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Hostel vs AirBnB

Travelers have plenty of lodging options now. Realistically, these multiple options can overwhelm some people wondering about the best places to stay. As a result, we’ll use this article to discuss the pros, cons, and differences of a hostel vs AirBnB: 


In addition to writing about his and Jenna’s travel and work adventures, Chipp is a CPA and founder of Walutes Capital, a real estate development and accounting firm. Wearing this “other hat,” Chipp offers real estate investment and development consulting services to clients. If you’d like help with your own real estate investing journey, contact Chipp here to set up an appointment! 

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What is a Hostel? 


Hostels refer to inexpensive lodging options generally tailored to young travelers and students. Typically, hostels offer some form of shared accommodation (e.g. bunk rooms) and robust common areas (e.g. bars, communal kitchens, and places to hang out). 


The intent of most hostels isn’t to provide significant privacy for guests. Rather, the shared accommodations give you a place to leave your gear and crash at the end of the night, while most guests spend the bulk of their time socializing in common areas with fellow travelers.

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Hostel Pros and Cons


Pro #1: Common Areas for Meeting Fellow Travelers


Hostels cater to adventurous, often solo travelers. As a result, their physical layouts tend to emphasize common areas where people can socialize. Rather than have huge living spaces, hostels offer really cool places to hang out - bars, communal kitchens, lounge areas, and, in warmer climates, outdoor activities like swimming pools and sand volleyball. These areas provide individuals an awesome opportunity to meet new people, people you wouldn’t cross paths with in a private apartment. 


One of our favorite hostels for doing cool stuff and meeting new people was the Chintsa Buccaneers on South Africa’s Wild Coast - tree-house-style bar, huge porches with sweeping views of the ocean, a pool with tiki bar, and a great volleyball set-up just some of the incredible amenities. 


Pro #2: Inexpensive


Catering to backpackers, hostels also tend to be pretty inexpensive relative to hotels and AirBnBs. For travelers on a tight budget, this pricing model means you can save more of your money for exploring, eating, and drinking in a new place. Additionally, these low prices let you stay far longer in a given spot than you likely could otherwise. 


Pro #3: Scalable Levels of Comfort and Privacy


While hostels frequently offer bunk-style lodging, you don’t necessarily have to crash with a bunch of other people. Instead, most spots offer some scalability, with group, semi-private, and private lodging available. That way, if you want to spend a little more money, you can gain some privacy while still taking advantage of the social aspect of hostel life. 


While road tripping through South Africa’s Garden Route, we stayed at an amazing hostel in Stormsrivier - the Tsitsikamma Backpackers. We’d be spending a week in town, so we wanted a little privacy. As such, we opted for a private room. While it wasn’t huge, it gave us our own space to stretch out, but we still had access to the hostel’s great bar, kitchen, and sweeping covered patio - perfect for knocking out some remote work while meeting amazing people. 


Pro #4: Access to Local Knowledge, Tours, and Activities 


Hostels also usually feature great organized tour options and managers with in-depth local knowledge. This way, when you’re new to an area, you have instant access to insider information about a place. And, if you want to do some sort of tour, there’s a good chance either A) the hostel will offer it itself, or B) they’ll be able to point you in the direction of a vetted, reliable company. 


Stormsrivier is an outdoor adventure wonderland, and we wanted to do a kayak and lilo excursion (outstanding experience if you ever get the chance!). The Tsitsikamma Backpackers set us up with a local company and got us a solid rate, whereas we’d have had to do a lot more research if we were staying in a house or apartment. 


Con #1: Relative Lack of Privacy 


As stated, one of the potential drawbacks to hostel life is the relative (compared to a private apartment) lack of privacy. If you’re looking for a quiet spot to be alone to relax or work remotely, a hostel may not be your best choice. But, with the massive post-COVID surge in remote work, many hostels now cater to these types of travelers by offering some sort of quiet workspace environment. 


Con #2: Shared or No Kitchen Facilities 


Some hostels don’t offer any kitchen facilities, but this is pretty rare. Instead, most have communal kitchens. If you want to make a big, family-style meal for friends, these spots are great. But, if you’re protective of your food and kitchen space, dealing with other travelers while trying to cook a meal can be tough. 


