A no motel's vacancy sign glows in the dark

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An Australian Odyssey: Finding a Room in Sydney

We arrived in Sydney in the early afternoon and decided to drive straight to Bondi to search for a place to stay and have a quick look and stroll at the beach. It took us quite a while to get down to the coast, especially as we were meeting the afternoon rush hour but navigating was fairly easy with GPS and the map I had downloaded to my phone. Sydney just felt so huge and crowded with one neighborhood stretching out next to the other. I loved the city immediately and without getting a glimpse of any of its landmarks. Exhausted but happy, we arrived at the beach and decided to have a quick walk first after we had been in the car for five or six hours.

Catching the waves at Bondi.

I am not a friend of booking hotel rooms in advance, and we were pretty sure that it would be fairly easy to get a place once we were in Sydney, that is, on a weekday that was neither a public holiday nor a school vacation. Also, there was no huge event such as a fair or the like taking place at the time. We had the addresses of two or three hostels in our Lonely Planet, one of which looked so creepy I did not even want to go in there. The others did not have any rooms left. Neither did the hotels we tried at Bondi – except one. But their rate was around 250 bucks – way too much for us.

The afternoon was slowly turning into evening and I was beginning to wonder if we would eventually find a room. I did not really care about where it was. I just wanted to get there fast. And that is when our odyssey started, leading us from hotel to hotel. They were either too full or too expensive and I refused to believe that it was not possible to find an affordable room. After what felt like two hours of driving, stopping at hotels and motels, and leaving them again, it was already dark outside and I suggested we try our luck at the airport. Airport accommodation is not the cheapest you can get, but most of the times you get reasonable value for your money and the chances of getting a room are good. Plus, I was extremely tired and close to tears. I just had not expected this.

We ended up right next to the runway at a Formule One motel room which S. agreed to take while I was waiting in the car. With a rate of 109 dollars it was still about 20 dollars too much, but I did not care any longer. Our room was a surprise – bad one. There was no more inside than a bed and a bathroom. The carpet was of a dark muddy color and the walls were painted in an ugly neon green. Internet connection was not included in the rate but sold at the “discount rate” of 20 dollars per day. Luckily, we remembered that most airports offer free WiFi, and walked straight to the terminal to escape our uncomfortable home to book another room.

Guess what we found: An impressive number of hotels offering rooms for affordable prices even in the city center. For the upcoming two nights that we planned to stay in the city we booked a room at Neutral Bay Motor Lodge in Kurraba Road which we figured out was just across the bay and sounded like a good deal for only 80 bucks a night.

What the hotel’s web page did not say was that it actually was a kind of hostel for the slightly aged crowd with shared bathrooms and a common kitchen – and that it was only a three-minute walk away from a ferry station. From down there, one had a beautiful view on the Opera House and Harbor Bridge. Surprise, surprise! We had had arrived at a place that was only 15 minutes from the city center.

Our Formule One hotel room at the airport.

… and the nice view we had from our room’s window when waking up the next morning.

… compared to the view we had from just next to our other hotel.

Featured post photo by Andrew Bain.

About the Author

Anna loves travel, photography, and writing. All at once, everyday. She collects entrance cards, plane tickets, and old atlases and has been searching for the perfect globe for some years. Follow Anna on Facebook or Twitter!


  1. Dear Anemina,
    Having grown up and lived in Sydney most of our lives, we know that Sydney is not cheap!
    We are all too familiar with the traffic problems, and these are aggravated whenever there is an accident.
    Real estate around Neutral Bay is highly valued, being such a short hop across the Harbour to the city. So that motor lodge is very good value.
    Formule 1 is at the ‘budget’ end of the Accor Hotel group brands, which range up through Ibis, Mercure etc to Sofitel. It does not pretend to be the Ritz!
    So sorry that your experience was not as good as it should have been. Maybe next time you will book ahead to get reasonable accommodation near where you want to be.

    • I know that Formule One doesn’t pretend to be the Ritz and I wasn’t looking for anything like that. However, that particular one we were staying at (or else, the room they had left for us) wasn’t like anything I ever experienced in any motel, Formule One or other. I never stayed at a room with literally nothing in it (except a bed, that is) – no pictures, no curtains, nothing at all. It rather felt like a prison cell…

      Well, I have learned my lesson 🙂 I think that could have happened in any big city and it doesn’t keep me from going to Sydney again – although I’ll definitely book in advance next time. I think I was just spoiled by my experience in the US where it is so easy to find a good value hotel/motel everywhere (I am quite happy with a clean, basic Motel 6 room).

      • I see what you mean! Makes a new definition of ‘basic’ if that room is an example 🙁
        …and we would happily go to a lot of places in Australia where we can expect a Vacancy light to be switched on.
        I think Sydney, now over 4 million population, is suffering from being too big for its infrastructure. and we can’t even get agreement on a second airport or extending our rail system to where the population growth is occurring!

Your thoughts are welcome!