If you’re planning an upcoming backpacking trip or simply starting to research backpacking, one of the biggest things on your mind is likely where you’ll stay during your trip. If you’re like most backpackers, you want to maximize your budget and fit in as many cool experiences as possible while keeping your fixed costs like lodging and transportation low.
Which brings us to one of the most common backpacking questions: hotel or hostel? Sure, there are the obvious differences between hotels and hostels, like privacy and price, but if you’ve never stayed in a hostel you might be overlooking some of the best features that give them the upper hand among backpackers.
Here are seven reasons you won’t be disappointed if you choose a hostel vs. a hotel for your next backpacking trip.
1. They come with backpacker-friendly perks
Backpacking is different from other kinds of traveling (like work travel or a family vacation, for example). But the fact is, most hotels simply aren’t designed with backpackers in mind. So although you might have a preconceived notion in your mind that hotels are “nicer,” in a lot of ways they’re actually not ideal for backpackers.
Hostels can come loaded with perks that were designed with the light-traveling, budget-conscious backpacker in mind.
For example, your hostel might have an in-house bar where the drinks are a lot cheaper than the tourist-oriented cocktail lounges nearby. Many hostels have a communal kitchen, where you can prep and cook meals to save a significant amount of money on food. You won’t find that in most hotel rooms.
2. They’ll help you make awesome connections
The people you meet while traveling rank pretty high on the list of what makes a trip interesting and memorable. Hotels, for the most part, are geared toward privacy and solitude for their guests. Hostels, on the other hand, promote a social experience.
Hostels have common areas that facilitate introductions and conversation among guests. It’s not uncommon to swap advice, share travel hacks, and even link up for a shared leg of your trip with another hostel guest.
Though it takes a little courage to step outside your comfort zone and connect with strangers, it’s one of the most rewarding things you can do while backpacking and will help you grow infinitely as a person.
3. The staff are a treasure trove of insider intel
Sure, hotels have concierges, but they’re often geared toward recommending fine dining restaurants and mainstream experiences rather than the local, hidden gems you’re looking for.
Hostel staff are a wealth of information on where to go, what to do, and things to see that you won’t find in a tourism guidebook. They can also steer you toward necessary services you’ll need along the way, like laundry and mail service. They can even help you do things like book tickets and plan excursions, which can be tricky to do on your own in a foreign country where you may or may not speak the language.
4. They’re flexible
You’d be hard pressed to find a hotel that won’t charge you a fee if your travel plans change unexpectedly. When you’re backpacking, though, part of the fun is being able to change your itinerary on a whim and go with the flow as the experience unfolds. Hostels are made for this kind of flexibility.
Did you hear about a great local band playing in the next city? Pack up and head there for the night. Did you meet some cool people and want to stick around a little longer? Extend your stay by a night or two. At most hostels it’s common to pay by the night, so there are no worries (and more importantly, no pricey fees) if you decide to change your plans at the last minute.
5. They’re great for groups
If you’ve ever planned a spring break trip or a bachelor/bachelorette party, you know what a pain it can be to figure out lodging for a big group of people. Hotels provide limited options, as you’re forced to either split the group up among a bunch of rooms or cram uncomfortably into one or two.
Hostels are the perfect solution for groups of friends who are traveling together; after all, the whole point of a hostel is to provide convenient housing for a large number of people. It’s not uncommon for a hostel room to have bunks for anywhere from four to up to twenty people, so your whole group can stay together easily.
6. They’re open to bartering
It’s common knowledge that hostels are more affordable than hotels, but did you know some hostels will let you stay there without even forking over any money? Many hostels are open to barter arrangements where you work or trade services in exchange for your room, a discounted rate or other freebies.
To find a hostel that offers room and board in exchange for work, use an app like Hosteleer. The app connects hostel owners with backpackers for volunteer exchanges. Travelers can volunteer their time helping the hostel with things like day tours, pub crawls, and on-site activities in exchange for free stays, food, drinks and more. The specifics of the arrangement will vary by hostel, but it’s a great way to save some serious money while doing fun things you’d probably want to do anyway during your trip.
7. They come with their own flavor
If you’re a backpacker, you’re probably not someone who likes the same-old, same-old routine day after day. But when you think about it, every hotel room is pretty much exactly the same, no matter where you go.
Though most hostels offer the same basic amenities, no two are alike. From the décor to the perks to the surrounding neighborhood, every hostel is a unique experience in and of itself. And isn’t that—the experience—the very thing you’re after? When you choose a hostel, you’re choosing a new and exciting adventure that adds to your backpacking experience.