my bookings through the YHA website and their handy mobile app. At one point, I ended up extending my stay an extra night and had to move my next hostel reservation a day later. This was very easy to do - I just had to call my next hostel in Sydney and the receptionist made the changes immediately on her computer.
The only issue I ran into was when I cancelled a reservation early in my trip and the extra night didn't get credited back to my ePack, but this was fixed by contacting YHA by email. I was told it was most likely an issue where the receptionist was new and didn't fully understand how the system worked yet, and doesn't often happen. The unused night was then manually added back to my ePack for me to use. Regardless of this minor issue, I highly recommend considering an ePack for your trip along Australia's east coast. They're affordable, easy to use, and take a lot of the stress out of booking accommodation.
Other hostel costs
Many hostels I stayed at along the coast asked for a key deposit upon check-in. This is a normal thing for any hostel and was usually $5 or $20 which was returned to me when I checked out. I do recommend keeping track of when you've given a deposit, as a couple of the places I stayed at forgot to give it back to me, and I didn't realize until after I'd left.
All the YHA hostels I stayed at had guest laundry facilities. This usually cost $3 or $4 for each separate load in the washer and dryer, and single packs of detergent were usually available at reception for $1 or $2. Best to budget $10 for each load of clothing you plan to wash.
Free Wifi was almost always available throughout each hostel, though there were a couple that offered premium wifi for an extra charge. I had a good data plan so never felt the need to pay for internet, but if you need to have wifi access in your dorm room, or go above the free mb limit, you may need to splurge at a couple of places.
Some hostels may charge an extra fee for eating utensils like plates and cutlery. I haven't encountered this much, but it does happen in some places - particularly those that have dealt with a lot of theft or frequently had guests hoarding them in their rooms.
Luggage storage was usually free, though I did have to pay a fee of $2 at one hostel to use the facilities for the day. One of my Sydney hostels also offered paid lockers that could be used after checkout. Most hostels will store your stuff for free, including keeping valuables in a safe at reception, but you may want to carry a few extra dollars, just in case.
As mentioned above, there may be a charge to rent a towel if you don't have your own. I do highly recommend bringing or buying your own, as it's not guaranteed that every hostel will have towels to rent.
Though there are some small extra costs that can add up, you can overall save a lot of money by staying in hostels when you travel Australia, and YHA provides the best value for money, especially if you use an ePack for your trip. For more information, you can visit the YHA Australia website.
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