Do hostels really save you money?

Here’s the thing. I envisioned us heffalumping our packs around Europe this summer, crashing on couches and sleeping in seedy hostels.

This hasn’t actually eventuated, because finding hosts for two in summer, especially in the big cities, is a hard sell (unsurprising) and hostels aren’t necessarily all that cheap (possibly more surprising).

We’ve actually spent a lot of our time in budget hotels and B&Bs/guesthouses. And it’s a good thing, too, because hostels don’t usually have air con – and while I’m well used to T complaining about the heat during the day, when he cannot sleep properly at night, then Houston, we have a problem.

So, do hostels really save you money? As a single, sure. If you’re travelling as a pair, though, it all depends.

In some regions, yes. Take Salerno, in southern Italy. There, we found dorm beds for a mere 13 euros each (Hostel Koine, please stand up!). In Rome, on the other hand, dorm beds were in the 20s and up, while cheap hotel rooms started at around 40 euros. The cheapest private room we stayed in cost 19 euros in Athens (Hotel Neos Olympos, in a gorgeous old stone building), and although the area might have been a little unsavoury by some standards, the room was on par with what we paid 3-4 times as much for in Amsterdam.

Don’t always assume hostels are cheaper. All I can say is, do your homework before booking – it only takes a minute. When a cheap hotel room costs the same as two dorm beds, it’s an easy decision (at least for us). Just watch out for any extras like city taxes.

sunflower hostel berlin germany tintin roomSunflower Hostel in Berlin. Follow me on Instagram for snapshots along the journey

While hotels aren’t necessarily always more expensive, there are other things to take into account about hostelling. For example:

Catering facilities
Breakfast is a pretty common inclusion at both hostels and hotels. But as they say, you get what you pay for. Budget hotels are usually on par with hostels on the breakfast front. Reading reviews and looking at the overall quality of the establishment will usually give you an idea of how basic the breakfast is. Sometimes it’s barely worth getting up for – dry toast or a plain croissant– or it might be a little more exciting, say, meat and cheese, pastries and fruit, a variety of cereal. If you’re tossing up between a place with breakfast and a cheaper one without, odds are you’re better off saving your dosh and sorting out your own food.

BUT. Some hostels – not all, mind you – have a communal kitchen. In big hostels you might barely be able to get a look-in at the stove, but even having access to a fridge, microwave and sandwich grill can make a difference when you’re on a budget – and/or sick of eating whatever the staple local food is.

Privacy
Hostels offer a chance to meet other people (well, other travellers) from all over the world. Of course, your roommates might be exactly the kind of people you want nothing to do with, in which case you’re SOL. On the other hand, they might offer plenty of entertainment fodder, especially if they have a penchant for going out, picking up and bringing back random bug-eyed strangers to bed. Best case scenario, you bond well enough to drink beers and BBQ meat together.

Sometimes, though, you just need your own space. Room to make a mess, hog the shower, let it all hang out… Some guys might be okay with sleeping naked in a dorm room (yes, seriously), but most of us are not.

Certain hostels also offer private rooms as well as shared dorms, but they generally don’t offer any savings over a hotel room – and in fact can be more pricey.

Comfort
Let’s face it – hotels will always win out when it comes to facilities, even if you have to share a bathroom. And they often provide toiletries, which is a nice little perk and saves a tiny bit of unpacking.

Some hostels have fairly nice toilets and showers. Others … not so much. I reckon the best thing about checking into a hotel after a stint in hostels is lingering under a showerhead with decent pressure, in private.

And let’s not forget temperature control. For those who can’t handle the heat, dorm rooms sans air con or even a fan can be a real killer.

Extra charges
One thing that some hostels do charge for – and that hotels never do – is bedding. (Towels, too, but I’d hope you remembered to pack yours.) Sometimes it’s simply a matter of paying a deposit that you get back upon checking out and returning the bed linen, but sometimes it’s an extra fee on top. This, to me, is about as egregious as being forced to pay for water at a restaurant. I refuse to stay at a hostel where they require me to use their bedding AND pay for the privilege. We did stay at one Swiss hostel where they charged for linen, but at least you were permitted to bring your own, which we had. (Oddly, this was also the only hostel I’ve ever seen that allowed guests to use a sleeping bag. Most prohibit this for hygiene reasons.)

