When it comes to budget accommodations on your journey, many young backpackers choose to stay in hostels. It appears to be almost a rite of passage – to stay in a big, famous party dorm where beer and music never stop. And I get it. After all, a huge part of backpacking is socializing and meeting fellow travellers. Hostels are ideal for that – you’d meet new people every day and probably make some good friends.
Even if an all-night fiesta is not your cup of tea, hostels are still great for solo travelers who are a bit hesitant about doing too many things solo. Not only most hostels usually offer group trips and adventure tours, you are much more likely to meet someone with the same trip agenda and join forces, making it way more fun and safer than going it alone. You can also pick up some great ideas for future side trips and get opinions from fellow backpackers if you are choosing among several different options. Remember, asking such questions from what I call “interested parties” – travel agencies, drivers, etc – will rarely give you an unbiased recommendation.
What hostels are not ideal for, however, is sleeping. The noise, the snoring, the smelly feet, the morning routine of 11 other people in your room might not always be conducive for a good night’s sleep, especially when you need rest for the big day ahead. Conversely, sometimes you need to wake up super early to catch a flight or a bus. Of course, you have packed the night before, but those last minute dressing and undressing and zipping and unzipping can disturb your dorm mates. And as a considerate person that you are, that bothers you. In short, hostels are great, but sometimes they totally suck. The trick is to recognize those times, give yourself a break and get a room.
Notice, I haven’t mentioned the cost of hostel accommodation just yet. It is a common misconception that hostels are your most budget option. In nominal terms, perhaps; but in terms of level of comfort you get for your buck, they really lag behind. And all those exciting tours that hostels offer, seemingly at cheap prices to accommodate poor young backpackers? Well, if you shop around, you can usually find similar tours from elsewhere (or even arrange one on your own) significantly cheaper than form the hostel front desk.
Hotel rooms in many, many countries, can be surprisingly cheap. I’ve stayed in many hotels where a private room would cost almost the same as a dorm bed in a big, popular hostel nearby. Of course, it would be a modest hotel, probably off the guidebook, but nonetheless, when you value privacy and quiet, it beats any dorm bed heads down. The decision for you to make is, do you want to party, or do you want to rest. Prices is whatever is in your budget, and chances are, you can find both a bed and a while room for a comparable fee.
Of course, in a hotel, you would not have the same socializing options as in a hostel. But if you are an experienced traveler and have established your agenda, that’s fine – you don’t need much advice or big groups for your trips. If you travel as a couple, then it really is a no-brainer – a hostel is not the best idea for any kind of romance. Pickup, well, that’s a different story 🙂
A lot of younger travelers try Couchsurfing as an accommodation option. I think it’s a great way to meet locals and stay for next to nothing. Just be sure you realize that you would also be a guest at someone’s house, and should behave accordingly. You might also have a hard time “getting rid” of your host, especially if they offered you their couch in exchange of socializing with you, the “cool foreigner”. If you are okay with it, go ahead! Couch-surfing is more popular and useful in cities than in smaller towns and villages.
AirBnB is another good alternative to hotels, and many people nowadays seems to use them as a preferred option. They could offer unique accommodation options, such as boats, castles or yurts, that you otherwise would not find. But beware of the fact that most AirBnBs are someone’s private rooms, apartments or houses, and that you are, essentially, a guest at those. I tend to be extra careful in AirBnB accommodations. Also, quite often the host lives in the same flat or house, and thus you should think twice before returning from a barhop in the middle of the night and making any kind of noise. Remember, it’s all review-based, and you get reviewed too. Therefore, I find hotels to be a bit more liberating as far as what you can do.
Finally, a few worlds for extreme backpackers. Remember those guys? If you are one of them, you probably already know what to do and how to sleep outdoors. If not, listen up. You’d need a hammock, even if you won’t always be able to find where to hang it. But sleeping in it will be more comfortable than on the ground, that’s for sure. You can also just use a sleeping bag, especially if you plan to sleep on a beach, but remember, you might not always know what creatures can crawl around you at night. Whatever your mode of sleeping is, make sure you find a secluded yet safe spot. Beaches are usually good, except that some countries make it illegal to sleep there. Parks and park benches work – heck, let’s be honest with each other: you are basically a homeless who travels, so no shame in that. If that’s what you do, I really hope you have a buddy with you. Makes it hella easier than on your own. And for God’s sake, hide whatever meager valuables and cash you might have. Robberies and thefts from beach and outdoor sleepers are, alas, quite common.