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 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:
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.
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.
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.
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!