Hostel vs Hotel: Differences, Safety & What’s Right for You

Last Updated on August 6, 2021

Hostel sign and hotel sign split screen

Hostel vs Hotel: Differences, Safety & What’s Right for You

 

If you’re a worn-out traveler, you’ll need a place to rest your weary bones at the end of the day. This biological necessity comes with a price tag and a slew of options, chief amongst which lies the decision between picking a hostel vs hotel. 

It seems like an easy decision, right? Not so fast. The debate between a hostel vs hotel begs that you ask yourself a series of important questions.

Are you traveling for business? Is this a wild and loose party trip with you and your friends? Are you a solo traveler looking to meet interesting people and see the world through a new lens? Do you enjoy sleeping in a room with a dozen other strangers?

Some people have no issue shacking up in a room full of sweaty travelers and falling asleep to a chorus of snores. Others might lose their mind sleeping in a room full of pungent strangers. Where do you fall in this spectrum?

So much about traveling comes down to learning about who you are, and choosing where to stay is an exercise in knowing oneself. 

So, without further ado, let’s get into the specifics of hotels vs hostels.

What is a Hostel?

Man fixing a bike in front of a hostel in Hanoi, Vietnam

What are hostels all about?

 

Hostels are a budget-friendly, communal option for backpackers and travelers looking for a place to lay their heads at night. Built around shared spaces, hostels offer an affordable way to spend time around people from all walks of life, and they’re often nestled in ideal locations. 

This is why many hostels refer to themselves as youth hostels — these spaces are meant for young people who might not have a lot of money to spend on lodging. Don’t get tripped up on the word ‘youth,’ however, as hostels are usually great options for travelers of all ages. (I’ve met more than one 70-somethings cutting loose and thoroughly enjoying themselves in a hostel environment.)

To keep prices low, hostels feature dorm-style rooms. These rooms can sleep upwards of 20 travelers in bunk-style beds, though most rooms sleep between four and ten. When staying in a hostel, you’re not just sharing a room; you’ll likely share everything, including a bathroom, kitchen, and the sounds and smells of your new friends. For that reason, be sure to bring earplugs and deodorant when sleeping in a hostel

If you’re the type who isn’t too interested in the noises or aromas of your traveling peers, know that you can book a private room in a hostel. Private rooms afford you a much higher level of solitude than you’d find in a dorm room, so fork out a few extra bucks if you need your own space at the end of the day.

What is a Hotel?

Neon 'HOTEL' sign in the night sky against a brick building

What type of traveler would prefer a hotel?

 

You’re likely familiar with hotels, but for the sake of comparison, let’s get into it. A hotel offers short-term stays to travelers of all types. Business people, weary road trippers, spring breakers, and all sorts of other people stay in hotels. But, with a hotel, you get a private room, room service if you want it, and usually a place to park your car. 

You won’t have to share anything with strangers, including your shower, toilet, your sounds, and your smells. This feeling of privacy alone pushes many people to pick a hotel when choosing between hostel vs hotel. 

When it does come time to pick your hotel, you’ll have options ranging from budget-friendly to outright exorbitant. Hotels offer all manner of stays, including rooms with little more than a bed and television to grand suites with ocean views. Depending on what your trip looks like, a hotel could make much more sense than a hostel, especially if you need quiet and the utmost privacy. 

Main Differences Between Hostels and Hotels

Hostel dorm room with eight to ten capsule beds

Hostels tend towards dorm-style living, whereas hotels are more private

 

By now, you’re probably getting an idea of the differences between hostels and hotels, but let’s dive a bit deeper into each consideration so you can choose the most fitting accommodation possible.

Hostels Offer Less Privacy than Hotels

Most likely, the biggest difference between comparing a hostel vs a hotel, is that hostels offer far less privacy than hotels, even if you book a private room. 

Hostels are communal by nature, so you’ll probably have to walk through areas where people are lounging around just to get into your room or out of the building. If you got drunk and said something stupid the night before in your hostel, chances are you’ll probably run into the guy or gal you offended.

With a hotel, it’s much easier to move about life in anonymity, and it’s unlikely that you’ll form bonds with the random person staying next door. Herein lies a fundamental difference between hotel and hostel. 

Now, if you’re going the hostel dorm route, you’ll have to stash your belongings in lockers and keep them safe with a travel lock. This can feel intrusive and less private than simply tossing your backpack in your hotel room and getting on with your day.

Hotels Usually Cost More than Hostels

On average, hotels cost more than hostels, specifically due to significant overhead and amenities that hostels don’t offer. A well-run hotel has cleaning people, front desk personnel, bartenders, managers, and others to keep the building running smoothly. In a hostel, the employees often wear many different hats — most clean, do administrative work, and can bartend within a single day. 

Because hostels are generally smaller than hotels, a single person can do more of the work required to keep the place running. Many hostels employees are working in exchange for room, board, and maybe a small wage in an effort to stretch out their travels. The type of employee you’ll find in hostels vs hotels and their compensation represents a fundamental difference between the cost of the two.

Hotels and Hostels are as Diverse as Their Clients 

Of course, there are many different types of hotels. If you’re a Vegas high roller, you might score a vast room with a rotating bed and a mirror mounted on the ceiling above. Or, you might stay in a room with a television chained to the cement floor in a sketchy neighborhood 15 miles north of The Strip. Hostels are just as diverse.

Some hostels tailor to the party animal, and others gear towards health-conscious solo travelers looking to get in touch with themselves. There’s a hostel for every type of traveler out there; you just need to find the one that fits you. Chances are, you’ll occasionally make a mistake and pick an unsuitable hostel, but these experiences will prepare you for the time you’re ready to book.

