A bunk bed for £10, or a double bed for £100? If you’re planning to travel again soon, you might be wondering where your money is best spent – the most comfortable accommodation or out and about at your destination.
Here are the pros and cons on each side of travel’s most hotly-contested dichotomy: should you stay in a hostel or a hotel?
The argument for a hostel
It goes without saying that if you can afford to stay in a 200th floor penthouse suite in Monaco with on-tap Bollinger an infinity pool and an antique four poster that once belonged to Grace Kelly the average backpacker’s hostel will probably struggle to keep up.
But assuming Jeff Bezos isn’t a distant cousin, the average two or three star hotel is not only much pricier than most hostels, it also serves up a far less satisfying experience. Hotels will inflate their costs for things that don’t directly affect your stay: an extra tenner for having lots of lifts, and extra 20 for the ornate-looking columns in the lobby, and who knows how much for the nice-but-superfluous chocolate on the pillow.
Hostels by comparison, sell themselves on things that overtly impact your trip. Even high-end outlets rarely stray into hotel prices ranges, and your minimal buck gets direct bang with bed, board and sometimes breakfast.
A holiday is only as good as who you go with, and most hostels will happily play matchmaker with central social areas, affordable alcohol on demand, and organised activities like pub crawls and sightseeing.
Hostels expect you to spend your days out and about, so location and transport are often a big part of the branding, while proprietors often pride themselves on local tips that go beyond the guidebook. Hostels know their purpose to help you enjoy the place that you’re in – not try and compete with it.
You could spend your day standing around awkwardly while room service changes your one-night-old bedsheets, or you could get to know the couple from your dorm over a game of ping-pong, before heading off a local bar.
The pros of a hotel
The way some people talk about hostels, you’d think they’d forgotten that holidays are supposed to be relaxing. At hotels menial tasks are done for you – the bed is made, the floor is cleared, the toiletries are provided – and for a break from your daily reality taking care of the domestics is pretty much essential.
I'm 34 years old. You're not going to convince me hostels are better than hotels. 34. No.
— Tiffany Jennings (@writingthesurf) May 16, 2014
There is a reason hostels are predominantly the preserve of the young, and it isn’t just to do with money. A lot of gap year travellers don’t need to escape from the laundry, an overflowing office inbox, and doing their tax returns, because for one reason or other they simply aren’t at that stage of life.
Hotels also offer up that rare quality: privacy. Room service means you needn’t even brave the restaurant, and you can exist with your people, on your terms. Try going for a romantic break in ten person dorm. Your trip will have limits.
As for those ten people, if even one of them listens to loud music with no headphones, leaves their foul smelling sandals by your bed, or is ‘not a racist but…’, they can single-handedly ruin your trip. Foreign fraternising can go one of two ways, and the more people you’re cooped up with, the more likely you are to find a wrong ‘un. Also we hope you like being tired. A lot of hostels keep ungodly hours.
And if you do want to go all-inclusive, all power to you. You don’t have to fly all the way to Mexico to languish by a swimming pool, but it sure does help with the weather. Hotels make things easier and that’s what holidays are supposed to be about.