Skip to Content

Hostel Vs Hotel: Differences and Pros and Cons

When planning a trip, one of the first decisions you’ll have to make is where you’re going to stay. Two of the most popular options are hostels and hotels. The best accommodation for your trip depends on a number of factors including your budget, your destination, why you’re traveling, who you’re traveling with, and your personal preference. To help you decide, this guide explains the differences and lists the pros and cons of staying in a hostel Vs hotel. We’ll cover amenities, costs, comfort, security, privacy, cleanliness, and much more.

I have been solo traveling for the past 12 years. During that time, I have stayed in well over 100 hostels. I’ve also stayed in dozens and dozens of hotels. In this guide, I’ll share my experience with these two accommodation options.

A typical hostel dorm room
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure policy for details.

Key Takeaways

– Hostels offer dorm rooms while hotels offer private rooms. Hostels are cheaper but offer fewer amenities than hotels.

– Hostels are the better choice for budget travelers, those who are looking to meet other travelers, solo travelers, young travelers, those who don’t mind sharing spaces, and party lovers.

– Hotels are the better choice for families, couples, older travelers, those who work while they travel, light sleepers, luxury travelers, and those who value privacy.

Hostel Pros

  • Hostels are cheaper- A dorm bed costs $10-$30 per night.
  • Hostels are more social- It’s easy to meet other travelers at hostels.
  • There are events and activities- There are parties, tours, pub crawls, communal dinners, movie nights, etc.
  • Atmosphere- Hostels are youthful, active, and welcoming.
  • Fewer hidden fees- All taxes and fees are usually included. You don’t tip.

Hostel Cons

  • No privacy- All areas are common. You share all of the facilities.
  • Fewer amenities- There is no pool or gym. The amenities are all shared.
  • Noise- You’ll hear people snoring, packing and unpacking, and moving around in the night.
  • Less secure- Other guests can enter the room. Most hostels do offer lockers for valuables.
  • Less comfortable- The bed is small. The dorm is noisy. Other guests will wake you.
  • Less safe- You stay in the dorm with strangers.
  • Not as clean- Some hostels are dirty. There is no dedicated cleaning staff.
  • Staff- Hostel staff can be unprofessional. Many hostels hire backpackers to work reception.
  • Odor- Some hostel dorms smell like body odor.
  • Crowded- Shared bathrooms and kitchens can get crowded during peak periods.
  • Annoying guests- You may not get along with everyone you meet.
  • Not family friendly- Most hostels do not allow minors to stay.

Hotel Pros

  • Privacy- You have the room to yourself. There is a private bathroom.
  • More amenities- Hotels offer a TV, pool, gym, toiletries, etc.
  • Better security- You can lock all of your stuff in the room. Most hotel rooms have a safe.
  • More comfortable- The room is quiet and dark. You’ll sleep well.
  • Safer- There are locks on the room and security cameras on the property.
  • Atmosphere- Hotels offer a luxurious atmosphere. They can be family-friendly or romantic.
  • Cleaner- There is a dedicated cleaning staff. Rooms are cleaned daily.
  • Staff- Hotel staff are professional and trained in hospitality.
  • Quiet- You don’t have to listen to anyone snore.
  • Family-friendly- Most hotels welcome kids and families.

Hotel Cons

  • Hotels are more expensive- A basic hotel room costs $50-$150+ per night.
  • Not social- It is difficult to meet other travelers when staying at a hotel.
  • No events or activities- Hotels are only for accommodation.
  • Hidden fees- There are often taxes and surcharges. You’ll also have to tip the bellboy, valet, room service, etc.
A hostel dorm room

What is a Hostel?

A hostel is a type of shared accommodation that is designed for budget travelers. At a hostel, guests sleep on bunk beds in dorm rooms. Hostel bathrooms are shared. Many hostels also offer private rooms as well these days.

Hostel dorms come in a range of sizes. A typical hostel dorm has 4-12 beds (2-6 bunk beds). Hostels usually offer both mixed and female-only dorms. Most hostels offer lockers in the dorms where you can store your valuables. There are also outlets for charging your devices.  

In addition to dorms, hostels also have common areas. Oftentimes, there is a separate dining area. Many hostels also offer a shared kitchen. Some hostels have a bar and restaurant.

There are also different types of hostels to suit different types of travelers. There are party hostels, co-working hostels, boutique hostels, and more. Some hostels have a party every night. Some hostels are chill and laid back.  

Hostels cater to younger travelers but anyone is welcome. Some hostels do have a maximum age. This is usually around 35. Age limits are rare. Most hostels do have a minimum age of 18.

A bed in a hotel room

What is the Difference Between a Hotel and a Hostel?

The main difference between a hotel and a hostel is that when you stay in a hostel, you sleep in a dorm room with other people. You also share a bathroom.

Hotels, on the other hand, only offer private rooms with private bathrooms.

Another difference is the amenities and services offered. Hotels offer more amenities including a pool, gym, bar and restaurant, event centers, etc. Hostels usually don’t offer any luxury amenities.

Hostels are also social places. They encourage travelers to interact with one another. Many hostels host parties, tours, and other events. Hotels are not social.

Hostels are also cheaper than hotels.

Hostel Vs Hotel

A man opening the door to a hotel room


Hostels are almost always cheaper than hotels. Prices vary widely from country to country. A private hotel room in a cheap country could cost as much as a bed in a hostel dorm in a more expensive country.

On average, a dorm bed in a hostel costs around $15-$20 per night. In cheaper countries, a dorm bed costs less than $10 per night. In more expensive countries, a dorm bed might cost $30-$50 per night. 

To compare, an average hotel room costs around $100-$200 per night in developed countries. In cheaper countries, a hotel room might cost $25-$50 per night. In expensive countries, a hotel room might start at $150 per night and go up from there. 

Hostels can offer lower nightly rates for a number of reasons. First, the labor cost is lower at hostels. Most hostel employees do multiple jobs. A single employee might clean in the morning, work reception throughout the day, and bartend at night. An average hostel might only have 3-4 employees in total plus a couple of volunteers. 

