How to backpack in safety

Here are a few things travellers can do to look after their personal safety, as well as their possessions, while staying at a hostel

Travel experts insist hostels are generally safe. Photo / Getty Images
Travel experts insist hostels are generally safe. Photo / Getty Images

The onset of summer signals travel adventure plans for many young people.

Often they'll be planning to stay in cheap hostels - usually all that budgets will allow, but part of the experience too. But after two young Britons were knifed to death at a backpackers' hostel south of Townsville in August, many travellers, and their parents, may have major safety concerns about this type of accommodation.

Mia Ayliffe-Chung, 21, died after being stabbed at Shelley's Backpackers hostel in Home Hill, and another British traveller Tom Jackson, 30, was knifed as he bravely tried to save her. He died later in hospital. (Frenchman Smail Ayad, 29, has since been charged with murder.)

Despite these deaths, travel experts insist hostels are generally safe and the vast majority of travellers stay in them without incident, often having a great time while they're there.

Here are a few things travellers can do to look after their personal safety, as well as their possessions, while staying at a hostel:

• Do your research - look at reviews on sites like Trip Advisor, but don't let just one bad review put you off.

• Ask other travellers where they've stayed, and which hostels they'd recommend.

• Stay with friends you're travelling with, or have met on your journey and grown to trust. There's safety in numbers.

• Trust your instincts. If other people in your dorm make you feel uncomfortable or frightened, either ask hostel staff if there's another dorm/room you can move to, or look for another hostel. Your safety is paramount.

• Nearly all hostels now have luggage storage rooms and personal lockers where travellers can store valuables. Use them.

• If lockers or storage aren't available, always keep valuables on you, either in a soft, flat bag around your neck or under your pillow while you sleep.

• Look for a hostel that has a 24-hour reception and security guards.

• Find out where the nearest embassy is - they may be able to help if you have any problems.

• Women may prefer to look for a hostel with female-only dorms and floors. Female-only rooms are offered at most hostels.

• If you're unhappy about the idea of sharing, look for a hostel with private rooms - they do exist.

• Make sure the hostel you choose has a strict no-drugs policy and won't tolerate excessive drunken behaviour.

• Don't get excessively drunk yourself - this isn't about victim-blaming, but being intoxicated can make you more vulnerable.

What the expert says

Will Jones, managing editor of the travel site, stresses staff are "deeply saddened" about the Queensland stabbings, but insists hostels are usually very safe.

"It's perfectly understandable that backpackers, and indeed their parents, might now feel more nervous about staying in hostels," he says. "However, it's important to note that events like this are extremely rare, and that the overwhelming majority of backpackers who stay in hostels in Australia and elsewhere, never experience any sort of violence."

He points out that hostels usually provide clean, safe, friendly and convenient accommodation for travellers on a budget, and Australia, in particular, has an excellent network.

"Most hostels have private rooms, so if a backpacker feels a bit daunted at the prospect of sharing a dormitory with strangers, there's always that option," he says.

"As tragic as this incident has been, it shouldn't deter backpackers from visiting Australia and making use of this type of accommodation, as it's by far the most viable."


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