A few years back, deciding which holiday accommodation to stay in was a no-brainer for most travelers – hotel or (for those with a bigger budget) a private villa. Now though, super cheap options like hostels and Airbnbs are looked on far more favourably and in the age of Instagram-worthy holiday snaps, a new generation of travelers are answering the wanderlust call by any mean necessary - even if it means sacrificing a few amenities we’ve come to associate with holiday accommodation (who really needs a trouser press anyway?).
When it comes down to it, there is really no right or wrong when choosing somewhere to stay on your travels. It all depends on what suits your budget and your travel itinerary better. Backpackers and young travelers prefer hostels because it allows them to explore the lesser-known path and socialize with like-minded people, whereas young families will (quite rightly) choose the more child-friendly atmosphere of a hotel.
Both options can be a great way to see the world and it’s worth remembering that neither is perfect. Fluffy bath towels and luxury toiletries are certainly comforting after a long day of sightseeing, but doing without either may add up to a couple more nights in your destination. If you can’t decide on where to rest your head on your next getaway then keep reading. We’ve laid out 20 of the main differences between hostels and hotels along with their pros and cons to give you an idea of what will offer you the best experience on holiday.
First and foremost, hostels are obviously the more budget-friendly option and as a result, they make the perfect accommodation for solo travelers. It can be difficult to please everyone if you’re traveling in a large friendship group since you often have to compromise your travel plans for the sake of others.
Staying solo in a hostel allows you to take full charge of your vacation itinerary as well as saving a bundle compared with a solo hotel stay. Hostels are also an amazing way to meet new people and get advice about the best value eateries and attractions, so solo travel needn’t be an isolating experience.
Hotels definitely make the packing process easier on holiday – the little things we can forget like toiletries or an extra face towel are usually always provided in an average hotel (often far more towels than we really need!). In some ways, a well-stocked hotel bathroom can be a comforting sight for the weary traveler, but many top quality hostels provide the same service (for a small fee).
Hostels may not exude the same kind of ‘luxury’ atmosphere of a hotel bathroom with all the neatly arranged soaps and shampoos on display, but if you come prepared with your own supply, bathing in a hostel is not so different (assuming you pay for a private bathroom, of course!).
Staying in a hotel usually means eating out every night or else sticking with the hotel’s own restaurant or buffet service for your breakfast, lunch and dinner (and this can add up fairly quickly if you’re on a tight budget). Unless you have the travel budget for room service every day, feeding yourself is always going to be pricier in hotels.
The great advantage of staying in a hostel is the self-catering aspect. Not only does a shared kitchen help you save money by cooking store-bought grub, it can be a great way to get to know your dorm mates. Plus, there’s sometimes nothing better than eating a home-cooked meal while on your travels (beats paying 12 bucks for restaurant paella any day!).
If you opt for staying in a hostel, you may have to get used to the fact that bathroom facilities tend to be a little hit and miss. Cold showers can be a possibility with so many dorm guests using up the hot water and in the worst case scenarios, there may not be any running water at all. And while most hostels aim to provide guests with clean wash facilities, this doesn’t always translate as “hotel clean”.
There’s also the issue of shared bathrooms in large or semi-private dorms. The super low price of your stay is worth the lack of privacy, but when you’ve got a flight to catch, waiting third in line for the shower might not be everyone’s cup of tea.
When staying in a hostel, it’s a much more relaxed and informal setting and making friends and meeting like-minded people can come a little easier to travelers than in a hotel. For one thing, shared dorms mean a bit of socializing is only polite but more importantly, hostel guests are immediately in the same boat as another – people wanting to see the world on a budget and swapping travel stories is a great way to break the ice.
Other than chance meetings in a bar or gym, hotel guests are rarely social in the same way. Also, guests may be on wildly different budgets from one another and one person's epic weekend splurge for a special occasion may be another traveler's regular commuter’s lodge.
