How old is too old for hostels? It’s an oft debated question and you’ll see a gamut of answers online, from those embracing the 60 something crowd to those who feel that shared accommodation is the purview of the fresh out of high school. Personally, I think staying in hostels is more a matter of preference, ability to sleep through drunken snores, and general love of hanging out with strangers, than a matter of age, but after my most recent hostel dorm experience I have a sneaking suspicion that my days of staying in dorm rooms may be over. Maybe it’s that I’m pushing 30 or maybe I’m just more introverted than before, but after staying at Gilligan’s Backpacker’s in Cairns, I can promise you, at the tender age of 29, I felt like an absolute geezer surrounded by 18 and 19 year olds getting wasted on a Tuesday night.
My travel day started rather promising, with a long day on the train from Airlie Beach to Cairns where I had a series of lovely, older seat mates. There was one particularly fascinating woman named *Carrie who I talked to for hours. As the endless sugar cane fields rolled by she regaled me with stories of her youth spent exploring the caves of Ipoh before the temples were even built, fleeing to Singapore once the Japanese invaded Malaysia in 1941, arriving in Rockingham, Western Australia after narrowly getting out of Singapore on the last ship that would take women and children (she was 6 at the time) before the Japanese took Singapore as well in early 1942. Her stories spanned decades and continents; born in the UK, raised in Asia, and living in Australia, she’s built multiple homes in Indonesia as a single woman after losing her husband young, sailed up and down the east coast with her children, and is still leading ladies on tours in Indonesia in her late 80s while still speaking fluent Bahasa Indonesian. Needless to say I was rapt and about 6 hours later she had an open invitation for coming aboard anytime she saw a boat called Avalon Spirit in the bay and I had an invitation to explore the beauty of Bowen. The conversation made the 10 hour, otherwise unremarkable train ride, rather remarkable indeed. In hindsight my ability to truly enjoy making friends with people well into their retirement probably should have tipped me off that Gilligan’s might not be the best accommodation for me, but I did not know that yet.
*name changed for privacy
Upon arrival, I was starving from only eating apples and granola bars on the train so I only briefly registered that the massive, corporate hostel I was checking into appeared to be a more of a club with beds than a hostel. Instead, I drank the free welcome beer then ran off to scarf down some mediocre Thai food (note to future rail travellers, the Spirit of Queensland‘s café cart leaves much to be desired, bring your own lunch). Belly full, at around 8 pm I headed back to shower, watch some Netflix in bed, and go to sleep (aren’t I just the life of the party?). Alas, that was not to be. See, it has been a while since I’ve stayed in a hostel dorm room, about seven years really, as ever since Kane and I got together we generally stayed in private rooms if we could afford it. I’m not the best sleeper in the world and prefer the quieter environment of a private room. I should have remembered this when booking, but I was just trying to book the cheapest stopgap night possible, so I made a mistake.
While Gilligan’s was cleaner than the previous Backpacker’s by the Bay that we got trapped in due to the crowds of Airlie Race week (that carpet was nearly animate it was so filled with dirt, dust, and other worrisome stains), it was also much, much louder and, as Kane had to stay in Airlie to finish up the boat stuff, I was on my own in a dorm room. Even on a Tuesday night the club raged at decibels far too high for mere walls to stop the noise and, in a far worse situation, my dorm was full of snorers who’s nasal passages could rival the rave music outside our walls, all be it with more phlegm than the latest club hit, whatever the hell that might be. After three hours of trying everything to sleep, my usual ear plugs, drowning their cruel symphony out with audiobooks and music, a large stick to poke each offender awake when the snores began their audible assault, I decided against possible assault charges, gave up, and went downstairs. At this point I was willing to pay anything to get into another room. Luckily, the nice man at 24 hour reception took pity on me and gave me a key to a smaller dorm room with an empty bed (hey club hostels are good for something, like helping you change rooms at 2 am!). Bleary eyed and bedraggled, I left my stuff in the other room, crossed my fingers there were no snorers in this new room, and snuck into the four bed dorm stone cold sober at 2:30 am (oh how a decade changes things).
This room was thankfully not home to any snorers, however it was closer to the club, so sleep still evaded me until 3 am when the music finally died. Five broken hours of sleep later, I was checking out of that place as fast as humanly possible and wishing I had just taken an overnight train or bus as I’d have probably slept better. Yup, I’m definitely too old for hostels, especially party hostels.
As I sit here in the much nicer Palm Cove drinking my second coffee of the day and trying to stay awake while waiting for Laura and Joe to arrive from Bali, all I can think of is how my travel comfort levels have changed over the past decade. I enjoyed the hostel scene in Europe, but a few things were different then, namely I was just barely 22 and single. Now, at 29 and married I have no desire to get drunk with strangers and currently place more stock in a good night’s sleep than a free welcome beer. Maybe others won’t feel too old for hostels at my age, but I do; they are just not for me anymore, well at least the dorm rooms anyway. Though I do have to caveat this statement with the fact that not all hostels are created equal, there are lovely smaller, homey style ones that I still really enjoy, but I will now only book private rooms, even if I’m traveling alone, and I will definitely search the reviews for ‘party hostel’ because there is no way in hell that I’m staying at a club with beds ever again. Instead, hopefully you’ll find me on my catamaran, sipping a nice red wine quietly at anchor while swapping stories with old salts.
What age do you think is too old for hostels? Does one exist? What do you think about some of the hostels that have things like under 35 age limits? Are snorers who stay in shared sleeping accommodation actually sadists? Let me know in the comment section.