Last Updated on July 14, 2014
Accommodation is one of the first things to consider when planning any trip, and with so much choice available to the budget traveller, it can be difficult to decide whether to stay at a hostel or an economic hotel. Check out our guide to the fundamental differences between them, where we weigh up the pros and cons of both in order to help you decide which will work better for you. Get the best from your short break by ensuring you choose the right accommodation to suit.
Image courtesy of nic_r via Flickr
With a high turnover rate and an often younger clientele, cleanliness and hygiene standards in hostels can be pretty touch and go, although you are usually much safer if they are part of a larger organisation like Hostelling International. Much will depend on your personal expectation and the research you do before hand. If you’re the kind of person who wants their room cleaned every day, or runs a finger along a windowsill checking for dust, however, a budget hotel is just as unlikely to satisfy in this department. If you are looking for a private room, not a dorm, small, independently owned budget hotels are often cheaper than hostels, which also means they will (usually) have equally limited cleaning staff and ideas around cleanliness. However, doing your research right might help you discover family owned places – hotels and budget hotels alike – that take pride in making their home and business a clean, comfortable place for you to stay.
One of the primary reasons for choosing a hostel over a hotel is value for money. If you choose to stay in dorm-style accommodation, the price of a hostel can be incredibly low. Also, hostels tend to have communal kitchens, while hotels almost never do. That means you can save money and eat better while you travel b preparing your own meals. When looking to book private rooms, however, beware the asusmption that hostels are always cheaper. Often times a double room in a budget hotel run significantly cheaper than a private room in a dorm. There are various reasons for this, but it’s important to work out just how much money is to be saved to decide where the true value for money lies. While hostels might offer deals or low-season discounts, budget hotels are more prone to sign up for deals websites that can make for a cheap city break. A two-star hotel in a further out neighborhood might seek to fill up on weekends by signing on for package deals which includes flights or theatre outings, for example.
When staying in a hostel dorm, you can be sharing with three, five, up to nine other people, as ten bed dorms are not uncommon. If privacy is an issue at all, you will not be a fan of dorms. There are issues of getting dressed, showering, and also, while hostels are great to meet people, you are always sharing space, even your ‘bedroom’ with other people. If you want to meet other travelers but require more privacy, booking into a private room in a hotel is the best of both worlds. For anonymity and total privacy, however, booking a hotel room is likely your best option.
Sharing with strangers does have its upsides, and one of these is the communal spirit that you have in a hostel. People who opt for hostels are often very interested in making new friends and meeting people from around the world. Although there are inevitably some crazies (the world is full of them, after all) you can meet such a variety of people in hostels – even retirees, families with kids, couples, and travelers from around the world. There are also often events or communal activities either run by the hostel, or that you find out through the fellow guests there, offering more opportunities to meet peope. Unless you really make an effort to strike up a conversation with strangers, this communal spirit is non-existent in hotels.
Photo courtesy of NYC-MetroCard via Flickr
A downside to the community atmosphere of a hostel is the amount of noise. Whether it’s raucous partying after hours or snoring from the bottom bunk, hostels can be noisy places. If you’re a light sleeper, want an early night or have an early wake up in the morning, you might want to bear this in mind. However, this vibe can differ from hostel to hostel, so research is the key to find a hostel that will suit your particular needs. The same goes for hotels, though this has less to do with the guests and more to do with paper-thin walls, inconsiderate staff or outdoor factors like noise from the road.
Many travelers consider these little issues (noise, poor hygiene, lack of privacy) all part of the travelling experience. Hostels can be an excellent way to make friends on your travels and experience a bit of the backpacking way of life. However, if rest and relaxation are key elements to your own personal travel experience, you will most definitely prefer a hotel.
With your own private room, a hotel generally offers a better level of security than a hostel. Most hostels provide luggage lockers or a safe at reception for storing valuables, but there are many super cheapies without any type of lockers at all. Most backpackers are honest souls who wouldn’t dream of stealing, but that doesn’t mean you should leave your valuables lying around. Invest in a padlock for your backpack, and make sure you store anything irreplaceable in the secure spaces provided. On the flipside, however, maids have private access to your room in a hotel while cleaning, which means that if the temptation is there, the risks can be the same.
If you can’t bear to be without your creature comforts, a hostel probably isn’t going to appeal to you. In a hotel you might have your own en-suite bath or shower, a TV and possibly your own fridge in the room, but in many places in the world, budget hotels also have shared bathrooms and rarely have TVs.
Hostels can vary widely in quality, and this is not always reflected in the price. Regardless of how much research you do beforehand, your experience can be unpredictable and often depends on what your expectations of the hostel are. However, while you might assume that even budget hotels have a minimal level of customer service, this is often not the case. Service, cleanliness, facilities and atmosphere can differ greatly from place to place, so be prepared to accept that some places will be better than others.
There are plenty of places out there where you can experience a different kind of holiday. UK theme park Thorpe Park are offering something different for their guests in 2013: you can stay in a “Crash Pad” and have over 25 thrill-rides on your doorstep. In Stockholm’s Arlanda airport there’s a hostel housed inside an old jumbo jet (grounded for your comfort) and in Bayram you can snuggle up in a tree house. These are just some of the options available, whether you opt for a hotel or a hostel.