Most hostels offer opportunities to go on sightseeing adventures, beer crawls, and other social endeavors, but the overall vibe of each hostel can vary wildly from place to place.

Hostels and Hotels Attract Very Different Types of Travelers

If you want to meet people from all corners of the world and enjoy a more communal lifestyle, a hostel will fit the bill better than a hotel ever could. Some people just want to hang out, smoke a joint on a rooftop in Mexico City, and watch the day fade into the night. They’ll likely feel right at home in a hostel.

Others have deadlines to meet, families to raise, and shit to get done. They should probably stay in the clean, quiet, and predictable environment of a hotel and avoid hostels at all costs.

For instance, it would make little sense for a business person with time-sensitive responsibilities to stay in a party hostel. Falling asleep before 3:00 am would prove difficult, and pumping electronic music along with the buzz of inebriated chit-chat will likely invade any suitable workspace.

Business travelers beware: booking a party hostel before meeting an important client could result in job loss.

Which is Safer: Hostels or Hotels?

Hostel dorm room with sandals on the floor next to two lockers

Be sure to lock up your belongings in shared hostel rooms

 

You may think that hotels are a safer option than hostels. Hotels, after all, provide more privacy and don’t require you to stash your stuff in communal spaces where it could get stolen. Also, you might think, there’s that one hostel movie where everyone got butchered. You surely don’t want to end up like them!

Cool your jets for a moment, okay? Remember The Shining? It took place at the Stanley Hotel, and a lot of people didn’t make it out of that one alive either.

So, if you’re wondering if hostels are safe, here’s the truth: if you do your due diligence, read reviews, and pick the proper hostel, you’ll likely leave in one piece (with all of your belongings).

Tips for Staying Safe in Hostels

My main piece of advice to stay safe in hostels is to remain aware of what the hell’s going on around you. Most criminals engage in crimes of opportunity, so keeping your eyes open and your belongings behind lock and key can prevent a significant number of bad things from happening to you.

Read Reviews

Don’t book a hostel without reading reviews first. If any number of reviewers express that they felt unsafe in any way, stay away from that hostel. You don’t need to tempt fate by sleeping anywhere is deemed unsafe when there are likely better options out there. When you’re thousands of miles from home, your health and is of the utmost importance, so stay in a hostel that values you and your safety.

Travel with Portable Locks

Keep an eye on your stuff. In my experiences at hostels, people are generally friendly and want to hang out. But behind every smile could lie an ulterior motive, so don’t give anyone the opportunity to rip you off and take your belongings. Instead, buy a travel lock, find a locker, and secure your stuff. If you forget your lock, many hostels allow travelers to rent one cheaply.

Book a Private Room

If you can’t get on board with sleeping in a hostel room with 19 other people, book a private room. You’re going to feel safer in your own space than you would in a dorm-style room surrounded by snoring strangers. Staying in your own hostel room is the closest you’ll get to enjoying the privacy of a hotel without sacrificing the opportunity to meet new friends, drink beers together, and ask each other strange questions.

Hostel vs Hotel: Which is Best for You?

Man looking out of his hotel room contemplatively

“Should I have stayed in a hostel instead?”

 

Every trip you take will have a unique purpose and feel from the others. If you’re traveling for business or you simply want to avoid electronic music, a hotel might be your best option. If you’re looking to connect with like-minded travelers or do yoga on a rooftop with your bunkmate, a hostel might suit your needs.

One type of accommodation might make more sense than the other during your trip, so mix it up and stay wherever your travel instincts are telling you to stay.

Keep the following in mind when considering a hostel vs hotel:

You Might Prefer a Hostel if…

  • You need to save money on lodging
  • You want to meet new people
  • You want to stay in a party environment
  • You want to stay in an excellent location
  • You seek like-minded travelers

You Might Prefer a Hotel if…

  • You want complete privacy
  • You want room service
  • You need a parking space
  • You don’t want to worry about locking up your stuff
  • You want to collect hotel points with each stay

There are a million different considerations to mull over when choosing a hostel vs a hotel. What makes a certain type of lodging desirable for you might make it a nightmare for somebody else. 

I tend to believe experience is the best teacher, so get out there, explore all your options, and develop the best travel style for who you are. Nobody is getting graded on any of this stuff, so pick out some lodging, drop your bags off, and enjoy the hell out of yourself as you travel.

No Matter Where You Stay, Get Out There and Travel

I certainly hope that this guide has provided you with enough information to find the perfect stay for your next trip. Remember to research every potential property when considering your stay in a hostel vs hotel diligently. This step alone will save you many headaches and ensure that you’re as comfortable as possible while you get to know the world around you. 

Now get out there, explore some new places, and take a lot of pictures along the way. Your mom wants to see them when you get back.

The Only Two Sites I Use to Book Hostels and Hotels

Booking.com

Booking.com consistently offers hard-to-beat prices, a gigantic selection of hotels, hostels, homestays, and is extremely user-friendly. I love fiddling with its vast set of filters to zero in on the best possible accommodation.

FIND LODGING ON BOOKING.COM

Hostelworld

Hostelworld puts you in touch with the world’s best hostels, often at the best price on the internet. This site is geared towards backpackers and long-term travelers, so the reviews you read will likely come from gristled veterans.

FIND LODGING ON HOSTELWORLD

More Helpful Travel Resources

Do you prefer staying in hostels or hotels? Where would you stay if money wasn’t an issue? Have you ever felt unsafe in a hostel? Let me know by dropping some feedback in the comments section below!

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