The word hostel used to conjure up images of creepy corridors, rusted bed frames, and unclean toilets. In reality, many hostels out there are nearly indistinguishable from hotels but with looser booking policies, options to share rooms with other travelers, and more focus on activities and meeting new people.
For instance, in Hanoi, Little Hanoi Diamond is appointed exactly like a hotel. It has a comfortable lobby with free hot tea and coffee and fruit, private rooms with bathrooms en suite, complimentary toiletries, and in-room snacks, and every morning there was a free breakfast where you could sit and chat with fellow travelers. Zume, the man who works at the front desk, was incredible. He helped us book all of our train tickets, find reasonable tours for Halong Bay and Sapa, and even after we’d checked out, he offered us a spare room to shower and change in before catching an overnight train. The only down side was that our room didn’t have a window, but for $8 per person a night, I can deal with a little bit of darkness.
However, there are times when a hotel is worth the convenience and the splurge. A few months ago, a friend and I found ourselves in a van driving from Jakarta to Yogyakarta. To say that the ride was uncomfortable would be an understatement. (This is where my post on planning in advance would have come in handy). For 12 hours, we rode alongside five other people and a pile of luggage that covered the back window. Between leaving four hours late, a flat tire, a violent rainstorm, and terrible traffic, it took us all night to get there; and because many Indonesians drive like maniacs and none of us had seat belts, we didn’t sleep a wink. We were barely functioning by the time we arrived at our hotel. We stumbled our way to bottomless breakfast, included in the price of the $54 room, and we guzzled down glasses of fresh guava juice and three plates of rice, potatoes, omelets, and cereal. Sufficiently full and sleepy, we sunk into the softest bed I’ve ever felt and we passed out for three hours. When we got up, we each took a hot shower, stashed away the fancy toiletries, and checked out. The room was worth every penny for those four hours.
Extenuating circumstances aside, here are some things to consider if you are debating between a hostel and a hotel:
- Are you a solo traveler looking to meet people or a couple looking for a quieter, less social experience? If you are by yourself and want to meet people to go out with the evening or maybe link up with for future travel, a hostel is the best bet.
- Are you traveling for business or for pleasure? If you need to get work done in the evenings, hotels tend to have stronger WiFi.
- Are you going to a big city or a small town? In places like New York or Mumbai, hostels can be pricey and the few good ones book up way in advance, so it is often worth going with a budget hotel that allows you to come, use the facilities, and leave.
- How rigorous is your schedule while you are visiting? There are both hostels and hotels that offer peace and quiet but you need to do your research on the kind of crowd it draws.
And for something in between, you might want to try a home stay or a B&B!