Hostel, hotel or Airbnb: the pros and cons to each

When the world goes travelling, one of the first questions is always ‘where are we staying?’

If you’re not lucky enough to have a nice friend in every city, village or town, the question usually falls down to ‘hotel, hostel, or Airbnb?’

In this post we’re going to look at a handful of the pros and cons relating to each type of accommodation. We’ll also look at which type of accommodation is best suited to different traveller characteristics.

Accommodations options

Each option has its own benefits and pitfalls, and your decision should follow your budget and plans while you’re travelling.

The Hostel

We’ll start with the hostel. If you’re unfamiliar with this accommodation type, hostels are establishments that provide relatively inexpensive food and lodging to travellers. You will be sharing a room with other guests at the hostel, often in a bunk-bed type situation.

Sometimes these hostels are targeted at certain groups (i.e. students or workers) while others are targeted at religious or gender affiliations (i.e. Christian-only or female-only).

Average hostel prices range from $15 to $45 per night per adult, making this option one of the most budget friendly accommodations. Larger cities tend to be more expensive than smaller towns.

We think the hostel is best suited to the solo traveller looking to meet people, or the budget conscious backpacker on a mission. Always check hostel reviews to avoid most of the cons listed below, which are mostly due to the shared nature of the accommodation. Also, make sure you’re picking a hostel that checks all of your personal boxes and speaks to your character.

Hostel pros and cons

Pro: You’ll meet new people

            There’s quite a social aspect to the hostel lifestyle. After all, you’re sharing space with several people at one time and new guests may arrive each day. There are usually more areas to hang out and the hostel operators are known to offer event opportunities for the guests staying with them. It becomes a whole hostel community unto itself.

Con: You might not sleep much

            Because of the close quarters and the fact that you’re sharing a room with others, you may find it harder to sleep if you’re not used to the circumstances. Some hostels are party-centric which might make it a lot harder to catch some ZzzZs.

Pro: Tours

            Hostel operators are great hosts and they will often manage tours of the city you're travelling in. These operators are well connected in both the city and the global hostel network too, so they’ll be able to recommend places to sightsee along with cheap travel and accommodation options if you’re globetrotting to another location.

Con: You’ll have to share washrooms and showers

            Sharing a sleeping space means sharing the restroom and shower facilities too. If you’re the private type, this may make you a bit uncomfortable even if all privacy measures are observed. Your best bet is to try to wake up before everyone else.

Pro: It’s the cheapest option

            This means more money in your pocket for adventure.

Con: No private time

            Again, shared space means little to no quiet time to yourself. You might need to venture outside to a quiet park away from the hostel if this is important to you.

Pro: Free breakfast

            If your hostel has the benefit of a kitchen, which I’ve heard happens about 50% of the time, the hosts will provide a nice meal in the morning. You may also have access to the kitchen to make your own meals instead of eating out. Check online first.

Con: Things can get stolen

            Yeah, you can’t really trust people you’ve just met. Protect yourself against identity theft while abroad and make sure your travel insurance is secure.

Pro: Close to downtown

            Hostels tend to be located in city centres so they’re easily accessible. For this reason, you’ll be spending less on transport if your plans revolve around the downtown core. You'll also be able to rely on public transport rather than private taxi.

Con: Potential for bed bugs

            Even if the reviews say one hostel is the cleanest on the block, what is to stop a new guest from bringing in nightmare pests hidden in their backpack? Check all bedding before laying down, and if something seems odd or too dirty, leave.

The Hotel

Next, the hotel.

This is probably the most familiar option to travellers so it doesn’t require much explanation. However, hotels can end up costing a pretty penny if you’re staying over a long period, or if you’re arriving on short notice. One of the best ways to get a deal on a hotel is by comparison shopping online before booking.

Hotels are recommended for people taking quick trips who need classic convenience and hospitality, or, families who want everyone in the same room. At the same time, couples looking for a luxurious retreat may also find hotel accommodation perfect, especially if money is no object.

Pro: Daily cleaning

            This means a nice employee comes to your room every day to restock towels, change sheets and make sure everything is in general order. It’s a travel custom to tip your cleaner at the end of your visit.

Con: Usually located in a busy neighbourhood or tourist trap

            Hotels are usually large buildings upwards of thirty stories high and are therefore located in similar building zones. This may be downtown, in a financial district or industrial area. Consider the location of the hotel if you're looking for peace and quiet.

Pro: Food

            Larger hotel chains usually offer continental breakfasts in the morning hours. They’ll also have a room service menu if you’re ever too tired to go out and eat.

Con: No kitchen

            Because the hotel would rather you pay for their room service or bar food, kitchens will not be available in basic room packages. You may be able to upgrade your room with a kitchenette at an extra cost if you’re really interested in cooking your own meals.

Pro: Luxury

            Hotels can get pretty luxurious, from spa and massage options to jacuzzis and whirlpools. Some will have cabana poolbars on the roof and others will have refined dining experiences on the main floors!

Pro: Privacy

            The cleaner may knock on your door, but you can hang a ‘do not disturb’ sign to keep the peace.

The Airbnb

An Airbnb is an online community of hosts and travellers. Travellers are connected to hosts who rent out their homes or rooms for short-term accommodations. Airbnb is active in 192 countries worldwide and provides an alternative option for travellers, as well as passive income for homeowners.

Airbnbs are suited for any type of traveller, since you can find super lavish and expensive penthouse suites as well as affordable rooms in residential neighbourhoods anywhere you search.

A group of people may find Airbnbs more practical than a hotel or hostel because you have the option of splitting the (usually affordable) bill multiple ways while a couple or family will appreciate the at-home feel.

Pro: Live like a local

            Because Airbnb accommodations are offered in real neighbourhoods, you end up understanding the city or town as a local would. If you’re looking to avoid the business of downtown hotels or hostels, the Airbnb location is your best option for local inexpensive food and culture. Plus, your host probably knows all the neighbourhood gems.

Con: Cleaning fee

            There’s always a cleaning fee, set by the host, that gets added to the advertised price of the unit. If it’s a larger Airbnb operation, hosts may be hiring outside cleaners to come in and make the place pretty for the next guest. 

 Pro: Kitchen!

            If you rented out someone’s entire house that means you’ll have the entire kitchen! Maybe even the entire backyard! Making breakfast at home is one of the secrets to a cheaper vacation.

Con: House rules

            You may have to follow some odd house rules, especially if you’re just renting out a room. You may be walking on eggshells around the house making sure the hot water tank meter doesn't cost an arm and a leg. You may be confined to your room out of social anxiety. You may even recycle improperly in a foreign country.

Shady hosts have been known to charge for rules guests are unaware of. Some hosts require guests to buy cleaning supplies, clean the whole house, and yet still charge a cleaning fee.

Pro: Diversity

            Airbnbs offer the largest range of options, because you get to go through all the homes in your budget before you book your stay. You may decide to stay in a condo, apartment, home, pool house or tree house (actually). The options are really endless on the site.