Aussie Backpackers and Wild Parties
When you think of the Youth Hostel Association in the UK you think of walkers and ramblers, of 40-year-olds sitting around log fires with cups of tea talking about the weather. Now compare that to Australia. When you think of the Youth Hostel Association in Australia you think of 19-year-olds partying, groups of backpackers talking about where they've just been or where they're going next. Why is that? How can two similar countries have two completely different cultures within the same brand? I thought I'd dive in and find the answer.
Sydney Central YHA is a hostel that knows exactly what it's doing. Even though their prices are slightly higher than other hostels in the city, they know they can deliver a better service, and because of that they're never less than 75% full. And that's all-year-round. A swimming pool and a BBQ terrace at the top of the hostel completes the experience and you start formulating a picture of what makes the hostel a success.
When you're at Sydney Central YHA, it buzzes as if it has its own life. In a way it does; it's a hive of activity with different groups of people on different agendas. Everyone's constantly walking in and out doing different things but there's one constant though; everyone's busy, everyone's doing something.
A group of backpackers on the first floor were talking about their plans for the week. "We're all splitting up this week," said James from the UK. "I'm heading up to Bowen in Queensland to find some farm work and the girls have hired a campervan and are heading up to Cairns. I'm hoping to meet up with them in Cairns before we fly onto Thailand." Other people have just arrived, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, absorbing every piece of information around them as if they were a new born infant.
In reception, there's a handy little board that everyone crowds around. On it is the week's activities - whether that's Aussie BBQ night on Monday's or make your own pizza night on Wednesday's, there's always something going on. When I asked what was going on tonight (it was a Monday), one girl, Katie, said: "Tonight's Brazilian night. We all go out, get dressed up, and dance to Spanish and Portuguese music. You should come; it's a lot of fun."
And it isn't just young hipsters who stay in Sydney Central YHA. There were quite a number of older couples, and Australians too. When I spoke to Ray Bradbury, 64, from Orange (four hours west of Sydney), he said: "The great thing about YHAs is that anyone and everyone can stay in them. I'm here visiting my children and doing a bit of sightseeing - I always stay in Sydney Central YHA; I always feel welcome here."
Jon Hutchinson, the hostel manager of Sydney Central YHA, is a ball of energy. As soon as I met him he launched into a story of when he first worked behind the desk at the hostel (I might add at this point, quite aptly, that I think he was hungover). Apparently, after a couple of months of working at the hostel, he was really struggling with the lifestyle, to the point where his manager had to have a word with him. It was the first and only time Jon was disciplined at YHA, and it was all for saying no to an after party at the hostel. That's exactly what YHA culture in Australia is all about - fun and having a good time.
When I asked Jon why Sydney Central YHA was a success, he said: "We have been the market leader and trend setter right from the very start; it's in our culture and in our DNA to continually review and improve our facilities and services. We conduct continual customer surveys both in-house and online to see what our guests both enjoy about our existing services, but more importantly, to listen to their suggestions for improvements.
"If nothing else; we just love to meet folk from all over the world and show them a warm Aussie welcome. Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi..."
In comparison, the Sydney Harbour YHA is very different. Quieter in ambience, it caters for the slightly older backpacker, and with a rooftop terrace with perfect views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, it's easy to understand why it's so popular. On New Year's Eve, the hostel throws a huge party, and I can imagine it would be an unbelievable place to see in the New Year. There's such a high demand for the event that Sydney Harbour YHA advertises the specific time and date when NYE bookings will go live. For this NYE, tickets sold out within 15 minutes of being released and NYE accommodation was fully booked within 24 hours. That's how popular it is - it's hard to believe that hostel accommodation would sell out as quickly as a Powderfinger concert.
I asked Ross Lardner, the hostel manager of Sydney Harbour YHA, what he thought was the attraction of YHAs, not just in Sydney, but in the whole of Australia. He said: "Trust in our brand is a key attraction. YHA has properties throughout the country in all major tourist hotspots and often in the best locations. YHA properties may not be the cheapest place in town but they represent the best value for money with guaranteed standards, superior facilities, and well trained and knowledgeable staff."
The funny thing is, even though it sounds like a sales pitch, he's right. YHAs in Australia do offer the best hostels, they do have the best locations, and their standards are excellent.
Much like a hive, YHA have hostels not only all over Australia, but all over the world. I think one thing that makes them unique is their uniqueness. There's not this "one best way" to everything - each hostel is different with its own personality to match the location. The Blue Mountains YHA is like a log cabin; the Brisbane YHA is modelled on the city. In essence, every time you stay in a different YHA hostel it feels like a different hostel, and when you're on a gap year that's a wonderful feeling. Also, you start associating hotels to locations; "hey, can you remember that YHA hostel in Perth - how sick was that!?"
Is it the same of the UK? Yes. It's the same all over the world. YHA have worked long and hard to build up a credible image of themselves, yet it's funny that in each country a different image is portrayed, almost as if it's a reflection of that country's personality.
For example, YHAs in China are often seen as the only place to meet other English-speaking travellers; YHAs in Germany are seen as more cultural than anywhere else in the world. The point though, is it doesn't matter where you are - with a YHA you always know you're going to sleep safe and sound.
If you're heading to Australia on your gap year then make sure you head to our Australia country section for more advice and information.
About the Author: Macca Sherifi
Macca is gapyear.com's travel editor and writes on a myriad of topics, giving the best travel advice in an easy-to-read style that he would describe as 'cutesy'. His two passions are travelling and writing, which is lucky, because he's a travel writer. Macca travelled for 20 months non-stop, never settling in one place for more than a week or two, living to travel and travelling to live. In his spare time, he reads about travelling, thinks about travelling, and then travels. If that fails he still harbours hopes of being a professional rugby player...