Hotels require many more employees to keep everything running smoothly. They need cleaners, reception staff, bellboys, doormen, valets, managers, bartenders, maintenance people, security, etc. This is necessary because hotels are usually much larger operations than hostels. A midsized hotel might employ 30-50 people. The cost of labor is high. 

Hostels also use free labor to save money. Many hostels hire backpackers to work 4-5 hours per day in exchange for room and board. This is essentially free labor. It saves the hostel from having to hire an additional employee. This cuts costs significantly. 

Hostels can also fit far more people per room. This allows hostels to charge much less per bed. For example, maybe a hotel room costs $100 per night. At a hostel, the same amount of space might be able to sleep 4 people on 2 bunk beds. They could charge $25 per night per person and bring in the same amount of revenue per room. Hostel owners tend to cram as many bunk beds as they can into every room. In many cases, a hostel can bring in more revenue per square foot than a hotel, even though the nightly charge is far lower. 

Hostels also offer fewer amenities. Instead of having a TV in every room, they may have one in the common area. Instead of having an iron and hairdryer in every room, they may have one that every guest can use. Most hostels also don’t have a pool, gym, conference room, etc. This all cuts costs. Hostels have to deal with the cost of maintaining all of these amenities. 

A basic hostel dorm room

Having said all of this, it is a good idea to check the price of hotels as well as alternative accommodation options like Airbnb before booking a hostel. Sometimes the price difference isn’t always that great. In some cases, a budget hotel room costs less than a bed in a hostel dorm.

For example, as I write this, I’m sitting in an Airbnb in Buenos Aires that costs $19 per night. It’s a private studio apartment a bit outside of the city center. A bed in a hostel dorm costs around $15-$17 per night here. I don’t know about you but I’d rather spend a few extra dollars per night to enjoy a larger bed and a private bathroom and kitchen. Oftentimes, budget hotel rooms cost about the same as a bed in a boutique hostel. If you’re traveling with friends, family, or a partner, it can be cheaper to share a hotel room than to pay for multiple beds in a dorm. It pays to price out different accommodation options. 

It’s also important to note that you can negotiate the rate at many hotels and hostels. If you’re staying a week or longer, you can often work out a lower nightly rate. Properties like long-term guests because they don’t have to clean the room as often and they know the room won’t sit empty. If you’re traveling during the off-season, you can usually negotiate a lower rate because the property will probably have lots of vacancies. They need all of the customers they can get. Of course, not all properties are willing to negotiate. You probably won’t get very far negotiating with a big hotel chain. 

Winner: Hostels are cheaper than hotels. On average, a bed in a hostel dorm costs 40-50% less than a hotel room. 


Hotels offer more privacy than hostels. When you stay in a hotel, you have the room all to yourself. This allows you to have complete privacy when you want it. For example, you can change your clothes in private. You can pack and unpack in private. You can sleep in private. In addition, you get to go to the bathroom and bathe in private. Most hotel rooms include a private bathroom. If you want to get away from other people after a long day of sightseeing, you can. You can also eat in your room in private if you choose. While traveling, it’s a luxury to be able to get away from people for a while. Privacy is particularly important for introverts. 

Chances are, you won’t interact with the other guests at all when you stay in a hotel. The only people you may see more than once while staying in a hotel is the reception staff. This allows you anonymity. You’ll only see other guests while staying in a hotel when you walk through the lobby on your way to your room. 

A mid-range hotel room

In a hostel, there is no privacy. You share the room with other travelers. In a dorm with 6 or more beds, there is almost always somebody in the dorm with you. Very rarely do you get the dorm to yourself. When you put something in or take something out of your locker, other travelers can see what you’re doing. You have to be careful with your valuables. People can also watch you changing your clothing, unless you go to the bathroom to change. People can also watch you sleeping.

You also share the bathrooms when you stay in a hostel. Many hostels have large bathrooms with shower and toilet stalls. There is very little privacy here. You can hear what everyone else is doing. You’ll brush your teeth alongside other travelers. There are always separate shower stalls. You don’t have to bathe with other travelers.

Even when you stay in a private room at a hostel, there is less privacy than you’d get in a hotel room. There are a couple of reasons for this. Other travelers will see you entering and exiting your room because you usually have to pass through a common area to access your room. You’ll walk by people lounging in the common area. If you accidentally said something embarrassing or offensive to another guest, chances are you’ll see them somewhere around the hostel at some point. Hostels are usually small. It’s hard to be anonymous when staying in a hostel. Also, most private hostel rooms have shared bathrooms. You’ll also have to share the kitchen. You will still interact with other guests. This reduces privacy. 

Winner: Hotels offer much more privacy than hostels because the rooms and many amenities are not shared. 


Hotels offer more amenities than hostels. A typical mid-range hotel will have a TV with cable, a coffee maker, an iron, and a hair dryer in every room. Slightly higher-end hotel rooms come with a microwave and mini-fridge. Hotel rooms also come with toiletries including soap, shampoo, conditioner, and lotion as well as towels. Luxury hostels may offer razors, shaving cream, bathrobes, and slippers. Most larger hotels have a swimming pool, hot tub, and gym. Higher-end hotels might offer a sauna and spa. Some top-of-the-line hotels even have their own golf course. Hotels usually offer free parking for those arriving by car. Sometimes there is a valet service. Many hotels have a restaurant and bar and offer room service. Sometimes there is a continental breakfast.

A beautiful hotel pool
A pool is one of the most common hotel amenities

Hostels offer some amenities as well but not as many as hotels. Most hostels have one TV in the common area. Some offer free tea and coffee. Many hostels include breakfast. This is usually something simple like toast and jam or some pastries. Better hostels offer eggs or pancakes. Some hostels offer a laundry service. In the past, many hostels offered shared computers but this is less common now that everyone travels with a smartphone and laptop. 

Some amenities are lacking at hostels. For example, you usually have to bring your own toiletries including body soap and shampoo when you stay in a hostel. You also have to bring your own towel to many hostels. Many hostels also don’t offer parking. There is usually no pool or gym at hostels. Hostels also don’t have a full staff. There are exceptions. Some higher-end boutique hostels offer soap and shampoo, towels, parking, a pool, etc. 

Winner: Hotels offer more amenities than hostels. 


