Hostels vs Hotels: Choosing the Perfect Place to Stay Within your Budget

by Nora Dunn on 31 January 2008 4 comments

Most people think that the frugal way to travel is to stay in hostels. However there are a number of scenarios where that may not be the case.

Hostel Amenities

Hostels vary incredibly in layout, overall mood, location, clientele, and amenities.

Most hostels have both dorm room accommodations as well as private and semi-private rooms. There will be a kitchen (fully stocked with cooking and eating utensils, and occasionally some staple foods too) which is shared by everybody in the hostel. Some hostels have multiple kitchens, depending on the layout.

There are also often common areas, bookshelves (where you can leave a book you have read and take a different book with you), and a variety of other occasional amenities including games, DVDs, satellite televisions, and internet access.

Washrooms are often shared, but sometimes those who get a private room will have a private washroom.

Many hostels will also organize or host small tours or activities in the area, depending on the area, culture, and type of guests. Most hostel guests are younger, many being under the age of 30. However one thing you will quickly learn about hostels is that you never know what you are going to get.

One of the things that can be the appeal or deterrence (depending on the type of traveller you are) is the wide variety of circumstances you can run into at a hostel. You never know what the exact amenities will be, how many people are crammed into one space, what the room layout will look like, and what services will be offered. Its location may be right in the middle of the action, or tucked away inconveniently far from everything you want to see.

Some hostels will encourage guests to hang around on the property for the day with a comfortable atmosphere and friendly staff, while others actually have lock-out policies requiring guests to leave between 10am and 4pm (for example). Some have curfews at night, some prohibit all alcohol and drugs on the premises, and others yet have the cheapest bar in town attached to the place with a 24-hour party atmosphere.

Some hostels serve breakfast in the morning, while others are skeleton accommodations with nothing more than a bed to offer.

Hotel Amenities

Hotels by comparison, are much more predictable. You will get a private room with a bed, full washroom, and occasionally a kitchenette or in-room coffee maker. You won't have to make the bed (as you often do with hostels), or strip it when you leave.

The locations and clientele of hotels however will vary significantly, so like hostels you don't always know what you're going to get. But that's all part of the appeal of traveling, I think!

Comparison for the Single Traveler

For the single traveler, hostels will almost always be cheaper, as long as you are willing to bunk up in a dorm room with other travelers. Security becomes an issue if you are staying with strangers, so having the ability to lock up your belongings or trusting inherently in your fellow traveler will be a necessity.

Hostel private and semi-private rooms can often be on par (if not a touch cheaper but sometimes even more expensive) than basic hotel rooms. For a single traveler, the decision comes down to the preferred amenities and social setting. You can save a pile of cash by preparing your own food in the kitchen provided in a hostel, and there is a lot of inherent value in the camaraderie with fellow travelers and the common area amenities. You can learn what places to stay away from, what is worth seeing, and often you will make fast friends with other travelers and see the sights with them in following days and even weeks of your trip.

Comparison for Travelers in Groups

For families or groups of friends, the decision to stay in a hostel or hotel is a touch more complex. Here are some guidelines:

Privacy

Do you want privacy, or as a group are you interested in meeting other people? If your itinerary is already set and all you need is a place to lay your head down, then sharing a hotel room will likely be cheaper.

How Many are in your Group

Depending on the number of people you are travelling with, some hostels may be hard-pressed to accommodate your entire party. Then again, if your group can fill up an entire dorm room (and some dorm rooms sleep only four people anyway), then you may be able to save a few bucks and take advantage of the hostel amenities too.

How Long is your Stay

Some hostels, in order to prevent a seedy transient crowd from infiltrating the place, may require that guests have a departure ticket, or will limit the number of nights you can stay. Hotels, although they also don't want a transient crowd, aren't always as stringent since there are more rooms to be had and no social scene to "poison" with the wrong type of person staying there.

How Old are You

Although age discrimination is illegal, an older traveler or group of travellers may feel out of place at a hostel.

Getting Used to Hostels

Initially when I started travelling and staying in hostels, I was leery. I tired quickly of the standard conversations with other travellers: Where are you from, Where are you going, Where have you been, etc.

I stayed at a few hostels that had large groups of travellers moving through that all knew each other, and felt like I was on the outside of a giant inside joke at times. I was also used to staying in hotels, and hadn't learned how to make the jump to hostelling and all it had to offer.

Since then, I am a devout fan. I have met friends for life from all over the world (and now have places to stay with them in many countries), I have learned from other travelers' experiences where the great places to eat, drive by, and visit are, and I love the surprises of not knowing exactly what the place will be like until you are there. Sometimes it's not so great, but sometimes hostel mis-adventures make for the best travel stories!

Choosing the Perfect Hostel

There are a number of resources to search for the hostel that will suit your needs. They include:

Hostel World

Hostel Times

The Backpacker

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Guest's picture
Barbara

I've used Hostel World for travel a couple of times. I like the description and that you can (usually) see pics of the places, but the rating system isn't accurate.

For both places I stayed in London and Montreal I did the rating at the end, but when it posted my results, they were not what I had chosen. For example, I did a lower rating on the staff for the hostel in London, but when my results posted, it showed a high rating for the staff!

Then, I tried to find a contact for the website to tell them about their error, but try as I might could not find an email, phone number, ANYTHING. It was really frustrating.

Guest's picture

many, many more inexpensive alternatives! I've blogged about these other choices in the past. But with that being said, yes hostels can be amazing choices, especially overseas. My brother regularly stays in hostels (even though he can afford otherwise) and has stayed in castles and interesting historic buildings and has gotten advice on what to go see and do he wouldn't have gotten from a hotel staffer.

http://lifelessonsmilitarywife.blogspot.com/2007/11/dont-waste-on-your-n...

David DeFranza's picture

I think that hostels are very accepting of older travelers. While I do agree the scene tends to be students and younger people, I have stayed with many middle-age and older travelers in hostels. I have even been to a few that advertise senior discounts!

Of course, there are many, many accommodation options open to the traveler. Often, determining the best option for a group or individual is dependent on the region. For example, in Europe pensions, kind of in between a bed and breakfast and small hotel, are often the cheapest option for a group of two to three. In China, almost every hotel has a dorm room that is much cheaper than a regular room. Almost anywhere, a large group would be better off renting a house or apartment.

All that said, I agree with Nora that most of the time accomodation splits between 'hostel style' or 'hotel style'. Great overview of what to expect from the two!

Guest's picture
moriegres

The very best thing in hostels is people! I have friends from all over the world that I met in hostels, and often the best part of my journey was the hostel stay. Sure, some hostels aren't as nice as others, but that's why there's TripAdvisor! But people are always great! One of my best friends I met in Russia in http://en.friendsplace.ru/, another - in France in www.villagehostel.fr. My best penpal is from www.st-christophers.co.uk and another is from www.circus-berlin.de/ So..let's make friends worlwide!