You won’t find this one up on the rental board at your local bookshop. If you did, you might deride it as a bogus prank, a joke ad for the desperate. Backpacker hostels offer basic accommodation for travellers, but for some inner-city house hunters, the hostel life offers a better option than the ordeal of enduring the home rental blues.
Andrew (surname withheld by request), 35, of North Fitzroy, has found the rigmarole of looking for an inner-city share house to be a game of cutthroat frustration.
“I’m not a student, not a woman, not a vegetarian. Once you whittle it down past that, down to your area, your price range, to the places that are still available and suitable, the odds of finding the right place just get smaller and smaller.”
Andrew recently racked up his 450th consecutive night in a shared dormitory bunk bed. Short of settling for suburbia, he’s made the temporary permanent, shacking up for the long term in a buzzing inner-city backpacker hostel.
Transient home to travellers hauling their lives about on their backs, hostel accommodation is customarily short term for good reason. No privacy, confined quarters, sleeping with people who view soap as optional it seems a fairly unappealing choice. With a reputation for budget inebriation and international debauchery, long-term tenure in a hostel could be considered highly stressful.
Though, the same could be said for the rental process. On and off for six months, Andrew’s countless attempts at securing a room in an inner-city house fell short of the mark. “The most annoying part was that very few would actually call back to let you know if you were successful or if you weren’t,” he laments.
With enough for a key deposit and a week’s tariff, Andrew was able to check back in with ease to his stopgap hostel home, to a shared bedroom full of people he’d never met before.
He reflects on the many faces he’s shared his confined living space with, some having been slightly left of centre. “I’ve met some fantastic people but also dealt with some real oddballs, some very strange people,” he says with a chin stroke. An elderly Singaporean woman who spat regularly into a plastic bag by the end of her bunk, and an Indian student who frequently killed the silence of the early hours with blood-curdling night-terror screams, both rate a mention.
Steve Gaff, general manager of the Greenhouse Backpacker in Flinders Lane, believes that long-term guests add a unique element of family and a sense of continuity to the fast-moving hostel environment. “We generate a really welcoming vibe here, and it comes down to the rich diversity of guests and a mix of long-term and short-term stayers. The feeling of homeliness is something we’re really proud of.”
For those reasons, Andrew and others have managed to extend their short-term stays into temporary homes.
For hospitality worker Mevan Karutnaratne, 25, the hostel environment is fertile ground for instant friendships, bonds and connections some short-lived, some that last forever.
After moving from Sri Lanka in 2006 to work and study, months of knock-backs, belligerent landlords and snaking inspection queues turned two nights in a hostel into 2½ years. Mr Karutnaratne is known to organise regular parties for in-house guests, and his three storage lockers act as surrogate wine and spirit cellars, replete with crystal glasses and red felt mats.
Over time, his rapport with fellow long-termers has grown solid.
“There is a connection and a bond when you get into that rhythm. It’s a shared existence,” he says.
Toby Archer, policy liaison worker from the Victorian Tenants Union, says the chronic undersupply of rental vacancies has forced people into marginal accommodation such as hostels, budget hotels and, in some cases, illegal rooming houses with shocking conditions.
“It’s very difficult to quantify exactly, but it’s something that is clearly happening, particularly for singles and low-income earners,” he says.
“It’s a symptom of the tough market at the moment, and the fact that is often overlooked is that these alternatives can still be really costly.”
Mr Archer sees hostel residency growing, as long as rental vacancies remain at such a low level.
While hostel tariffs are higher than what he might pay for a share house, the shuffling of real estate paper has been a major barrier for Irish traveller John O’Reilly, 29, in securing a place of his own.
“As a backpacker, agencies insist on you signing questionable short-term contracts and make the process more difficult than it should be,” he says.
But adapt to the backpacker habitat for long enough and the transition to so-called “normal” living could be tough, thinks Mr O’Reilly.
“To be honest, it’s going to be really weird to have my own private space again.”