Most of us travel with thousands of dollars worth of electronics these days. For example, in your luggage, you may have a laptop, camera, phone, and tablet. Chances are, you also have at least a few hundred dollars in cash on you. Of course, you also have important documents such as your passport, visas, credit and debit cards, driver’s license, etc. You might also have important data including your photos and videos on memory cards and hard drives. It’s important to keep your valuables safe. 

Hotels usually offer better security than hostels. Most hotel rooms have a built-in safe that is bolted to the wall. This is a secure place to store your important documents and valuable electronics while you’re out and about. 

When you stay in a hotel, other guests do not have access to your room. Only hotel employees can access your room. You don’t have to worry about another guest stealing from you.   

If something goes missing from your hotel room, chances are a hotel employee took it. This is rare but it has been known to happen. Particularly at lower-end hotels. Most staff members are honest. Once in a while, a dishonest housekeeper may steal from a guest. Break-ins at hotels are possible but unlikely. 

Hostels are a bit less secure. In many cases, dorm rooms don’t lock. Anyone staying in the hostel can freely enter the room. If you leave something valuable sitting out, someone could take it. Some hostels do have locks on every dorm room door. This way, only people staying in the same dorm have access to your stuff. This greatly increases security. 

Most hostels also offer lockers. The locker is often large enough for all of your luggage. Sometimes it’s only large enough for your valuables. In this case, you’ll have to leave some of your belongings sitting out in the open. If someone wanted to, they could go through your belongings. Theft is unlikely but possible. 

Usually, you have to bring your own lock to use hostel lockers. I bring two locks when I travel. I pack one large combination lock and one smaller luggage lock. If the large combo lock doesn’t fit on the locker, I use the less secure smaller lock. Sometimes the locker has a built-in lock and the hostel provides you with a key. 

Lockers are not as secure as safes. If someone really wanted to get into a hostel locker, they could in most cases. Most hostel lockers are made from wood or thin sheet metal. If someone really wanted to get in, they could pry the door open or kick the lock off. This is extremely rare but I have heard of it happening on one occasion. 

Hostel lockers
Lockers at a hostel

Some hostels have a safe at reception where they will store your passport for you if you like. I don’t use this service because I feel more comfortable holding onto my own passport. 

Security also depends on the individual property. Most hotels and hostels have security cameras set up throughout the property. Some hostels and hotels offer better security than others. For example, a luxury hotel probably has better security than a guesthouse. Of course, the location you’re traveling is important as well. Some cities and countries have higher crime rates than others. It’s worth taking this into consideration as well. 

Winner: Hotels are more secure than hostels.

Comfort and Quality of Sleep

Hotels are more comfortable than hostels. There is no question about it. You will get a better night’s sleep when staying in a hotel. There are a number of reasons for this. 

First, hotels usually offer larger beds. Most hotel rooms come with full-size or larger beds. The pillows and linens are usually of decent quality.

Hotel rooms are also quieter than hostel dorms. You can’t hear other guests. Most hotel rooms also feature blackout curtains to keep the room dark. You can often control the temperature as well. Most hotel rooms have heating and air conditioning. All of this helps you get a better night of sleep. 

A hotel room with a balcony
You’ll get a much better night of sleep if you stay in a hotel

Hostels are less comfortable. The beds are smaller. At most hostels, you’ll sleep on a twin-sized mattress on a bunk bed. Sometimes the mattress is old and worn out. Sometimes it’s just a thin and uncomfortable piece of foam. When your bunkmate gets in or out of bed or when they turn in their sleep, you’ll feel the bunk bed move. Sometimes you can hear old bunk beds squeak when you move.

It’s harder to get a good night of sleep at a hostel. You’ll hear the other people in your dorm breathing and snoring in the night. This can keep you up. Oftentimes people will come into the dorm late at night after drinking. You’ll hear them unzipping and zipping their backpack and rummaging around through their things. Some inconsiderate travelers may come in during the night and turn the lights on while others are trying to sleep. You will be woken up by other guests at some point. 

This is a major annoyance of staying in hostels. If you’re a light sleeper, you will never get a decent night of sleep. If you need quality sleep, you’re better off staying in a hotel. 

Getting poor-quality sleep can have a major effect on your trip. You won’t enjoy sightseeing when you’re tired. You won’t have the energy to go out and experience the place you’re visiting. In addition, you’re also more likely to fall victim to travel scams and crime when you’re tired. Your mind isn’t as sharp when you’re sleepy. When you wake up well-rested, you’re ready for the day. You’ll get more out of your trip when you sleep well.

Winner: Hotels are more comfortable than hostels. You’ll sleep better in a hotel room. 


Hotels and hostels are both generally safe accommodation options. At hostels, only guests are allowed inside in most cases. Locals and random people can’t come in. This improves safety. At hotels, non-guests are often not allowed past the lobby. If you want to bring a guest to your room, you’ll have to register them at reception. This also improves safety.

Most hotels have at least two locks on the door to the room. There is a primary lock and a door chain or swing bar lock. Many hotels also have a deadbolt. If the hotel is located in a dangerous neighborhood, the windows may have bars. If you lock yourself in the room, nobody can come in. 

Hostels often have a locking front door. You must use your key or enter a code to unlock the door. Oftentimes, the dorm room door doesn’t lock. This can make some travelers feel uncomfortable. Any guest could walk into any room. Some dorms have a locking door. Only people staying in that dorm can enter. This increases safety. 

Both hotels and hostels usually have security cameras set up throughout the property. The staff can monitor the property. If a crime or suspicious activity occurs, the staff can notify the police.  

Some larger hotels have security staff. If someone starts acting up, security can remove them from the property. Hostels don’t have security. 

I have never seen or heard of anyone getting attacked at a hotel or hostel. I have never witnessed a fight or assault at a hotel or hostel. They’re pretty safe places, in my experience. 

Winner: Hotels may be safer than hostels. Both are safe. 

Socializing and Meeting Other Travelers

Hostels are much more social than hotels. The social aspect is one of the main reasons people choose to stay in hostels. It’s easy to meet other travelers. You’ll meet people in the dorm, common room, and kitchen. When you check-in, you can immediately make friends. Many hostels even host events and parties to help travelers meet one another. Hostels are extremely social.