A stark difference between staying in hostels as opposed to hotels is that generally, the latter is going to provide you with a better night’s sleep. Largely speaking, even an average budget-price hotel will have beds that offer more comfort than a basic dorm bunk bed.
Bigger chain hostels are more likely to provide better quality beds than others, but it’s worth noting that many hostels can charge guests a rental fee for basics like bed linen and blankets, and these are often reported to be itchy and uncomfortable. Again, this is something backpackers may prefer to bring themselves. Besides, it may not be so bad on a one-night basis for the sake of a beautiful location.
Unless you happen to seriously trash the place when you stay in a hotel, the mess you make during your stay is usually taken care of by hotel cleaning staff at no extra charge to you – it’s part of their job after all. In a hostel, however, you’ll quickly learn that whatever mess you create you’re expected to clean up after yourself.
There are party hostels specifically aimed at backpackers who aren’t about the quiet “lights out” vibe of most dorms, but even these places have boundaries when it comes to cleanliness. It’s a good rule of thumb to treat hostels like someone else’s home – to respect your fellow guests and to (try) leaving it as you found it!
There’s a lot to be said for having a 24/7 hotel reception desk. If you need a room at 1 am because your evening flight was delayed or you simply need a different kind of pillow to be comfortable, a hotel will be there to help you around the clock. Unfortunately, the same isn’t always true for hostels, especially in smaller independent hostels.
Because the dorm rates are so cheap, hostel staff can only afford to be on reception when absolutely necessary and since many hostels operate a “lights out” kind of curfew for the sake of every guest, staff may not always be around to help out with every little issue. A big plus of hostel life is that besides maintenance issues, dorm mates tend to help each other out.
While hotel rooms tend to ensure absolute privacy during your stay, you can’t hang a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the handle of your hostel dorm (as much as tired or hungover hostel guests would like to). For the sake of super cheap rates, total privacy can be a worthwhile sacrifice.
In most circumstances, sharing a dorm with like-minded travelers can be a great thing. But if you’re unlucky to be sharing your space with some less than considerate travelers (coming in late, setting a deafening 3 am alarm for their flight etc), this is one area where hotels are definitely superior. Thankfully hostels also offer private rooms and when you want space to yourself, you can always spend time in the hostel common room away from the dorms.
While the hostel horror stories are thankfully in the minority these days, hostels are still often viewed as being slightly less safe. This is mostly down to the fact that hotels have an abundance of staff around to deal with theft and other dangers compared with hostels which may only have one person manning the reception and the maintenance.
Dyed in the wool hotel lovers may not realize that the majority of hostels have safes and locker facilities for guests to keep their belongings secure and even in hostels without any, there is a sense of camaraderie in a hostel dorm that makes crime less likely than some might believe.
Again, this can be hugely dependent on what your definition of ‘living it up’ is while on holiday. For some travelers, this might mean raiding the hotel minibar and ordering everything on the room service menu to enjoy a midnight feast while vegging out in front of the plasma TV.
Things like room service can be great for those with a flexible budget, but the cost of one person’s hotel party could be a backpacker’s hot air balloon ride and picnic on a mountain. Also, enjoying the hotel bar every night could quickly add up to the cost of your flight, whereas the socializing and self-catering aspect of hostels means scoring cheap drinks and partying can be done with travel funds to spare.
Hotels tend to have a low tolerance policy when it comes to noise and disturbance to other guests so apart from the odd trashed hotel room and wild parties, hotels are generally pretty reliable places for getting a restful night’s sleep. Hostels, on the other hand, can’t always promise the same luxury (and that’s putting it gently!).
Between early morning alarms and bag rustling to 6 other people snoring simultaneously, hostel dorms don’t offer much in the way of a peaceful night’s slumber. If you are planning on staying in hostels, be sure to check out previous guest reviews about the noise levels and whatever you do, don’t forget to take along some earbuds!
While hotel rooms boast about 4 or 5 plug sockets per person for hairdryers, shavers, and laptops, hostel guests hoping to charge their various devices could be waiting in line a while, which is why it’s always a smart idea to take a power bank with you for backup (or else a plug extension cord to let all bunk mates get an equal share of juice).
