Now, we at Hostelgeeks do not claim hostels to be better than hotels. In fact, for us, there are different life and travel style choices. Claiming one is better than the other is simply misleading and ignoring many facts and circumstances.
Whenever a traveller decides on their accommodation, there are many aspects to consider. Some aspects can include:
- What kind of trip are you on? Party, couple, single, …
- How long are you travelling for?
- What’s your budget (yes, also important!)
- What do you expect from your accommodation?
And most important: What kind of experience are you looking for?
Here is the kicker: You have to be clear what kind of experience you are seriously looking for. Party travelling, tranquil beach vibe, cosy social experience, private honeymoon style couple trip – there are many possibilities.
When you are looking for a crazy party weekend experience, a stylish boutique hostel won’t be the perfect fit. Neither would a 5 Star Hostel, or obviously a 5 Star Hotel. An apartment, b&b, guesthouse won’t get the job done either.
Hostels are not better than hotels…let this guide explain to you why!
The newest trend: There is a new trend among hostel websites. The private rooms are called the hotel section, and the dorms are called hostel-type accommodation.
In this guide, we cover:
- Hostels vs Hotels
- 11 things that make a Hostel stand out
- How to recognise a “bad” hostel
- Hostel vs Airbnb
1. Hostels vs Hotels – the difference
What is the difference between a hostel and a hotel?
This is quite a common debate, so let us break it down to the most basic differences between a Hostel and Hotel.
- Hostels are budget-orientated
- Hotels are more formal than Hostels
- Hostels offer different common areas like living room and informal lounge,
- whilst Hotels offer usually a more formal lounge and a bar.
At Hotels, you usually find an in-house restaurant and bar, while Hostels usually offer a kitchen for self-catering.
Personal note by Hostelgeeks: Comparing these two types of accommodation does not make a lot of sense to us, as both are designed for different purposes. So in case you want to start a discussion about this topic, please save your energy for something more useful e.g. solving a maths problem, or cleaning the beach.
Here are some helpful guides to introduce you to the hostel world:
- What is a Hostel? 12 hostel definitions & hostel meaning
- Hostels from A to Z – all you need to know
- What NOT to pack to stay at a Hostel
- Hostel Etiquette: 18 unwritten rules
2. What makes a Hostel stand out?
Ok so as we’ve already mentioned, it’s pretty pointless to try and compare hostels and hotels with an intent of deciding which is best. It just depends on SO many factors!
So, instead we are going to highlight the things that make hostels stand out. All of these points are based on our actual experience of hostels over the years.
That way you have a clearer idea of what to expect and then you can decide for yourself whether it makes sense to book a hostel, or opt for a hotel room instead.
Don’t be fooled by the price – hostels these days have a real glam-factor!
Heck we should know as we are the home of 5 Star Hostels, afterall. Have you seen the superb design, modern amenities and impressive social atmosphere are these hostels?!
- Maverick Hostel in Budapest offers the opportunity to sleep in a royal mansion.
- Savage Hostel in Koh Tao offers an Instagrammable outdoor swimming pool and…
- …there’s a bar & swimming pool on the rooftop of Sunset Destination Hostel in Lisbon!
Perhaps you’re looking to experience a boutique hostel? We don’t blame you.
Here are 28 handpicked Boutique Hostels.
A common question is “are hostels safe?” – quite rightly this is something to consider when going to stay somewhere, whether to a hostel, hotel, Airbnb or guesthouse.
We’re going to say YES, hostels are absolutely safe.
AND! It always depends on who you are staying with. In general, travellers come together to save money and meet people, not to steal. Yet there are lots of stories out there.
Important read: Are Hostels really Safe? 13 Safety Tips + 1st hand advice
This guide covers everything you need to know to stay safe during your hostel experience.
2.3 Fun Vibes
Fun, fun and more fun is to be had at hostels. Why?! They’re social accommodations! Simple as that.
