While I don’t expect anyone to ooze sympathy for the plight of travel writers, the fact is, when we’re not getting hooked up at swanky hotels, we’re often left to sleep on airport floors and bus seats. I actually enjoy those experiences; it’s the eponymous “youth” hostel I’ve grown weary of. I should add that despite their name, hostels (also known as backpackers) aren’t only used by young’un’s. Plenty of middle-aged, and elderly, yet spry, travelers use hostels, because they’re inexpensive and convenient. That said, us oldies need to choose carefully, because many hostels do cater specifically to hard-core partiers.
Hosteling was a blast in my 20’s and 30’s. But sometime around, oh, last year, I hit a wall. As in, sharing a dorm room with a mob of drunk, loutish American frat boys, or squirrelly girls garbed in non-ironic ’80’s attire was not only not fun- it was a form of torture. Such was my recent experience at one Base Backpackers in Sydney. I arrived late at night, with food poisoning, after a long flight. I’d intentionally booked a bed for three nights in a four-person, all-female dorm, with the hope it would reduce my odds of hostel hell. I was wrong.
After paying for three night’s accommodation, I staggered up to the sixth floor, wanting only to crawl into bed. Upon entering my assigned room, I found a gaggle of Scandinavian girls pounding beers, blasting music, and readying for a big night out. One of them gestured toward a dirty, unmade bed (mine), noting only, “It has not been cleaned yet.”
Let’s just say that I was assigned another room. The next morning, I booked a bed for the remainder of my stay at the incredibly kick-ass Wake Up! backpackers mere blocks away.
Confession: I meant to stay there all along, after spotting it on my way to the airport on my last visit. I forgot to write down the name, and for some reason confused it with The Other Place when I looked online, and pre-booked.
Wake Up! is what all hostels should strive to be. It’s not that it offers services and amenities others don’t: it’s that it does a better job, in a better facility, in an atmosphere that isn’t Girls Gone Wild meets Theta Chi. It’s youthful, but the welcoming vibe extends to all ages. The family-owned and -run business opened its doors in 2002, and has consistently racked up accolades ever since.
Located in a historic, seven-story sandstone in the “backpackers ghetto,” Wake Up! sits on the border of Haymarket/Chinatown (inarguably some of the best- and cheapest- eating in Sydney). It’s across the street from the Central Railway Station, five minutes walk to the CBD, and ten minutes to Darling Harbour, and The Rocks/Circular Quay, where the Opera House and Harbour Bridge are located. The bus stop for the beaches is just down the street.
Wake Up’s! staff is friendly and competent, the facilities are clean and modern, and the property offers just about every service a traveler could possibly need: 24-hour web and wireless ($3.50 AUD/hour), travel services, guided city and beach walking tours, a cafe, kitchen, laundry, TV/DVD lounge, storage lockers, airport transfers ($14 AUD), 24-hour
check-in, help line, and security; card access to floors and rooms, job search assistance, and mobile phones and cards for sale. There are also scheduled events like bar hops, beach barbecues, and theme parties.
Rooms range from twins and doubles ($98 AUD/room; $17 for third person), and double en suites ($108/room; $17per extra person) to four, six, eight, and ten-person dorms (some mixed, some female-only) ranging from $38 to $30 per person. Sydney has become heinously expensive, and you’re not likely to find accommodations as nice, and as centrally located, for these prices- a nearby Travelodge is currently listed at $147 USD/night. Note that prices will vary according to season. There’s a 28-day maximum stay, which is convenient for students and job-seekers.
My four-person dorm sported one bunk with a double bed on the bottom (the swinger’s room?), as well as a standard bunk, and a wardrobe. All of the rooms offer great views of Sydney’s southern CBD. Yeah, the decor is a bit tacky- walls painted garish mustard, puce, rose, or swimming pool-blue; white metal bunks, utilitarian carpet, bed linens that look like knock-off Ken Done motifs, but who cares? No one stays in hostels for the interior design, and what’s more important is that this place is CLEAN. The spotless communal bathrooms are massive, well-lit, tiled spaces with functioning shower heads and good water pressure (a rarity in hostelandia).
Should you find yourself in Sydney with a bit of a cramp in your wallet, or if you just want to save your cash for the city’s many other delights, check out Wake Up!
Just be sure to write down the name, first.