Hotels vs. Hostels
What Are Hostels?
Hostels are sleeping accommodations where you share a room (typically with bunk beds) with different other travelers. The cost for a good hostel in a major city will average about $30 a night (per person) and for cheaper parts of the world about $15 (Africa, South America, Central America, Southeast Asia, etc.).
Hostels also typically have several different types of rooms (e.g., 10 person mixed dorm, 6-person female only dorm, 4-person mixed dorm, and private rooms). The fewer people you have in your room, the more it will cost. Private rooms are typically equivalent to the price of a hotel room. However, a private room in an Airbnb is likely much less than a private room in a hostel, but you don't get the social aspect of the hostel.
Advantages of Hostels
You can save money if you are traveling alone (if you are traveling with someone else, a hotel is likely a better option). You get to meet people from all over the world and may make friends while you are staying there. Some hostels have bars inside them where you can meet other travelers.
Disadvantages of Hostels
Lack of privacy- Most hostels are arranged with several bunk beds in one room and most of the bathrooms are shared, so you never really have a place where you can be in total privacy.
Rude Guests- You never really know who will be sleeping in the same room as you. Hostels also draw people from all different countries and cultures, so you could have a mix of people you get along with and a few inconsiderate guests. For example, I was staying in one hostel in which a fellow guest decided to turn on the room light and loudly unpack their suitcase at 3 a.m.
Locking Up Your Stuff- You need to either lock up all of your valuables or take them with you. Most hostels have lockers, but you should never leave
Bring Extra Necessities. Hostels typically won't supply any toiletries such as shampoo, conditioner, soap, etc. Therefore, you should bring earplugs, a sleep mask, flip-flops, melatonin (or a sleep aid for when people are loud or snoring), soap, shampoo, and conditioner.
My Experience with Hostels
I've done several hostels and I am not a huge fan. I am a person who likes to get up early and spend all day exploring a city and I've had several times where it was much harder to get a good night sleep staying at hostels. However, my better experiences were at hostels that (1) had smaller rooms, (2) had a hotel-like atmosphere, (3) have nice bathrooms and showers, and (4) had curtains or sliding doors on their beds instead of 10 bunk beds put in a room.
Hotels vs. Airbnb
Overview- When you book with Airbnb you have several different options: entire place (home or apartment), private room (in someone's apartment or house), shared room (similar to a hostel), and rooms at bed and breakfast. The private room or shared room options are generally 50-75% cheaper than renting the entire place. If you are new to Airbnb and want a $40 credit, here's my referral link.
Advantages of Airbnb over Hotels
- Whole House Airbnbs- These Airbnbs are great if you have a large group because you can spend time hanging out together playing board games rather than hanging out individually in separate hotel rooms. Some of the homes you can rent are pretty amazing with great views or nice pools, and you can save money by cooking in the kitchen.
- Rural Areas- Nice hotels (with the exception of Resorts) are generally located in large cities. In rural areas, hotels are generally cookie cutter (Holiday Inns) or motels. However, Airbnbs in rural areas are generally a great value and you can stay in very unique areas or homes.
Disadvantages of Airbnb over Hotels
- No 24/7 Front Desk Person- Hosts are normal people that have other jobs and family commitments. If your flight gets severely delayed and you land in the middle of the night, you might not be able to check-in if they don't have an electronic lock on the Airbnb. Or if your bag gets lost by the airline, you will have to take time out of your vacation to wait for the bag to be delivered to your Airbnb instead of allowing the hotel to receive it while you are out exploring (I lost about 4 hours of a short 4-day vacation waiting for a lost bag).
- Private Room or Shared Room- Many people feel uncomfortable with staying at a place and having a complete stranger (host or another guest) in the same house or apartment.
- Hosts can Cancel- Hosts can cancel, but they are penalized ($50 for more than seven days and $100 for less than seven days, unless the host is uncomfortable with reservation such as unfavorable reviews of you on your account). Cancellations are fairly rare due to the fees and the fact that a host's account is suspended if they do it 3 or more times in a year. But if you see a several of reviews that state "The host canceled this reservation XX days before arrival. This is an automated posting" consider staying at a different Airbnb.
Tips for Guests
- An Airbnb is not a hotel. There will not be daily housekeeping and try to clean up a little before you leave.
- If you are running late, let the host know in advance or give them your flight information.
- If you are sharing an apartment, ask the host about the bathroom schedule to prevent any disruptions to their schedule.
- Book the correct number of guests. Hosts generally charge more if there are more guests, so you can avoid an awkward conversation by adjusting your guests ahead of time.
- Be respectful of the house/apartment and the hosts' belongings. Don't have a party in the Airbnb with non-guests. If you rented a place with friends (and have the correct number of guests), you can still have fun, drink, and play games. Just don't do any damage, clean up, and take out the trash.
- Communicate with the host inside Airbnb's message system, so that way if you have a problem, you have evidence on Airbnb's website.
- If you have issues with a host or place, document as much as you can and contact Airbnb.
Airbnb's Flawed Rating System- People overrate Airbnbs compared with hotels since (1) they are dealing directly with a human rather than a corporation (similar to overrating Uber and Lyft drivers) and (2) the hosts can rate the traveler as well and can direct message you following a bad review. I have stayed at a lot of very well rated Airbnbs that would have had a two or three-star average if they were a hotel on TripAdvisor. Another flaw in Airbnb's rating system is that individual ratings for reviews are not shown, only the averages unlike TripAdvisor, where you can specifically sort through one and two-star reviews.
Worst Experience of My Life- I stayed at an Airbnb in Bologna, Italy and it was the worst experience of my life. The check-in process with the host went fine and she said the key is by the door. When my girlfriend and I headed out to dinner, we noticed 10 keys by the door on different hooks, so we grabbed all of the keys just in case and the door auto-locked behind us. When we returned from dinner, we could get into the main building, but none of the ten keys worked. At this point, it was about 10 p.m. and our phone's battery was getting quite low. We called the host several times, but never got an answer. We tried to check into several hotels, but they were all sold out and our passports, which were required to check-in, were locked in the Airbnb as well. Our host finally picked up at 4 a.m. on our last attempt and we finally got back into the apartment around 4:30. I left a very detailed one-star review, but that was buried by Airbnb with 50+ other 5 star reviews. I never got a refund from the host or Airbnb. If I would have been staying at a hotel instead of an Airbnb, there would always be a front desk worker, whereas, with Airbnb, you are at the mercy of the host. If they are unavailable when an emergency arises, you are "shit out of luck."