Con #3: Potentially Spotty Wifi and Remote Work Facilities 

Once again, hostels primarily focus on the social aspect of travel. This emphasis can result in somewhat less-than reliable WiFi (though most places now have pretty good internet). If you have to work remotely and make frequent video calls for work, spotty WiFi can be a dealbreaker. To avoid any work-related issues, read some reviews on a hostel’s internet reliability and “digital nomad” friendliness before pulling the trigger on a stay.

Working on the balcony of our Cape Town AirBnB

Working on the balcony of our Cape Town AirBnB

What is an AirBnB?


Originally, AirBnB provided people with homes and apartments an opportunity to rent a spare bedroom. However, the platform has now evolved. For the sake of most travelers, staying at an AirBnB overseas means renting an entire house or apartment from an owner who’s listed his or her home on the website. 


In most cases, AirBnB rentals are more expensive than hostels but less expensive than a hotel room. Travelers who choose this option have solo access to an entire home without any common areas in the home (though some apartment buildings offer rooftop pools and other building-wide lounge areas that guests can access).  


AirBnB Pros and Cons


Pro #1: Complete Privacy


Privacy serves as the number one benefit to AirBnBs. When you rent your own apartment, you’re the sole occupant of the space, giving you total privacy. If you want some down time or need to focus on work, this can make a huge difference. 


For example, when traveling down Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, we spent a week in Zadar. We both knew we’d have to buckle down and get some work done during this particular stretch, so we chose a great little AirBnB - private cottage in the rear of a larger house. This set-up gave us our own space while still keeping us close to the historic city center - great balance for working during the day and exploring in the evening.


Pro #2: Private Kitchen Access 


When you rent an entire apartment, you have the luxury of your own private kitchen. To save money during our travels, we always ate breakfast at home (then usually had a big lunch or dinner out somewhere). There’s a tremendous comfort in having your own fridge and cooking space, knowing your food will always be there, dishes will be clean, and you won’t have to wait for other people to finish cooking for you to make your own food. 


On extended stays, having your own kitchen can definitely save you money, because shopping for and cooking your own meals doesn’t typically cost as much as eating at restaurants. And, if you’re trying to stay in decent shape, it’s nice to be able to cook some healthy meals for yourself! 


Pro #3: Reliable Wifi and Remote Work Environment


In hostels, you potentially have dozens (or more) people sharing the same WiFi connection. Conversely, an AirBnB apartment will have its own router and connection - just for you. For the digital nomad community, this creates a more secure, reliable internet connection. Last thing you want while traveling abroad is to have Zoom calls with your boss or clients drop due to spotty WiFi! 


Con #1: Limited or No Common Areas for Meeting Fellow Travelers 


Unfortunately, most apartments provide limited opportunities to meet new people. When you prioritize privacy, you lose access to common areas for meeting fellow travelers. For introverts and people not concerned with socializing with random people, this obviously doesn’t matter. But, if you want to meet other people while on the road, this lack of communal living can be a big obstacle. 


Fortunately, a middle ground exists in some places. While staying in Cape Town, we found an awesome high-rise apartment in the Green Point neighborhood of the city. The top of the building had an infinity pool and deck with a stunning view of the harbor. This area gave us a place to hang out and meet other people, but we still had the flexibility to head back downstairs to our apartment when we wanted some down time. 


Con #2: Relatively Expensive Compared to Hostels 


While normally not as expensive as hotels, AirBnBs tend to cost more than hostels. For travelers with tight budgets, renting your own apartment can be cost-prohibitive. Or, what could potentially be a month-long trip at a hostel would have to be much shorter. 


On the flip side, many AirBnB hosts offer duration discounts. When living in Namibia, we rented an apartment for a month in Windhoek. Due to the extended stay, our host gave us a 25% discount on the total bill - a huge cost savings for us! 


Final Thoughts on Hostels vs AirBnBs


So, what’s the better option - hostels or AirBnBs? It depends… Generally speaking, if you prioritize socializing with new people and saving money, hostels make far more sense. On the other hand, if you want the privacy of your own space, are willing/able to spend a little more money, and don’t prioritize the social life of hostels, you should plan on renting an apartment on AirBnB. 

But, as a final recommendation, regardless of where you want to stay, do your research! Every hostel and AirBnB is different, with some significantly better (or worse!) than others. Dive into the reviews, and if you prioritize a certain amenity, look for feedback from travelers in similar situations. If a spot worked for them, it’ll probably work for you!  

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