A great hostel cares a lot about creating an atmosphere that is fun, memorable and welcoming.
Some ways a hostel can support the fun vibes is by including:
- Organised events & activities
- Games (pool, cards, board games, darts etc)
- Happy Hour
- Family dinners for all guests
- Awesome, social staff
And of course, you as the traveller can play your part in creating fun vibes. Don’t pass the responsiblity on to everyone else! Say hi, suggest a game of pool and smile.
Fun: How to be the Worst Hostel Guest ever? Your 22-steps recipe
2.4 It’s not party, but social
Are you under the impression that staying in a hostel means constant partying? Do you associate hostels with meeting people that only want to party?
Sure, there are party hostels designed specifically for that, and you can’t always guarantee the type of people that are also booked into your room.
Here are the best party hostels in the world to give you an idea.
However, in general, hostels offer a social atmosphere that encourages strangers to become friends. Trust us when we say it isn’t all about the party!
Check out our next point if you’re still not convinced…
2.5 There are hostels for everyone
Do you want to party hard? Or perhaps….
- You are a family, traveling with kids?
- Young solo traveler? (male or female, it does not matter)
- Group of “adult” solo travelers?
- Couples who actually would like to mingle?
- Older travelers with a young heart?
Well, the good news is that there is a hostel type for every kind of person you can think of! So it certainly helps to spend some time undertanding the different hostel types.
Read: 7 Types of Hostels (youth, party, boutique, 5 star hostels)
2.6 The power of 2€ – Hostel vs Hotel price
The power of 2€ – staying at the greatest hostels in the world.
When it comes to hostels, the majority still has this idea of a cheap, basic accommodation in their head. And hey, it’s true. A hostel is a social-type budget accommodation. And the amenities at hostels are at large, pretty basic. No fancy, shiny things – usually!
Here is the kicker: Instead of staying at the cheapest hostel in town, you can get a totally different hostel experience for only 2€ more.
Are the 5 Star Hostels expensive? The answer is: not at all. In fact, they are usually average priced. Obviously, and this goes almost without saying, they are not the cheapest accommodations in town. BUT, between you and me, we do not want the cheapest, we want to the coolest, right?!
So, again, you can stay at the most amazing hostels in the world, and it doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg.
Here is a list of outstanding hostels in the world you can stay at.
2.7 The perks
Hostels are not simply a place to lay your head and sleep, oh no!
In actual fact, the focus of hostels is spread rather equally between the bedrooms and social areas. And because of this, many many perks are born.
Unlike in a hotel, hostels tend to offer a shared kitchen where everyone is welcome to cook their own meals. Not only that, but it’s a great place to meet other travellers, too.
What other perks does a kitchen offer?
- Save money (especially if there’s free food)
- Learn recipes & share your own with hostel peeps
- Join cooking classes
- Fill up on free dinners
- Stay healthy by cooking your favourite meals
Meet people from around the world
Yep, this is easy in a hostel. Head to the common area, suggest a game of cards, buy a round of drinks at the bar…. the possibilities are endless!
Hostels attract travellers of all ages, genders, nationalities – it’s a real cultural pot of wonderment.
Work exchange/ live in a hostel
Did you know that many hostels offer a work exchange programme? How it usually works:
- You and the hostel agree on a timeframe (usually at least 1-2 weeks)
- You work 2-3 hours per day (reception, cleaning etc)
- The hostel provides you with a free bed in a dorm
One of our best experiences doing this was at Alice’s Secret Traveller’s Inn, part of the 3 best hostels in Alice Springs, Australia.
Here are some more travel tips on How to Travel the World for Free.
2.8 All the free stuff
Everybody loves free things. This can be a free walking tour, free shots at night, a family dinner, free tea and coffee, you name it.
Some hostels, such as Caveland Santorini, even have free shampoo that was left behind by fellow guests.
Free breakfast is becoming more and more popular, and hostels are seemingly out-doing each other with buffets, eggs, pancakes – you name it!
