We are back to being backpackers, living out of a bag.
Australia has a strong backpacker industry and there are hundreds of hostels to choose from. They can roughly be divided into two kinds: party hostels and working people hostels. In the former, people start drinking around 4 p.m. and there is almost music blasting from somebody’s speakers. In the latter, people generally stay long-term and work odd jobs until their visa run out.
Hostels are chaotic places. Shared bathrooms, communal kitchen, dorms… living with perfect strangers is both surprisingly easy and quite weird. You can tell the kids who have never lived outside home (hint: they leave dishes everywhere and walk around in filthy clothes because they are quite not sure how the washing-machine works) from those who have some experience being on their own.
In hostels, the majority rule. If twenty people decide to party, good luck to sleep—and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. As I’m writing this, I’m surrounding by fifteen English and Irish who are loudly playing poker and eating pizza, seating on the floor. Yes, it’s well past midnight and they had way too much to drink.
I’m always amazed at how much crap people carry with them. We were in a dorm a few nights ago and we had literally no room to move around because the guys had four backpacks between the two of them (although we suspected they belong to some friends they wanted to sneak in), clothes all over the beds, open jars of Nutella on the bathroom sink and packs of beer in the fridge. I don’t even know how they can pack everything back.
Sleeping in a room full of strangers is also an art to master. Some catch an early 6 a.m. bus, some come back from clubbing at 4 a.m., and others are sleeping around the clock to recover from jetlag. There are always bodies more or less wrapped in a sheet lying around. There is also always someone who snores, who trip on a backpack or who wake up everyone by turning on the light. Basically, the best way to sleep soundly in a hostel is to pass out drunk.
There is a certain level of trust among backpackers. Sure, people label their food in the communal fridge, adding vaguely menacing notes such as “do NOT touch”. But the truth is, you gotta trust fellow travelers. In dorms, there are computers and cameras on each bed and very few people lock their backpack. Book exchange is offered on a trust-basis (leave a book pick a new one) and travelers usually leave behind free food staples, such as salt, pasta or spices.
All in all, it works out pretty well. Sure, there are times when you bitch because you’ve been waiting for an hour to take a shower or because all the bathrooms are taken. Or because you are desperate to sleep and you just wish the party would stop. But we are only there for sleeping anyway and we get a private room once in a while just to keep our sanity.