This makes hostels ideal for solo travelers. It’s easy to strike up a conversation and meet people to go out with, travel with, or just have a conversation with. Other travelers can give you recommendations and share their travel experiences. You never have to be alone if you don’t want to. You can easily make friends in a hostel even if you’re an introvert. People will strike up a conversation with you.

I have made some great friends while staying in hostels over the years. On a couple of occasions, I have met people who I traveled with for weeks or months at a time. I still keep in touch with some people I met at hostels years ago. 

A group of travelers
You’ll meet other travelers when you stay in a hostel

Of course, not all hostels are social. I have stayed at plenty of hostels where I didn’t meet any other travelers. Sometimes the other guests prefer to keep to themselves. You won’t meet people everywhere you go. 

Staying in a hotel is not a social experience. Guests pretty much keep to themselves. The staff does not encourage interaction between guests. You may exchange small talk with another guest but that’s about it. Your best chance of meeting someone at a hotel is at the hotel bar if there is one. There, you may meet another traveler who’s willing to chat for a bit. Otherwise, you’re on your own. 

Of course, there are still plenty of ways to meet people when you stay in a hotel. You can still go on tours, go out to local bars, take classes, go online dating, etc. Check out my guide to meeting people while traveling for more ideas.

Winner: Hostels are more social than hotels. If you want to meet other travelers, stay in a hostel. 

Events and Activities

Many hostels encourage guests to interact by hosting parties, communal dinners, outings, movie nights, pub crawls, drinking games, city walking tours, dance classes, and other events and activities. Everyone is welcome to join in. This is a great way to meet people and get to know the place you’re visiting. Some hostels have a travel agency where you can book local tours.

Some hostels specialize in a particular activity. For example, there are surf hostels, hiking hostels, diving hostels, yoga hostels, and ski hostels. Everyone staying at these hostels comes to participate in one activity or take lessons. When you stay at one of these hostels, you automatically have something in common with the other guests.

I learned to scuba dive at a diving hostel in Koh Tao, Thailand. Everyone was learning to dive. We took classes together during the day, studied together, and went diving together. It was a blast.

Hotels don’t really offer any activities for their guests. Higher-end hotels have a concierge who can book tours and excursions for you.

Winner: Hostels offer more events and activities than hotels


Hostels and hotels both have completely different atmospheres. Neither is really better. Atmosphere is pretty subjective.

Hostels feel more active than hotels. There are always people sitting around the common areas chatting, eating, drinking, partying, playing games, watching a movie, etc. This makes the place feel alive. You’re never alone. You’ll meet interesting people from all over the world. People staying in hostels also tend to be younger. This makes the atmosphere more youthful.

Hostel staff also add to the atmosphere. People working in hostels are usually travelers, just like you. They share a common interest. The staff will treat you like a friend rather than a client.

Hostels usually feel homey and informal. Many hostels are decorated in the local style. On the walls, you might see interesting artwork, murals, maps of the area, and notes from other travelers. Some hostels are just a house that has been converted. When you check-in, you become part of the family.

A hotel lobby
A beautiful hotel lobby

Hotels can have a great atmosphere as well. Many hotels are run by people who have been formally educated in hospitality. They know how to treat their guests. They are professionals. The atmosphere of hotels is also very welcoming and professional. 

Higher-end hotels can offer a luxurious atmosphere. There may be high-quality fixtures and linens in the rooms There are staff members to wait on you hand and foot. You can’t get a luxury experience at a hostel. 

Some hotels offer a romantic atmosphere. These properties are great for couples’ getaways. Some hotels cater to families. These properties are ideal for those who are traveling with kids.

Of course, there also smaller local hotels and B&Bs. These places usually offer a homey atmosphere. They may be run by a family. They may be decorated in the local style.

Large chain hotels can lack atmosphere. They feel corporate and bland. When staying in a chain hotel, you won’t be able to tell whether you’re in Mexico City, Tokyo, or Paris. They all look and feel the same. For some, this is comforting. You know exactly what to expect. Others prefer a more local experience. 

The atmosphere also comes down to personal preference. Some people prefer the lively and youthful atmosphere of a hostel. Some people prefer a luxury hotel. Others prefer a corporate chain hotel. 

Winner: Hotels and hostels both offer plenty of atmosphere.


Hotels are generally cleaner than hostels. The reason is that there is a dedicated cleaning staff that is professionally trained. Their only job is to keep the hotel clean. Housekeeping thoroughly cleans the rooms between guests. Every day, you’ll have fresh sheets to sleep on. All facilities are tidied up every day.

Of course, not all hotels are clean. I’ve stayed in some pretty filthy hotels in my travels. These tend to be budget hotels, motels, and guest houses. I’ve never had an issue with cleanliness when staying in a chain hotel or a 3 star or higher hotel. 

Cleanliness in hostels is hit or miss. Some are spotless. Others are filthy and disgusting. In smaller hostels, cleaning is usually done by whoever happens to be working. During the day, you might see the person who checked you in tidying up around the hostel. Hostel dorm rooms and kitchens rarely get a deep cleaning. Before booking a hostel, it’s a good idea to read the reviews to see if anyone mentions issues with cleanliness. 

There are exceptions. Some hostels do have a dedicated cleaning staff, just like hotels. I have stayed in hostels that are spotlessly clean. These are usually smaller boutique hostels that cater to travelers who have a higher budget and demand a higher level of service. Large hostels are often cleaner as well.

Another issue with hostels is that you’re more exposed to sickness. When staying in a hostel, you’re always in close contact with lots of people. If one person in your dorm is coughing and sneezing, you have a good chance of catching whatever they have. It’s hard to get away from it. You’re sleeping in the same room with them every night. You’re also sharing the facilities with other guests. Everyone is touching everything. Germs can spread easily this way. For example, if someone doesn’t wash their dishes properly, your food could get contaminated.

I have gotten sick at hostels many times. In fact, every time I travel, I end up catching a cold at one point or another. It’s difficult to avoid.

