Working at a hostel, we have seen it all here at reception. From problems with tour bookings to personal meltdowns, we always try to be as helpful as possible to our backpackers, but we do have our limitations... It's not that we don't want to help, but sometimes we really just are not able. Instead, we would like to try to prevent some of the more common backpacking calamities that occur and that we can't fix with some of the following tips:
1. Keep valuables secure... While we all like to trust our bunkmates and other backpackers sharing the hostel with us, remember to keep those items that are valuable secure. There is no reason to tempt fate. Ipods, memory cards, cameras, wallets, and phones are all objects that we have had brought to us at reception that people have left lying around. For those lucky backpackers, their frantic searches were rewarded when we managed to have the items. Unfortunately this is not true for all... At most hostels you will have locakable lockers in your rooms (always carry your own padlock) and often there are safes available behind reception for smaller valuable items. So be sensible if you are travelling with something valuable.
2. Occassionally call home... In the midst of nights out and heaps of activities, it can often slip a person's mind to call home. But it is always a good thing to check in from time to time so that you can update parents and concerned loved ones as to where you are and what you are up to. You would be surprised at the phone calls we get from worried parents who think their child may be staying with us.
The added perk to this one is that if you call home on a regular basis with good, happy updates - it makes it a lot less suspicious when you make that call asking for a top up on funds ;) Also calling home regularly is a great safety check for those of you planning on heading out to more remote regions of Australia or sharing rides with other backpackers you have recently met. Planning scheduled calls can just be that extra security that not only makes you feel better, but also goes a long way to making family feel a lot better as well.
3. Make sure you reconfirm your trips... One funny thing that we see here all the time is that people get such a good deal that often they don't completely understand the package they book. Make sure that you have your travel agent explain all your vouchers and their terms and conditions to you. If you are supposed to reconfirm or they ask you to book ahead, please make sure that you do. It's never fun to rock up for a tour and then be disappointed that you cannot actually go because they are fully booked. We are more than happy to help you reconfirm trips... just let us know when you check in.
4. Make sure you wake up on time for trips... This kind of links to the tip above. Once your tour is booked, most tours operate on a 24 hour cancellation policy (although some can operate anywhere from 48 hours to a week - like overnight boat trips). If you oversleep or miss the tour by not being ready on time, you have just wasted your money as most operators won't reschedule you without at least some kind of fee. If you are going on an early trip, think about making it an early night beforehand. If you are not feeling well the day before, that is the time to call the tour operator because they may be able to change your trip to another date then, but they won't if you just fail to show up.
5. Supposed to meet up with people? Make sure you know their name... I'm not sure how many times I get asked each week... If I have a blonde English girl in house... Or a guy whose name may be Jean or Luc, I think he is French.... Or what room is John in? Trust me, we always have several blonde girls in house (often some of them from England), several French guys with lots of different first names, and normally more than one person with the same first name. Now, we are never going to tell you what room any of them are staying in... trust me if you were our guests you would want us to respect your privacy too. You might be a friend, or you might be someone they are trying to avoid. I don't know... and I am not going to be the one to make that decision. All the reception staff are more than happy to take messages for our guests, but a full name helps if you want to make sure that it gets to the right person. Your best bet if you want to find someone later... get some personal contact info like an email or phone number.
6. Pay for what you know you are going to stay for... Yes, like all hostels, we discount people's stay when they plan on staying a certain length of time. We only give this discount when the stay is paid for up front... So stay 4, pay 3 means you pay for all 3 nights right away. You can save yourself heaps of money if you use these options rather than paying for a day at a time. One word of warning however... If you really aren't sure that you are staying for a certain length of time only pay for what you know. Like most hostels in Australia, we don't give refunds once you pay. Sorry but changing your mind or meeting some really neat person are not emergency circumstances that will cause any change in those rules. Do have a think about it before you book.
7. Remember to let your credit card companies know you are travelling and understand your daily limits... Hehe. This is one we experience all too often with some of our newer travellers... Go to swipe the card and all we get is declined as a response. Trust me, we know that you may not be out of money. But there are other reasons: what is your daily limit? Have you told your bank you are traveling overseas? What is your monthly limit? Yep... surprisingly enough. we meet at least one backpacker a week that has run into the dreaded situation of not having money... not because they spent it, but just because they cannot access it. Talk to your bank before traveling so that you understand what your limits are... maybe try to get them increased if that does not seem feasible with your travel plans, and definitely let them know you are going abroad.
8. Your health is important, so see the doctor if you get sick... The average doctor's appointment will cost you $50- $70 here in Australia... This can be reclaimed on your travel insurance, but yes you will normally have to pay out of pocket. Trust me however... it will save you more money in the long run if you take care of yourself. I have seen infected cuts turn into blood infections and small bladder infections turn into hospital stays. In the long run, a quick doctors visit and some antibiotics would have cleared up those situations a lot quicker and more cheaply than what those backpackers ended up doing. I have seen numerous backpackers try to wait out illnesses and miss out on trips or try heaps of odd home remedies to avoid the visit to the doctors... If you are sick enough that you are googling ways to cure something online, that's the hint that you may need the doctor.
9. We operate a hostel, we are not psychics and we are not your parents... Now we love to get to know all the backpackers that stay with us, and we want to chat with you. It's why we have all chosen to work in a hostel. However, we don't know you instantly. If something is wrong, please just let us know. Most likely we can help you to fix it. Room too warm? Perhaps your air conditioner isn't on... just let us know. The sooner you tell us, the sooner we can fix it...
There is one BUT though... you can go a long way to making your own stay more comforatable in any hostel by picking up after yourself and showing common courtesy to your fellow backpackers. Clean up your dirty dishes... If everyone did this the hostel kitchen would always be tidy. Don't leave stockpile rubbish in the dorm room... We empty the bins daily, but cannot always tell what is rubbish if it is just chucked under your bed with all your other belongings. Talk to your roommates if someone's snoring bothers you or they turn on the light in the middle of the night. Remember, you are adults so take advantage of the added maturity that comes with travelling independantly.
10. Relax... you're on an adventure!... Perhaps this is the most important piece of advice. Remember to breathe. Travelling can be tiring and stressful. Not everything is in your control, and sometimes things won't go your way. Just like life at home, travelling is full of ups and downs. Often because you are living life a bit more actively, these ups and downs will be more extreme than normal! Go with it... At the end of the day or the end of your travels, things that go wrong can be just the start to something good with the proper attitude. I have seen people check in with their last dollars and be able to make friends and find a job to save money within a day because they kept positive. I have seen others give up and call for the money to fly home. You may not be in control of the circumstances, but you can control how you react. Just keep in mind that you are on an adventure and that everything is going to be okay... and I promise you that you have a lot more fun.
So I hope that these tips were helpful, we definitely want all our backpackers to enjoy their stay with us and the rest of their travels.