When it comes to budget options for backpacking trips, we're spoilt for choice these days. One of the biggest dilemmas is whether to go for a hostel or an Airbnb. With the prices often similar, which should you go for? Here are some of the things to take into consideration when making the decision.
Hostels: the lowdown
Hostels are the more long-running option of the two. Though historically they've specialized in providing basic, budget accommodation, the youth hostel of today is an evolving creature. There are numerous boutique and even luxury hostels available, and gone are the days when 'hostel' meant 'bedbugs and cold showers.'
The defining quality of the hostel is its communal nature. Rooms are generally dormitories, which may be single or mixed sex (you'll usually have the choice) and sleeping anywhere from 4 people to more than 20. It's usual for bathrooms to be shared, even if you've booked a private room. Most hostels offer a communal kitchen and social area, and some even have on-site bars or cafes.
Pros of staying in a hostel
Even the nicer hostels can offer unbelievably low prices if you're willing to sleep in a shared dormitory.
Sleeping in a dormitory with strangers might not be everybody's cup of tea, but it's a great way of meeting new people from around the world.
Having access to a shared kitchen means being able to cook your own meals, and you have the option of cooking with other travelers to save money.
The front desk or reception area at hostels tend to operate long hours, with some even being manned 24/4. This means you can be flexible with your check-in time, and there's usually somebody around if you need help.
Many hostels offer breakfast for free or at a cheap rate. The quality can vary greatly across the board. Some offer fresh croissants or cooked items, but usually there's a basic offering of at least fruit, cereal, and toast.
It's not uncommon for hostels to run a calendar of events, including anything from free talking tours to bar crawls. This is a great way to meet other people if you're travelling alone.
Cons of staying in a hostel
Some people might be concerned about the safety aspect of sleeping in shared room with strangers. Always look into whether your hostel locks the front door at night and whether you'll receive an individual key for your room. Always store your money and passport in a locker or safe.
Dormitories don't guarantee the best night's sleep. There's always the risk being disturbed by snorers, super early risers, or super late partiers. Definitely not ideal if you're looking for a good night's sleep before a meeting or interview.
Unless you book a private room, levels of privacy can be pretty low in a hostel. If you're looking for a relaxed and solitary stay, it's not always the best option.
Airbnb: the lowdown
Airbnb is a fairly modern concept in comparison to the youth hostel. The Airbnb website launched in 2008 and its popularity has snowballed in recent years. The range of accommodation on offer varies hugely from private rooms to whole houses or apartments, but the idea is a simple one. Property owners rent what is usually their personal property out to travelers on a short-term basis, for a reasonable price.
Pros of staying in an AirBnB
You get to know the locals. Whether your host is staying in the property with you or not, they'll usually meet you to hand over the keys. They'll have a wealth of local knowledge and will be happy to share the hidden gems of their city.
You get a higher level of privacy. Even if your host is also staying at the property, it's a step up from the shared dorms and bathrooms of a hostel; ideal if you need some peace and quiet.
It's a compromise on price and quality. An Airbnb will probably set you back more than a hostel dorm but less than a room in a nice hotel. It's a great middle option if you're not on a tight budget but not looking to splash out too much either.
It's suitable for families. Renting out a whole apartment instead of squashing your family into a hotel or private hostel room means a much more comfortable and less stressful stay.
You'll have access to all the amenities of a home. Your host will most likely have a fully fitted kitchen including a dishwasher and washing machine, and unless stated otherwise, you're free to use them.
You can cook for yourself! This is one of the best ways of saving money on your travels. Booking an Airbnb property with a kitchen means cutting back on money spent on dining out.
Cons of staying in an Airbnb
Though safer than a hostel dorm, there are still security concerns attached to staying in an Airbnb. You're staying in a property to which somebody else has a key, so be vigilant, especially if staying with a host. Always keep your valuables secure.
Unlike a hostel, an Airbnb property won't have a reception desk. Check-in/ check-out times and procedures need to be discussed and planned with your host in advance, to arrange a time which is mutually suitable. If you turn up early or late or lose your key, there might not be anyone there to let you in!
Your host can cancel on you. If something comes up and the host is no longer able to host you, your booking will be cancelled. You'll receive a full refund, but alternative accommodation might be pricy to secure at the last minute. Airbnb is a slightly less certain offer then a hostel or hotel.
Airbnb properties tend to be people's home, and the hosts are often living there whether they're present during your stay or not. This means the level of cleanliness or tidiness might not be as impeccable as a hotel or good hostel.
Overall, the choice depends completely on the nature of your trip. If you're traveling on a tight budget, are looking to meet other travelers and want the true 'backpacker' experience, a hostel might be for you. If you're a couple or family looking for a private stay and somewhere to make into a temporary home, Airbnb is be better. That said, plenty of couples and families have brilliant stays at hostels, and Airbnbs also make great bases for groups of friends on holiday. Weigh up the pros and cons to make the right choice for you. And remember, that choice doesn't need to be the same every time!