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Hostel vs Hotel

In addition to airfare, lodging eats up the bulk of most travel budgets. And, where you stay plays a huge role in how you stay. That is, different lodging options often have totally different characteristics. As such, we’ll use this article to explain the differences, pros, and cons of a hostel vs hotel. 


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 offer relatively inexpensive lodging options generally tailored to young travelers and students. Normally, 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 goal of most hostels isn’t to provide a ton of privacy for guests. Instead, the shared accommodations give you a place to leave your gear and crash at the end of the night, as 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 frequently cater to adventurous, 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


Aimed towards 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


Though 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. 


During our road trip 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 typically 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 discussed, 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 


Rarely, some hostels don’t offer any kitchen facilities. 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.

Chipp working in a hotel in Cape Town

Chipp working in a hotel in Cape Town

Hotel Overview


The Oxford Dictionary defines a hotel as: “an establishment providing accommodations, meals, and other services for travelers and tourists.” The latter part of this definition marks the major difference between a hostel and a hotel, with hotels offering meals and “other services” to guests. That is, hotels come with private rooms, access to some sort of food, and some level of concierge service for guests. 


Hotel Pros and Cons


Pro #1: Significant Privacy


Whereas hostels lean towards communal living, hotels provide guests their own rooms - and the privacy those rooms entail. Yes, you still have to deal with hotel staff and other guests in the building. But, your room is your own. If you prioritize this level of privacy, hotels may be the right choice for you. 


Pro #2: On-site Support and Concierge Service


If you have an issue with your hotel room, there’s always someone on-site to help. Whether you’re in a one-star or five-star hotel, you always have someone to call if you have a problem or need some assistance. Sure, that level of service varies widely from hotel to hotel, but all provide some level of on-site support, with the nicer ones having concierge services to help with all sorts of requests (e.g. dinner reservations, finding show tickets, etc). 


Pro #3: Amenities


Hotels also generally include additional amenities beyond your own room. For example, many hotels have pools, gyms, laundry service, room service, and business centers for their guests’ convenience. While many hostels have pools and/or on-site bars, this is more of a bonus. Conversely, with hotels, having extra amenities is the norm. 


Pro #4: Reliability of a National or International Chain 


Comfort exists in national and international hotel chains. With an independent hostel, you’re never sure what you’re going to get (though online reviews provide a great equalizer). On the other hand, a hotel chain’s individual hotels will be pretty much the same, for better or worse, wherever you go. This means that, if you’re traveling to a new place, you at least know what you’re going to get lodging-wise. 


For example, when we flew to Cape Town from Zanzibar, we’d never been to South Africa, and we were landing pretty late at night. Unfamiliar with the new spot, we didn’t want to screw around with checking into a hostel or AirBnB late at night. Instead, we used some of Jenna’s Marriott points to spend our first couple nights in Cape Town at a hotel chain we knew - made arriving in a new city late at night far easier. 


Con #1: Common Areas Not Designed for Meeting New People


Though hotels do have common areas (lobby bars, pools, etc.), these areas aren’t really tailored towards meeting new people. As a result, for solo travelers looking to cross paths with people in similar situations, hotels just don’t have the same opportunities as hostels. But, if you want the convenience of in-house bars and other common areas without the expectation of socializing, a hotel definitely makes sense.  


Con #2: No Kitchen Access


What you gain in hotel room service and restaurants you lose in kitchen access. Some longer-stay hotels may have little kitchenettes, but these aren’t too common. Hotels just aren’t designed for travelers looking to save money by cooking their own meals. 


Con #3: Cost 


Lastly, the major drawback to hotels relative to hostels is their cost. Across the board, hotels just cost more than hostels. As a guest, higher per-night costs mean you indirectly pay for the support, amenities, and privacy that come with hotels. If you’re traveling on a tight budget, this means that you’ll likely need to significantly cut down on the length of your stay if you opt for a hotel over a hostel. 


Final Thoughts on Hostels vs Hotels

After outlining the above pros and cons, the question remains, what’s the better choice: hostels or hotels? It depends on your priorities. For travelers willing to sacrifice privacy and extra services for budget-friendly costs, a social environment to meet people, and the ability to cook their own meals, hostels are the way to go. On the other hand, if you’re willing to spend a little more and put a premium on privacy, reliability, and on-site services and support, stay at a hotel instead of a hostel.

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Affiliate Disclosure


We’ve included affiliate links on this page. If you click on a link and end up buying something, we may receive a commission (without adding any costs to you). This helps us pay the bills, and we only promote products and services that we personally use and wholeheartedly endorse. Thanks so much for the support!


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