Hostel Hacks: How to live in a dorm and work full time

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Before you came to Australia you probably had a mental image of what your new home would be like. Right on the beach, with an endless stream of hot surfers strolling past. A massive deck complete with industrial sized BBQ. Perhaps even a pet koala to curl up on your lap!

Then you move here and realise that rent is crazy expensive, you’re only in town for a few months and you don’t really know anyone. Plus you don’t want to risk leaving a deposit behind with a dodgy landlord – you’re a backpacker, you need that money for cheap box wine.

But you still need somewhere to sleep and eat somewhere. So what can you do? Why not follow in the footsteps of so many backpackers before you and make a home in a hostel dorm.

I spent about a year in total living in various Australian hostel dorms while I worked full time. My longest stint was 7 months and when I finally had a room of my own, I found it unnerving to sleep alone!

So what was it like and, more importantly, how did I cope?

byron bay hostel hacks main beach

Living metres from this beach was rather lovely, and metres from a pub rather convenient


Hostels are usually very well located, and definitely more so than rental houses. In Byron Bay I lived one block away from the sea, right in the centre of town. My friends with houses had to live much further out and I never envied them walks home after nights in the pub!

It’s a great way to make new friends. Long termers in hostels tend to stick together so you usually find yourself with a ready-made social group.

Often it can be a lot cheaper to live in a dorm than rent a room. In Sydney I was paying $125 a week for a 4 bed dorm with ensuite bathroom, fridge and internet. I had friends paying $250 a week each – and there were 5 of them in a 2 bedroom flat!

It’s very flexible way to live, which is good when you’re leading the backpacker life! Had a job offer on the other side of the country? No need to worry about giving notice, filling your spot and everything else that goes with leaving a flat. Just pack your bags and go.

You never have to worry about cleaning. Seriously, just think about it. No housework ever aside from tidying up around your space.

If you get seriously broke then it’s more than possible to live off the free food shelf. You might need to get really creative sometimes but you’d be surprised what people leave behind.

There’s no need to worry about dodgy landlords screwing you over or keeping your bond. In fact, there’s no need to suddenly find 4 weeks rent for your bond, plus 2 weeks ahead.

sydney opera house manly ferry hostel hacks

Sydney is one expensive city. Consider living in a dorm a better alternative than selling a kidney to pay for rent.


There’s a very good chance that at some point you’ll have to hear your room mates having sex. This usually happens at the most inconvenient of times. 

On the flip side, if you meet that someone special on a night out you’ll need to get inventive about where to bump your uglies.

It’s a universally acknowledged rule that at least one person in the room will be a horrifically loud snorer. If it’s no one else, then it’s probably you. 

The total lack of privacy can sometimes get a tad irritating, especially if you want some alone time and you’re room mates are super chatty.

Using the hostel kitchen to cook every day can get very old, very fast. After a long day that last thing you need is having to queue to use the stove.

You better get okay with pooping in front of people fast. Otherwise that communal bathroom is going to cause issues quite quickly.


green island scenic flight hostel hacks

Cons: hearing people have sex. Pros: saving money to pay for amazing adventures.

Tips for living in a hostel dorm

Try and room with friends. Many hostels allocate dorm rooms specifically for long term guests and it’s often possible to request a move to a dorm where your mates sleep. In Sydney I shared a 4 bedroom dorm room with 3 of my friends and it was a lot nicer than having a constant flow of strangers.

Be selective with where you stay. Not interested in drinking goon until 4am every night? Then maybe don’t move into the party hostel, and visa versa. If you’re really unhappy the good news is that you can just move!

Get the bottom bunk as soon as you possibly can. Then use spare sheets or towels tucked under the mattress above to form a screen around you. Voila! Instant privacy. Plus essentially living inside a fort is fun whatever your age.

Fashion under bed storage from somewhere. I invested in a couple of cheap plastic boxes so I was able to ‘unpack’ my clothes, a total luxury when you’re usually on the road.

Invest in some decent earplugs, and an eye mask if light bothers you. Because someone will be a snorer, switch lights on in the middle of the night, or decide the time to pack for a 6am flight is right before they need to leave. Be prepared.

Remember that it’s not your room. Other guests aren’t on your schedule and it’s not fair to insist on lights out at 10pm because you’ve got an early start. They’re on holiday!

brisbane cbd hostel hacks

Getting to experience city life AND you get to sleep in a fort? It’s a win win!

Bonus tip – Consider working for your accommodation

Working in return for a bed for the night can be a fantastic way to save money, and you’ll find almost every hostel in Australia offers some form of labour in exchange for a bed. The most common job is, of course, cleaning, but I’ve also seen people work in reception, on a tour desk, even as a massage therapist! When I lived in mission beach I’d clean from 8-11 and then waitress in the afternoons and evenings. There was no rent to worry about, I got free meals at work and nightly beach bonfires were our main entertainment. I barely had to spend anything and managed to save a lot of money fast – $1,500 in just under a month!

So what do you reckon – could you make a home in a hostel dorm? Is there anything else you’d like to know? Let me know in the comments!

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