In a dorm sleeping about 6 backpackers, for instance, there might only be 2 or 3 plugs in sight, so it can be a bit of a scramble to be able to charge phones and tablets during the day! Backpackers are normally very resourceful – and friendly – so if your batteries are dead, most dorm mates will be willing to share.
Whether you choose a hotel or a hostel, accommodation that is closer to a city center and in walking distance of all the tourist hot spots will always charge higher rates. If we had to pick? All things considered, a central hostel will tend to be better value for money than a hotel since you have the added saving of self-catering.
Staying on the outskirts of where you want to be might be cheaper at the outset, but once you add in the daily transport costs, you may not have saved as much money as you’d hoped to. Again, it’s all dependent on the kind of traveler you are. If you don’t mind treks and walking tours on the path less traveled, then staying further out might suit the explorer in you.
If you were to wake from your plush hotel bed to hear construction drilling or a loud party going on in the next room, you’d totally be within your right to complain to the staff and even get a discounted stay by way of an apology. But when faced with a similar disturbance in a hostel, it’s something you may have to put up with for the sake of a cheaper rate.
In a hostel, travelers may need to catch an early flight, meaning their 3 am alarm is yours too and while most hostels try to have a “lights out” kind of policy to show everyone the same kindness and consideration, great sleep is not exactly synonymous with hostels!
Upon walking into a hotel room, we know that all the basics are going to be covered for our stay such as fresh towels, toiletries and hairdryers and even some complimentary non-essentials like slippers, a coffee station and a chocolate mint on our pillow. Hostels meanwhile may charge guests for things like bed linen and bath towels, so it’s good to be aware of these extra costs in advance.
Plenty of free amenities are included in a hostel stay though, such as staple foods and all the necessary equipment in the shared kitchen and entertainment in the form of books, games and Wi-Fi access.
Hotels may be the more expensive option, but they definitely offer greater flexibility for their guests in terms of who can stay. Hostels, for example, are typically associated with younger travelers since many backpackers are students and college graduates working abroad. In this sense, hostels filled with guests between the ages of 18 and 40 can make the place seem a tad intimidating to senior globetrotters.
Older guests are still welcome in hostels, but travelers over the age of 40 tend to be restricted to staying in separate private dorms or shared among other travelers of a similar age to ensure a more comfortable experience for everyone.
The first thing you notice about hostel accommodation compared with hotels is the chasm of difference in the character and atmosphere of the two (and no, we don’t mean the smell of feet vs the scent of freshly washed towels!). Whilst hotels mostly have the same setup around the world, hostels are quite creative and the best ones can be as much of an experience as the holiday itself.
While hotel settings provide quite predictable and familiar settings, hostels can be quirky and colorful and no two ever look the same. Once upon a time, most people imagined a hostel interior was closer to a prison block. In reality? Many have more style and decorative genius than most hotels.
The vast majority of hotels are open 24/7 and as long as guests have their room key to hand, travelers have the freedom to come and go any time they please. In contrast, hostels can be fairly strict about closing times, with many operating a midnight curfew. Any latecomers can risk being stranded in a strange city if they don’t observe the lockout times, so it’s vital to read the description carefully before booking,
A number of hostels are beginning to adapt to more and more flexible curfews, but as it stands, a shortage of staff and funds means that for now, hostel lockout periods are here to stay.
At the end of the day, both hostels and hotel stays have many pros and cons and the case may be that neither is the more superior choice since they can serve every kind of traveler well. If you’re a couple on a budget, a hostel will be a better bet than a family of four going on their first big trip together, since a hostel lacks a lot of the “just in case” facilities.
Just ask yourself before each trip: Are you traveling light and seeing where the wind takes you? Or do you need a night of undisturbed sleep for a business trip or long-awaited honeymoon? There are horrible hotels and amazing hostels out there, you just need to go with what feels right for your budget and what you want to experience while seeing the world!