Another consideration is bed bugs. These don’t really have anything to do with cleanliness. Any property can get infested. Bed bugs are a problem at both hotels and hostels. When you get to your room, you should always do a quick inspection for bed bugs. Look under the mattress for evidence (dark spots of excrement, eggs, dead bed bugs, etc.) If you spot any, leave and find another place to stay. It’s not worth risking infesting your home. Bed bugs are incredibly difficult to get rid of. For more in-depth info, check out my guide to avoiding bed bugs while traveling. 

Winner: Hotels are cleaner than hostels, in general.


Hostels and hostels both have friendly and hospitable staff. This point depends on the property you’re staying at and your preference. Neither is really better.

Hostel staff is less formal than hotel staff. While staying at a hostel, you might see the staff chatting with guests, joking around, drinking alcohol, cooking, and eating all while on the job. Usually, they don’t wear a uniform or nametag. When staying in a hostel, you sometimes can’t tell who works there and who is just a guest. 

Sometimes long-term guests start helping out around the hostel. Sometimes hostels offer work-to-stay opportunities. They trade a bed for labor. The majority of the staff might be travelers just like you.

The problem is that hostel staff usually aren’t trained in hospitality. They don’t know how to run a hospitality business. They also don’t know the city any better than an average traveler. Usually, hostel staff members are cool. Sometimes they can be unprofessional. Sometimes they’re just useless.

Hostel staff are almost always friendly and welcoming. They are often well-traveled. Many people who open hostels were travelers for many years before. They settle down in one of their favorite destinations. they know what travelers want. Some hostels hire locals who know the area well.

Hotel staff is a bit more formal and professional. They are usually dressed in uniform. You can clearly tell who works at the hotel and who doesn’t. They usually don’t interact with the guests other than check in/check out, giving directions, offering recommendations, answering questions about the city, etc. They are happy to help you out but they don’t get overly friendly. 

Receptionists at a hotel

The staff at chain hotels and higher-end hotels can be a bit rigid. They are friendly and hospitable but they may be more formal. Hotel staff are trained to follow the rules of the corporation they work for. They need to interact with the guests in a particular way to keep their jobs. 

One benefit of hotel staff is that many of them are trained in hospitality, either in school or by the company they work for. They know how to treat their guests and how to run a business.

The staff and guest relations really come down to personal preference. Some travelers like it when the staff act like friends. Others prefer a more formal interaction. 

Personally, I don’t like when the hostel staff is too informal. I like being able to distinguish between staff and guests. That way, if I have a question or an issue, I know who to ask. I also don’t like it when the staff drinks or parties with guests. It can be fun if you’re partying with them but it comes off as unprofessional much of the time. 

Winner: This one depends on personal preference. Hostel staff are often friendlier. Hotel staff are often more professional and offer better hospitality. 

Value for Your Money

It’s hard to say which type of accommodation offers the better value. The value you get for your money depends on a number of factors including your destination, the amenities offered, the individual property, and your personal values. Sometimes hotels offer better value. Sometimes hostels offer better value. 

If all you care about is having a place to lay your head at night, I would say hostels offer a better value. You can get a night of sleep for far less money. If you factor in amenities, comfort, and privacy, hotels often offer better value. You get more for your money. 

When considering value, it’s important to factor in your destination. Some destinations offer a better value than others. The cost of accommodation can vary greatly by country and even by city. 

For example, one of my favorite places to travel is East Africa. Unfortunately, the region offers a terrible value for accommodation. A budget hotel room with a shared bathroom may cost $40-$50 per night in much of the region. In another one of my favorite regions, southeast Asia, that same $40-$50 could buy you a night in a decent mid-range hotel. To compare, in Scandinavia and Western Europe, you may pay $40-$50 per night for a bed in a basic hostel dorm. In Eastern Europe, you might pay $15-$20 per night to stay in a hostel of the exact same quality. The point is, value varies greatly by region. 

The amenities offered also vary. Some properties give you more for your money than others. For example, many hotels and hostels include breakfast. This saves you at least a few dollars per day because you don’t have to buy or make your own. Many hotels offer a gym. If you like to work out every day, this offers value. You won’t have to find a gym and pay for a pass in the city you’re visiting. 

When deciding between a hostel and a hotel, it’s also important to consider what you personally value. If you value privacy, a hostel dorm offers a poor value. You’ll get very little privacy for your money. If a hotel has a pool but you don’t plan to use it, you’re not getting any value out of it. You’re paying for an amenity that you’re not using. If you value a good night of sleep, you might pay extra to stay in a property that offers premium mattresses and bedding.

Winner: If all you’re looking for is a place to sleep, hostels offer the better value. If you’re looking for particular amenities, hotels offer better value. Value also varies by destination and by individual property. 


Hotels are located all over. You’ll find hotels in the city center, in hotel zones, by the airport, in the mountains, by the beach, near every major tourist attraction, and even in the middle of nowhere. Wherever you want to stay, you can almost always find a hotel there. You can find a hotel in even the smallest village in the most remote corners of the planet. Every town has a hotel. Hotels are everywhere.

Hostels tend to be conveniently located in the city center and near major tourist attractions. They also tend to be located near public transportation stops. This is because most people staying in hostels don’t travel with their own vehicle. Most guests are budget backpackers who travel around by public transport. 

Hostels are less common than hotels. This means you won’t have as many options to choose from in terms of location when you stay in a hostel. A small city may have a dozen hotels but only one or two hostels. Some towns have multiple hotels but no hostels.

Hostels are common in some regions but rare in others. You’ll find a greater concentration of hostels in regions that attract budget travelers and young travelers, such as Europe and Southeast Asia. There isn’t a big hosteling culture in the United States. You’ll only find hostels in larger cities. Smaller cities only have hotels and motels. You won’t have as many options if you choose to stay in a hostel. 

When choosing a hotel or hostel, think about the places you plan to visit and their locations. If one hostel or hotel costs $5 less per night but is located on the edge of town, far away from restaurants, bars, entertainment, and attractions, you’ll have to travel into town every time you want to do anything. This takes time. It might take you 30-60 minutes to drive or take public transit into town. It also costs money. You might spend $5 in bus or train tickets to get into town and back.