Top tip: have a look in the kitchen for a free food bin before you do your grocery shopping. There’s often a “dry food bin” and one in the fridge labelled “free food”. Spices, oil, salt & pepper – these are usual and handy items you’ll come across.
Depending on the hostel, you could save quite a lot of money this way.
Should you skip the hotel and stay in a hostel? Probably.
2.9 The recommendations you get
Part of the deal with staying at hostels is the team of staff that are there to welcome and look after you. No, not like parents, like friends!
More often than not, the staff team is made up of travellers that LOVE hostels and have stayed in many around the world.
There are also family-run hostels, hostels run by friends and teams made up solely of volunteers.
They all have one thing in common: a love for the hostel and its destination.
Ask them anything:
- Good places to eat/drink
- Where to find the best party in town
- Tips & tricks for local sights
- Deals/discounts for attractions & sights
Whatever you’re after, chances are the staff have awesome recommendations to give!
All hotels and hostels have staff. The difference here? A personal touch that is genuine and welcoming from the get go.
2.10 A simple “Hi” opens a whole new world
One part we love about hostels is the fact people staying in a hostel are ready to mingle.
It’s the mindset. This is, for us at Hostelgeeks, the main difference between a hostel and hotel.
The mindset, for being ready to mingle and socialize.
Imagine: You are sitting in your hotel lobby, eating your food and somebody comes over, sits down and starts chatting with you.
In a hotel scene, this is odd… this would be SO weird, right!?
At a hostel, this is standard, this is the real life.
A few examples?
1. At Wallyard Concept Hostel I was chatting with a fellow hostel mate, when the young receptionist came over with the words „I will hang out with you guys, if that’s okay? What did you do today?“.
2. We were just about to leave The Common Room Project, one of the coolest hostels in Ho Chi Minh City, when another guest came in. We instantly hit it off, got along, and within the 2 minutes we chatted, we decided to go out for a drink that night. It was one of the most epic nights we had in Ho Chi Minh City.
3. We arrived at Chiang Mai Airport and were about to take a taxi to get a ride to OXOTEL, a cool hostel in Chiang Mai. A young guy came over, a tourist as well, asked if we want to share a taxi. As it turned out, he was still looking for a cool hostel to stay. We told him he should come with us to Oxotel.
He ended up staying 4 nights, we met even more people in the cool café of Oxotel and built a lifetime friendship.
We could give you a million more examples of how we ended up traveling a road trip in Europe with first a follower, now a friend, and how we bump into hostel friends all over the world time and again.
But you get the idea, right?!
Conclusion on #10?
A simple “hi” goes a looooooong way. It opens a whole new world.
Please, do not be shy! Hostels are about being social and fun.
2.11 Take some privacy if you need it
Once upon a time hostels were centered around shared dorms. Whilst dorms are still popular, many (if not most) hostels these days offer private rooms, too.
So! If you think booking a hotel room is the only way to enjoy some privacy, we’re here to enlighten you.
Discover: Hostel Room Types – what are the differences?
In fact, it’s also possible to enjoy privacy whilst staying in a shared dorm – have you come across the epic pod/capsule beds that are increasingly popular? Privacy curtain included!
Otherwise, private single/double/triple rooms in hostels often:
- come with an ensuite
- have added perks such as a balcony, TV, tea/coffee station
- include towels & toiletries
- are in a quieter section of the hostel
Private rooms are still cheaper than those in a hotel, plus you get to make use of the social areas, kitchen etc.
Booking a private room in a hostel is perfect if you feel a little burnt out, or you’re travelling long-term and want to balance out the social time with alone time.
Female solo traveller? Often female-only dorms are smaller and include comfort amenities such as a hairdryer, vanity mirror and ensuite. Why Female Dorms? 7 pros and 3 cons.
