Traveling is one of the most exciting and enriching activities that a person can undertake, and there are as many ways to have a fulfilling trip as there are individual travelers. If you’re planning an excursion, the first major question to answer (after you decide where you’re going) is where you’re going to lay your head each night. In the Airbnb age, the possibilities may seem virtually endless, but traditional lodging options still present unique opportunities to make your trip enjoyable and memorable.
While there are many types of professional lodging options out there — some which are more distinctive than others — the two basic opposing classifications around the world are hotels and hostels. Broadly speaking, hotels are ideal for personalized and private experiences meant to maximize an individual’s comfort, and hostels are great for social travelers who mostly just need a place to sleep each night and have a healthy desire to to engage with other travelers. So, how do you know which one is right for you?
Probably the most important consideration for most people is the price of each lodging option. Because they don’t offer many of the basic amenities and services of hotels, hostels save on a lot of upfront costs and are thus significantly cheaper for guests (we’re talking far less than $100 per night, and sometimes less than $30, depending on where you’re staying). This makes any trip more affordable and gives you some extra money to spend on experiences in the place you’re visiting. Of course, there are so many different types of hotels/motels that the price of a room can fluctuate wildly based on a number of different factors. So if price is your biggest concern, doing some quick online comparison shopping before committing to something is definitely worth the investment in time.
Features and Services
As noted, the main reason that hostels are able to offer such low rates is because they don’t provide the same sort of luxury, service-and-comfort-minded amenities that come standard with most hotels or even motels. This means no direct telephones or conveniences like towels, soap, hair dryers, etc. It also means none of the fun extras that can sometimes make a hotel experience especially enjoyable, such as a gym or pool. While many hostels do provide standard features like a kitchen, laundry service, and even televisions, they are usually in shared spaces for all of the guests to use, which means taking turns and no privacy. Luckily, hostels usually do provide Internet access these days, so you can always find ways to amuse yourself outside of the common areas if you’re not feeling particularly social.
Besides price, the social aspect of hostels are the most appealing part of the experience for many people. If you’re traveling solo, looking for a unique experience, or just like meeting new people, hostels are a great (and easy) way to meet and engage with other travelers from all over the world. Largely speaking, hostels are generally made up of dorm-style sleeping spaces with multiple bunk beds to accommodate between 4-8 travelers per room, although a growing trend among larger hostels is to add private rooms that can be accessed at an additional cost (thus kind of negating the price difference from hotels). And though these rooms are private, the general amenities and services are still shared.
Hotels, on the other hand, are great for travelers who like to have a little “me time” when they’re winding down after a day of adventures and sight-seeing. With a hotel room, guests are given their own space to relax and store their belongings. This kind of arrangement is especially attractive for traveling families or groups that can afford to go in on a room together. Any good hostel will, of course, offer the option for you to store your belongings in a locker while you’re out of the building or sleeping, but for some people, the constant worrying about security isn’t worth the money they’re saving by staying in a hostel. In the end, it comes down to how comfortable you are living around and sharing space with strangers.
Opportunity and Location
While hostels are quite popular overseas (especially in Europe), they haven’t caught on with the same fervor here in the United States, and so they are primarily available in medium-to-large cities and popular travel hubs. In most of the country, hotels (and specifically motels) are far more common and accessible, making them convenient for people who need a last minute place to crash. Meanwhile, hostels are limited to certain destinations and usually have to be planned in advance to ensure availability.
What Kind of Experience Do You Want?
Hotels and hostels offer very different experiences. Hotels are great for people who want a lot of control over how their trips will go, which includes having a baseline understanding of what kind of amenities and services they can expect from their lodging establishment and the privacy to do what they want in their rooms when they have free time. Hostels are better suited for explorers and those who are more interested in meeting new people and going with the flow. While staff members at both hotels and hostels are equipped to provide local guidance and recommendations, many hostels also provide unique programming and educational opportunities to their guests, which is great for people who aren’t totally sure what they want to do, but don’t just want to sit around or visit the most popular tourist sites. Ultimately, only you really know what kind of traveler you are and what kind of experience is going to leave you satisfied, but a little research into the different options available in your destination location can help you find the perfect place to stay.