In the end, you spend more money and time than if you had stayed in a more expensive property with a better location. You’re more likely to go out and about and explore if you can easily visit different parts of the city. Sometimes it’s worth it to spend a bit more to stay in a more convenient location.

A street in Amsterdam
Hotels and hostels are both usually located in the city center

Also, in some cities, it’s important to consider the neighborhood you’re staying in. Try to avoid staying in dangerous neighborhoods. Some neighborhoods are perfectly safe during the day but become a bit sketchy at night. If you stay in one of these neighborhoods, you’ll have to take a taxi or Uber to and from your accommodation every time you go out at night. You may be more likely to go out and about when you stay in a safe area. Sometimes it’s worth it to spend a bit more to stay in a safer location.

Winner: Hotels offer more locations. Hostels are well located within cities. 

Annoyances: Noise, Light, Odor, Filth, and Crowds

You will have to deal with more annoyances while staying in hostels. In this section, I’ll outline a few of the most common issues you’re likely to encounter.  


Probably the biggest annoyance you’ll have to deal with while staying in a hostel is noise. Chances are, at least one of your dorm mates will be a snorer. This is extremely common and there is nothing you or your dorm mate can do to stop it. The only way to deal with a snorer is to wear earplugs while sleeping. It’s a good idea to pack a couple of pairs of earplugs if you plan to stay in hostels. Some hostels sell earplugs at reception or even offer them for free if you ask. 

You’ll also have to deal with the sound of your dorm mates moving around. Every time someone climbs in or out of bed or turns in their sleep, the bed may squeak. This is common in lower-end hostels that have cheap old bunk beds. 

When your dorm mates pack and unpack, they also make noise. One of the more annoying noises is plastic bags rustling around. A plastic bag is surprisingly loud in an otherwise silent room. The sound of backpack and suitcase zippers can be pretty annoying too. You just have to deal with these sounds. Nobody can move, pack, or unpack silently. The most considerate dorm mates will pack the night before they have to leave for an early flight. Considerate travelers avoid plastic bags because they’re so noisy. 

You’ll also be woken up by other travelers’ alarm clocks. People have to catch early flights, busses, and trains when they’re leaving the city. Some get up early to go sightseeing at sunrise when crowds are thin. A traveler may need to get up early to meet for a tour. Some travelers need to set an alarm and wake up every day or they sleep in too late. In a large dorm, you may hear multiple alarms go off at different times every morning. This gets annoying. Inconsiderate dorm mates may use the sleep timer a couple of times. This can be infuriating if you’re trying to sleep.  

Of course, you’ll also have to deal with the sound of your dorm mates talking. It’s normal for people to sit in the dorm chatting. Personally, I don’t like when there are people in the dorm talking in a language I don’t understand. They aren’t doing anything wrong. I just get self-conscious. Are they talking about me? 

Sometimes a group of people will come into the dorm drunk in the middle of the night after a night out. They may be talking loudly and joking around. This wakes everyone up. It’s annoying but it’s part of hostel life. I’ve been the drunken annoying one at times too. I can’t blame them but they are irritating. 

Some party hostels have an attached bar or club. These places often have loud music playing for most of the night. You may be able to hear the music throughout the whole hostel. If you’re trying to go to sleep early, this can be extremely annoying. You can avoid this by not staying in party hostels. Most hostels have quiet hours after around 10 pm. 

Hotel rooms are reasonably quiet. Most properties have some soundproofing. You won’t be able to hear other guests packing, talking, or moving around in the rooms next door or above you. If you’re staying in a budget hotel, you may hear other guests through the walls. If you’re staying in the center of a large city, you might hear some road noise such as car horns and sirens. This isn’t the hotel’s fault. Generally, hotel rooms stay quiet. 

Winner: Hotels are quieter than hostels. 


Light is another problem you’re likely to encounter when staying in hostels. Oftentimes a drunk or inconsiderate person will enter the room while you’re sleeping and turn the light on. This can happen at night while you’re trying to go to sleep and early in the morning when you’re trying to sleep in. 

Personally, I find this to be the most irritating thing people do in hostels. Every time someone comes into a dark dorm room in the middle of the night and turns the light on when people are clearly trying to sleep, I want to scream in their face. I never do. It’s just part of hostel life. Of course, you can’t expect the room to stay dark during the middle of the day.

When you stay in a hotel, you can keep the room as dark as you want. Most hotels have blackout curtains. You can close them and sleep whenever you want. If you arrive in the middle of the night and you want to sleep all day, you can. The room will stay dark.

Winner: Hotel rooms stay darker, allowing you to get a better night of sleep. 


Odor is another annoyance you’ll have to deal with while staying in hostels. It’s hard to keep the room smelling pretty when 6-10+ people are crammed together in a single bedroom. Some people have bad body odor. Some people have smelly feet. Oftentimes backpackers don’t wash their clothes as often as they should. Many travelers wash their clothes in the sink and don’t do a good enough job. If you’re traveling in a tropical region and the dorm doesn’t have AC, everyone is sweating. Some people eat in the dorm, even though it’s usually against the rules.

All of these odors mix together and create a foul smell. Ventilation may also be poor. I’ve stayed in dorms that don’t even have a window. Sometimes you’ll walk into a dorm and the smell will hit you right in the face. There is nothing you can really do about it but endure it.

Hotel rooms smell clean when you arrive. Housekeeping comes in and cleans every day or two. If you put in some effort to keep yourself and your clothing smelling clean, the room will continue smelling clean throughout the duration of your stay. You won’t have to deal with other people’s stink when you stay in a hotel.  

Winner: Hotel rooms stay smelling nicer. Hostel dorms can get stinky from the body odor of multiple people. 


While staying in hostels, you will have to deal with some filth. Remember, hostels usually don’t have dedicated cleaning staff. Sometimes, the kitchen will be coated in grease. The furniture might feel sticky because it hasn’t been cleaned in years. If you look under the bed, you might see some dust bunnies. I have stayed in some hostels that are pretty disgusting. 

This is something that you’ll just have to deal with at some hostels. If you stay in enough hostels, you will encounter some filth. Of course, there are exceptions. Some hostels are extremely clean. 