3. How to recognize a “bad” hostel?
When we say “bad” hostel, it does not mean it has to be a 5 Star Hostel or it’s no good, not at all. There are so many wonderful hostels out there without our award.
In this case we mean BAD…REALLY BAD! A sh** place, a place you do not want to stay in, because it is either unsafe, dirty, creepy or all of that.
And let’s be honest: We have all seen these places, or even stayed at them simply because there was no other choice.
So, how do you spot a bad Hostel?
1. Ratings – check them ALWAYS!
One of the absolute best indicators is the public rating on booking platforms. If a hostel has a rating of less than 7….RUN!! I would even go that far to say, the minimum rating should be 7.5.
The absolute basics when it comes to check hostel ratings:
- a hostel should have at least 10 public ratings – if it has less, be doubtful!
- minimum rating should be 7 (even 7.5)
- Check the different rating categories like
- Is the location rated as safe?
Keep in mind, ratings on Hostelworld are usually higher than on Booking.com. This is because it has a different user base. Hostelworld user tend to be younger, for instance. Hostelz.com outs together all ratings and they say, they are the only ones publishing genuine reviews with no censorship.
The absolute best hostel site to check ratings is Hostelz.com.
Our best tip for all ratings: Filter by the WORST Comments and scan them.
The worst comments are the BEST! Why? They give you a great indication of what to expect. Do this as well for the great hostels.
2. Safety issue
Does the hostel provide lockers? Lockers that do a proper job? Are there any comments or reviews about safety issues? Keep an eye on this.
After all: You should always feel and be safe when traveling. If a place does not feel right, then find a solution to it. Either check out or talk with reception to change room, for instance.
3. Is it social?
A great hostel is social; if it not social it is just a cheap accommodation! Always remember this!
It starts with the staff encouraging the social part. There might be a bar to socialize, a lounge, maybe hostel games. There are a few indicators to see if a hostel is social, such as:
- Do you see people on the photos having a good time? (not the stock photos, please…)
- Is there a bar?
- Did people leave good comments about the atmosphere
- Is there activities?
The instagram feed of a hostel can be a great resource as well to check this.
4. Is there an age limit?
This one does not mean it has to be bad, obviously. This one is more about if a hostel is the right fit for you.
On one hand, it can help you to figure out what type of hostel it is (party, youth) and will help you avoid an uncomfortable stay. On the other, this is discrimination that you won’t find in hotels. That being said, there is also hotels that are adults-only…okay, you see where we are going with this. Just make sure you pick the right fit for you and that you actually “qualify” for staying here.
Honestly, we’re not fans of putting an age limit rule on a hostel. Commonly, the typical age limit is from 18-35yrs. Some hostels go up to 45yrs. Often there is a stamp of 18+. Just be aware of this.
4. Hostel vs Airbnb
A few readers have asked the difference between staying at a hostel and booking an Airbnb.
If you’re keen to stay with locals and have more privacy, we’d suggest booking an Airbnb. Having said that, hostel staff tend to be local and also have wonderful knowledge about the destination. We also think, an Airbnb is much better than a bad hostel.
Airbnb’s range from booking a room in someone’s house, to having an entire house to yourself. It depends on what you want.
What are the pros and cons of using Airbnb vs a hotel and hostel?
Here’s Airbnb in Review which covers everything + a €35 coupon code for your first booking.
Also, have you heard about Airbnb experiences? There so many one-of-a-kind activities hosted by experts around the world.
Sum it up: Hostels vs Hotels
Hostels can be a huge part of your overall travel experience. They will take up so much space in your travel planning, in the people you meet, in the friendships you build, in the memories you create.
Therefore, life is too short for bad hostels.
We hope this guide to hostels vs hotels has helped you to better understand the overall differences.
Before you head to any hostel or hotel, make use of our smart hostel packing list.
What are the best sites for finding hostels? Of course we think Hostelgeeks! Here’s also Hostelworld in Review covering the simple booking process.
Did we miss anything? Let us know!
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