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