Hotels are generally cleaner than hostels. There are fewer people using the amenities and facilities so things don’t get quite as dirty. Hotels also have a dedicated cleaning staff that cleans each room thoroughly between guests. There is an entire cleaning staff whose only job is to keep the place clean.

Of course, some hotels are cleaner than others. I’ve stayed in some absolutely filthy budget hotels in some parts of the world. 

Winner: Hotel rooms are generally cleaner than hostel dorms. 


Hostels can get crowded when fully booked. Some hostels don’t have enough bathrooms or showers. If you’re staying in an 8 bed dorm with a single bathroom, you’ll have to wait your turn sometimes. Sometimes a hostel only has 3 shower stalls for all of the guests. In this case, you may have to wait your turn during the morning when everyone wants to shower. This gets annoying. Particularly if you really have to use the bathroom. 

During dinner time, the hostel kitchen can also get crowded. There aren’t enough burners on the stove for everyone to cook at once. You’ll have to wait your turn. Sometimes there aren’t enough pots and pans and other cooking utensils. You’ll have to wait until someone is finished before you can cook your meal. Your food can also go missing. 

Dorm rooms can also get crowded. Many hostels cram as many bunk beds as possible into every dorm to maximize the number of guests they can fit in each room. I stayed in a hostel in Guatemala City that had about a foot of space between each bunk bed in a 20 bed dorm. Luckily, the place wasn’t full. If it was, it would have been miserable. Some travelers also scatter their belongings all over the floor near their bed. If a couple of people do this, the room feels crowded. You can trip over other travelers’ belongings while you’re trying to walk through the room in the dark.

At some hostels, the common area can get overly crowded. Some hostels use every room for dorms and only have a small common area with a couple of couches. During the evening, it can be hard to find a place to sit and get comfortable. This depends on the hostel. Most hostels offer plenty of seating in the common area. 

When you stay in a hotel, you won’t have to deal with crowds. Most hotel rooms have a private bathroom. If your room has a kitchen, you’ll be the only one using it. You have the whole room to yourself. You can spread out as much as you want. Hotel lobbies rarely get crowded. 

You will have to deal with crowds while using shared facilities in a hotel. In my experience, common areas in hotels stay relatively empty most of the time. Usually, there are only a few other guests in the hotel pool or gym at the same time. There is usually plenty of space. Hotels can get crowded during holidays, peak seasons, and special events.

Winner: You won’t have to deal with crowds if you’re staying in a private hotel room with a private bathroom. 

Annoying Guests

When you stay in a hostel, sometimes there will be a particular guest that is annoying. Maybe they’re a loud talker. Maybe they drink too much. They could be messy. They could have poor personal hygiene. Maybe they snore or turn the lights on at night. Maybe they don’t wash their dishes. They could say something rude or offensive. 

Sometimes you’ll encounter a guest who is simply eccentric. For example, at a hostel in Nairobi, there was a tall German girl who would wash her feet in the bathroom sink. It seemed like every time I walked into the bathroom, there was this girl washing her feet. It didn’t really annoy me. I just found it kind of strange that she was always there.

Sometimes another guest might get a bit clingy. If you chat with them once, they might try to start a conversation or invite themselves out with you every time they see you around the hostel. They might even try to travel with you. If you get too friendly with the wrong person, you may regret it. You will meet some weirdos at hostels. 

There are an endless number of ways that a person could annoy you. When you stay in hostels, you just have to deal with these annoying guests. You can’t really avoid them. Of course, these annoying people are pretty rare. Most people you meet will be cool.

If a guest in your dorm is really annoying you, you could ask to switch dorms. Most hostels won’t allow this unless you have a good reason. The only other option is to switch to a different hostel. I have never had to do this but if a guest really got on my nerves, I probably would. 

At hotels, you’re far less likely to encounter an annoying guest. This is because you’ll simply interact with fewer guests. The most common annoyance you’re likely to face is a loud guest. Maybe you can hear the person in the room next to you or above you. 

Winner: You’ll encounter fewer annoying guests while staying at hotels.

Payment Options

A hotel receptionist charging a credit card

Hotels usually offer more payment options. You can almost always pay with cash or a credit or debit card. International hotels often accept some foreign currencies as well. You can usually pay in US dollars, Euros, or the local currency. Budget hotels and smaller hotels are cash-only in some parts of the world. 

Many hostels are cash-only businesses. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, it can be difficult for small businesses to set up credit card processing and business bank accounts in some parts of the world. Second, going cash only allows them to pay lower taxes. Hostel owners often underreport their income and pocket most of the cash to reduce their tax burden. 

Many hostels around the world will allow you to pay in US dollars, Euros, or British pounds as well. If you pay in a foreign currency, you often get a poor exchange rate. It’s best to pay in the local currency if you can.

When you stay in a hotel, you can usually pay either upfront or when you check out. At budget hotels and hostels, you usually must pay upfront. If you book three nights, you pay for three nights when you check in. Some hostels allow you to pay when you check out. It really depends on the property. If the property has your card on file, they usually don’t care when you pay.

Winner: Hotels offer more payment options. They accept cash and cards. Many hostels are cash only. There are exceptions. 

Hidden Fees

Hostels and hotels can both charge hidden fees. Sometimes there are government taxes that aren’t included. Some properties tack on additional service fees. There can be cleaning fees. These fees can increase the price by 10-15% in some cases. 

Some properties include these taxes and fees in the listed price on the booking sites. Others don’t. Instead, they add the fees on at the end when you pay at the property. This is an unpleasant surprise.

When comparing prices, it’s important to take into account all additional fees you’ll have to pay so you can make an accurate comparison. Sometimes staying at a property with a higher listed price ends up being cheaper if fees are included in the price. It’s important to thoroughly read the listing before booking a hostel or hotel to see if there are any hidden fees you’ll have to pay. 

For example, maybe you’re comparing two hotels online. One hotel charges $100 per night including a 20% government tax. The other hostel charges $90 per night excluding the 20% government tax. The second hostel is actually $108 per night when you add on the tax. You’ll spend $8 more per night even though the listed price of the second hotel is lower. 