Don’t get me wrong – hostelling can be plenty of fun. I’ll be posting about some of our favourite hostel stays at some point!

What’s your take on hostels?

14 thoughts on “Do hostels really save you money?

  1. In oft-traveled areas, I find I could still save money with hostels — even when traveling with two. If you’re going off the beaten path, maybe the hotels win out.

    And you’re right; it really is tough to put a price on the comfort and the privacy that a hotel affords…

    1. It’s weird; I haven’t been able to detect any regular pattern as to what kinds of cities tend to have cheaper hotels (as compared to hostels). I mean, Rome is tourist-heavy, but hostels were pretty pricey there. Basically, for every new city, I scope out all our options! I never assume hostels are cheaper.

  2. If W and I were to travel and go to a hostel, I would definitely need my own privacy. Sleeping in a room with tons of other people would be way out of the question for us.

    1. It can be quite fun, but not all the time! Our first hostel was a 15 bed dorm in London and it was godawful. Like a chicken coop. All our other hostels (throughout Europe) have been really nice, though. We’ve stayed in quite a few 4-bed dorms, which aren’t bad at all.

      A lot of hostels also have private rooms, giving you the best of both worlds – though it’s usually no cheaper than a budget hotel room.

  3. I stayed in a few hostels in Europe back when I trekked around with some friends. There were 3-4 of us (we lost one person along the way…long story) and we found it cheaper to stay in pensions most of the time. The most memorable place we stayed was a hostel in Copenhagen. The city apparently had so many travelers during the summer they operated a special summer-only accommodation called the “Sleep Inn.” It was run out of a municipal hockey rink. There were partitions set up on the floor where the ice usually was. Inside each partition were sets of bunk beds that housed four people in total. We had to walk through the penalty boxes to get to the showers in the locker rooms. Every night when we checked in we showed our receipt, had our hand stamped, and were handed a condom, courtesy of the city of Copenhagen. ;-)

    The last hostel I stayed at was when I visited the Monterey, California area in 2010. I was traveling alone so I stayed in the women’s only dorm room. It was comfy and I met some very nice people in the large common room during the evenings and mornings. The full kitchen featured a waffle iron and had make your own waffle breakfasts for those that wanted it them (gratis). If you find yourself traveling along the coast of California this year, know that there are some nice hostels along the way.

  4. I am not a big fan of hostels in Europe, I find them really expensive compared to basic hotel chains, and the amenities are often run down. Paying a little extra to be in a real hotel is worth is I think, and the real hotel can even be cheaper if you book in advance or join their loyalty program. Last minute hostels are often cheaper.

  5. Hostels are why you travel when you are younger. I can deal with shared bathrooms, low cost furnishings, a lumpy mattress. But please don’t make me share a room with 15 strangers!

    Every. single. time. I have shared a room, it has been a disaster. Once I even grabbed a stranger’s bag and dumped it out on her bed because her alarm (which was at the bottom of her backpack) kept going off each hour from 11 am to 3 am and I had a 6 am wake up call. I was rude, but she started it! She had left the room to party (after deciding to get drunk and dye her hair with horrible smelling chemicals, with the lights on full blast in our room). NOT COOL.

    Another time like 5 people were sick and the ohers got up, one by one, every hour til midnight and starting up again at 4 am, rustling their plastic bags for 30 min each. I now will totally stay at hostels, but ONLY IF I get my own room or a room with my friends.

  6. I totally here you on the hostel vs hotel front, I almost always go for hostels when I’m travelling by myself as they are generally cheap for one person but with two (or more) of you travelling budget hotels are generally around the same price – if not cheaper like you said. Although I do find sometimes the budget hotels are further away from town or public transport than hostels which can be a little annoying and add extra expenses to the trip.

  7. I’ve stayed in hostels a couple of times and noticed that their prices can vary a lot and that – like you say – they can almost be comparable to prices of budget hotels. I figured out that the name “hostel” doesn’t necessarily mean cheaper but I never heard of a hostel that charged for bedding! That’s like being double charged for staying there. Super weird.

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