I do consider myself a backpacker when I travel which does tend to mean that I will stay in hostels over hotels the majority of the time. In past articles I have always leaned and guided readers towards hostels when it comes to backpacking and there are a multitude of reasons for this. These are my thoughts on the hostels vs hotels discussion talking from my own travel experiences.
However, with all of that aside, I think there is room to discuss them both objectively instead of preaching one style of accommodation over the other as the ultimate way to “travel europe”.
I actually think there are times and situations when using both on a trip can be advantageous, and if there’s one thing I DO recommend when it comes to backpacking is to not pigeon hole your experiences by having preconceived perceptions on what is a better style of travel (without trying it out first at least).
Having already covered what hostels are and safety & security tips in two massive posts I don’t want to re-hash already done content but shed some light and new angles on the hotels vs hostels debate.
Let’s first clear up one thing; as a backpacker travelling solo, I would never stay in a hotel. This is not only for social reasons but an obvious cost-per-bed advantage too. Backpacking does, after all, insinuate budget travel.
Things become a little more gray when you are travelling with a close friend or your significant other. From a pure cost-per-bed ratio things aren’t as clear cut as when travelling solo. Even as a couple, you generally pay per dorm bed for a hostel so this can easily mean €40 – €50 a night once you add up both beds. Whereas a hotel you can book a double bed to share and often for the same price (or in some of the European capitals it’s sometimes cheaper!).
So how do you know when it’s a good idea to use one or the other? Let’s examine old-school style, that’s right – it’s pros & cons time. I’m going to do this through the eyes of the hotel for a change (as I said above, I’ve hammered the topic of hostels already).
- Can provide that little bit of private space and luxury.
- You get your own bathroom.
- The bed is normally more comfortable.
- Can be price beneficial to those in a group of 2 or 3.
- It’s possible to find ‘super deals’ on various websites during off peak season.
- You’ll be hard pressed to find much of a social atmosphere between fellow travellers in a hotel. Most people at hotels are there with their family/spouse or on business.
- Under the social atmosphere banner (that you won’t find in hotels) comes things like grouping up with fellow backpackers for a night out, planned activities like cooking nights, pub crawls, or learning the local language sessions.
- Way more expensive for a bed if travelling solo.
- Cheap 1 or 2 star hotels can sometimes have crappier facilities, a worse bathroom and not be as crisp and clean as a decent hostel.
This was a hostel party in the common room of a hostel called Black Sheep in Cologne, Germany. The photo is ridiculous of course, but it shows off the social aspects of a hostel perfectly! You won’t be having a party like this in the lobby of a hotel. I’m hugging a German friend we made called Lam, we’re now visiting them in Munich for Oktoberfest this month!
It is possible to get a private room with a double bed in hostels, but it always seems a bit sneaky to me because they still charge per person instead of per room. Often it’s about €25 – €30 per person for the one bed and once you add it all up it’s not that cheap. I’m not sure why they do it that way it’s really strange and quite annoying.
However, how do you like travelling? If you factor in a hostel with a kitchen and you plan on cooking your own meals to save some cash (you won’t be finding that in a hotel anytime soon), this can then round off the cost nicely.
Let’s look at a recent real life example of where I thought booking a hotel would be more advantageous. We (Trudy and my sister who was travelling with us) were going to Bologna in Italy. Our hostel options were limited to one that was way out of town and looked a bit like a public high school. I didn’t feel like managing the local bus route for the short amount of time we were in La Grassa (Bologna is also known as The Fat One – and the food was goooood).
The other “hostel” options were actually B&B’s with privates ranging from €25 – €50. But wait, that’s not for the room itself but PER PERSON and there were 3 of us. It’s suddenly not so reasonable per night anymore booking it this way. It’s hotel time!
We ended up finding an amazing 3 star hotel in central Bologna that had two wings and a huge bathroom and was awesome for what equated to $32 USD each. That’s like €25 each for luxury and an excellent location – this made perfect sense to us. And after 8 bed dorming it for week or so prior it was a perfect break.
Some cities though, even in a group, lend themselves to must stay hostel action irrelevant of price factors and the rest. Off the top of my head, London, Barcelona, Berlin and Amsterdam come to mind. A city that springs to mind if travelling with that special someone where a hotel makes more sense for both privacy and price is Paris.
Expedia: I like using these guys for that rare (but advantageous) time I book a hotel!
YHA Hostels: YHA are like the pioneer of youth hostels, they were the ones doing it before it was cool. Worth checking out what’s available on their network before planning a trip, especially to the UK.
Hostelbookers: One of the big boys. They compete by offering no booking fees.
Hostelworld: The gorilla in the room for hostel booking. Huge network of various hostels, B&B’s and the like.
If there is one thing to take from this article it’s that there are no hard and fast rules for accommodation and backpacking. People often want to know the ‘best’ thing or the rules for where you should and shouldn’t stay as a backpacker. Every situation and city is different depending on what you’re after. Just travel. Experience different things. Meet new people, have a private moment when needed and just have fun.
This post was brought to you in partnership with YHA.org.uk, I remember using their Australian site when I was little (probably about 12 or 13) and travelling with my mum to Sydney! My memories are that it was a good, clean hostel with a nice breakfast buffet – I think I even made a friend there. A great first hostel experience!