At some hotels, tipping is also expected. You’re expected to tip house cleaning. You’re expected to tip the bellboy. If you order room service, you’re expected to tip your server. If you use the valet service, you’re expected to tip the valet. Tipping can greatly increase the cost of your stay. 

At hostels, you never have to tip anyone. The only exception is if there is a hostel restaurant or bar. You may choose to tip your server depending on the country you’re traveling in. 

Some hostels do charge additional fees for certain services. For example, at a hostel in Copenhagen, I was informed that I had to pay extra for bedding upon check-in. Sheets weren’t included. This extra fee wasn’t noted anywhere on their online listing. I told them no thanks; I’ll just use my sleeping bag. They told me that I had to use their bedding. After I complained, they gave it to me for free. In the past, some hostels charged for wifi. Some business hotels still charge extra for wifi. 

Winner: Hostels have fewer hidden fees than hotels, generally. You also don’t have to tip at hostels. 

Hostel Vs Hotel for Families

Families are better off staying in hotels. When you stay in a hotel, you can all share a private room. If you have a large family, you can rent adjoining rooms. You and your partner can stay in one room and the kids or your relatives can stay in the adjoining room. There are also large hotel rooms available with multiple bedrooms. Almost all hotels are family-friendly.

Most hostels don’t accept guests that are under 18. Kids aren’t welcome, even if they’re traveling with their parents. Most hostels aren’t family-friendly. There are often drunk people partying. Backpackers often talk loudly and use language that you might not want your kids to hear. 

There are exceptions. Some hostels do allow kids to stay but only in private rooms. I have never seen anyone under 18 staying in a dorm room. There are some hostels that are laid back and family-friendly but they are rare. There are also some resort-style hotels that only welcome adults. These are rare but they exist. 

Winner: Hotels are the better choice for families.

Hostel Vs Hotel for Older Travelers

Most older travelers prefer the comfort and privacy of staying in a hotel room. Hotels welcome people of all ages. There is no discrimination.

Some hostels have a maximum age of 35. They do not welcome older travelers. It is pretty rare for a hostel to have a maximum age limit these days, but these properties do exist. You should check for an age limit before booking if you’re an older traveler.

Unfortunately, there can also be a bit of a stigma to older travelers staying in hostels. Some guests find it creepy. Some guests don’t feel comfortable interacting with older people. You might have a harder time making friends in a hostel if you’re an older traveler. Personally, I think it’s great when older people stay in hostels. Some of the most interesting and well-traveled people I have met were older.

For more info, check out my guide: Am I Too Old for Hostels?

Winner: Hotels are more welcoming of older travelers.

Hostel Vs Hotel for Couples

Couples are better off staying in hotels. When you stay in a hotel, you’ll have the whole room to yourself. Privacy isn’t an issue. You can spend some alone time together whenever you like.

Hostels aren’t ideal for couples. There is no privacy. If you want to spend some alone time with your partner, this can be an issue. It is frowned upon for two people to share a bed in a hostel, even though it happens.

Winner: Hotels are the better choice for couples.

A backpacker sitting on a bunk bed reading a guidebook in a hostel

My Experience

I stay in a mix of hostels, hotels, and Airbnbs while traveling. Before booking accommodation, I usually check, Hostelworld, and Airbnb to see what’s available at my destination. I sort properties by price and by rating to help me determine what offers the best value for my money.

Between the ages of 18-24, I almost exclusively stayed in hostels. I was on a tight budget during those years. I needed to keep my accommodation cost as low as possible. Staying in hostels saved me money, allowing me to travel further and longer. In those days, I often tried to stay in the cheapest dorm room I could find. 

In recent years, I have been choosing to stay in hotels and Airbnbs more frequently. The main reason is that I need a quiet place where I can work on my laptop. Hostels are often a bit too noisy and distracting to get any serious work done. 

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve also grown to value comfort a bit more. It’s nice to sleep on a bigger bed and have a private bathroom. I like being able to unpack and make myself at home. I also enjoy having a place to go where I can get away from people for a while. I’m pretty introverted so this is important to me. 

I do really enjoy the social aspect of staying in hostels. It’s the reason I still stay in hostels today. I almost always travel solo. Sometimes it gets lonely. It can be difficult to meet people while staying in hotels. It’s always nice to interact with like-minded travelers at hostels. I’ve met some unforgettable people in hostel dorms. Some of whom I am still friends with to this day. While traveling, I always stay in hostels occasionally to meet people and have a fun night out. 

Over the past 10 years, I’ve stayed in hundreds of hostels and hotels. Both accommodation options have their own benefits and drawbacks. In the future, I plan to continue staying in hostels. I will probably continue staying in hotels more frequently.

A couple of backpackers
Hostels are perfect for backpackers

Final Thoughts

The choice between a hostel and hotel comes down to a number of factors including your budget, where you’re traveling, the purpose of your trip, personal preference, and more. 

Hostels certainly aren’t for everyone. They can get noisy and smelly. They also lack privacy. At the same time, hostels offer a social environment and a vibrant and youthful atmosphere. They are friendly and welcoming of all kinds of people as well. Best of all, they are affordable. If you’re on an extremely tight budget, staying in hostels may be your only choice. 

Hotels are a great choice for all types of travelers. They are basically the default. Hotels offer privacy, comfort, and security. Higher-end hotels offer a wide range of amenities. This comes at a cost. Hotels are more expensive. They also lack the social aspect of hostels.

When deciding between a hotel and a hostel, consider what you want out of the experience. Do you want a social experience or do you want privacy? Are you looking for the cheapest accommodation or do you want a bit of luxury? 

To make the decision even more complicated, you might consider staying in an Airbnb. Check out my Airbnb Vs Hotel guide for more info.

Whichever accommodation option you choose, I hope this guide has helped you in making your decision. If you decide to stay in a hostel dorm, check out my guide to choosing the best hostel!

Do you prefer staying in a hostel or hotel when you travel? Share your experience in the comments below!

Pin it for later!

More from Where The Road Forks

Sharing is caring!

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links, including links from the Amazon Serivices LLC Associates Program. At no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase through these links. I only recommend products and services that I use and know. Thank you for reading!