The Difference Between a Hostel and a Hotel

7 Reasons to Choose a Hostel Instead of a Hotel

fireplace in the common area of a hostel
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What is the difference between a hostel and hotel? The line separating the two types of accommodation has become fuzzy — particularly in Asia.

Forget about messy dorm rooms crammed with bunk beds and 20-somethings queuing for the shared bathroom. Many of the hostels found in popular tourist areas offer private rooms with ensuite bathrooms. For less the cost of a hotel room, you get to enjoy privacy along with the benefits of staying in a hostel.

Hostels definitely aren’t just for backpackers on gap-year trips anymore. Boutique hostels offer most of the usual comforts of a hotel — the ones you actually use, anyway — along with some bonuses that many hotels lack: character, personality, and a social environment.

Opting to stay in a nice hostel rather than a hotel many change your entire trip experience. Travelers in hostels are frequently more interested in meeting other travelers. Hostel common areas encourage more lingering and socializing than hotel lobbies tend to do.

What Is a Hostel?

Many people aren't sure of the difference between a hostel and hotel. Even worse, "hostel" and "brothel" sometimes get used interchangeably in ignorance!

Although hostels are finally catching on in the United States, they still tend to target a young, outdoors crowd rather than all travelers. Many hostels are situated at points along the Appalachian Trail and outside of national parks.

European travelers tend to be much more familiar with the concept of hosteling. With very cheap beds, hostels once primarily only attracted students on break and long-term travelers on very strict budgets. The standard style of accommodation consisted of bunk beds in a shared room with little or no privacy. Yes, you could hear your neighbors snoring, and yes, people walked around in their underwear.

With an increasing number of "flashpackers," couples, and more sophisticated travelers who prefer privacy, many hostels offer private rooms for people squeamish about sharing a sleeping space with strangers. Although you get your own room, you may find fewer amenities than found in hotels — so what.

If you can live without premium movie channels and a fitness room, you'll pay less than hotel prices and get to enjoy meeting new people.

Not all hostels are created equal! The cheapest options actually are hot, noisy, crashpads for party-oriented backpackers. Do a little research and read reviews for boutique hostels before booking.

Good Reasons to Stay in a Hostel

  • They’re Cheaper: To cut costs, hostels forgo many of the usual room amenities that nonbusiness travelers rarely use anyway. You probably won’t find luxuries such as telephones, irons, coffee makers, or hairdryers. You will, however, find a TV and some of those other items in the common area of the hostel to be shared by all. The savings for unnecessary luxuries is passed on to guests.
  • You’ll Meet People: On top of being cheaper, hostels are great places to meet other travelers! Hostels are often far more social than their hotel counterparts. The common area serves as a catalyst for meeting other travelers — perfect for getting good recommendations for the area, or future areas you plan to visit.
  • You Don’t Always Have to Share: Many hostels in Asia offer private rooms with options for either private or shared bathrooms. How much you interact with other guests will be entirely up to you. Spend time in the common area then retire to your private room when you like.
  • The Basic Services Prevail: Like hotels, all good hostels offer advice and ticketing services at the desk. You’ll be able to book your tours in Asia and find out about transportation options at the hostel desk. Many hostels in Asia offer laundry services, food, full bar, movie nights, and other services that make travelers happy.
  • Hostels Focus on Travelers: Unlike chain hotels with headquarters based far away, possibly even overseas, hostels are more in tune with the local neighborhood. Many of the hostels in Asia were started by former travelers who wanted to settle down and build a business without losing touch with the travel world. These experienced business owners know how it feels to be far away from home. In short, they know what travelers need.
  • You Can Negotiate: Since some hostels cater to backpackers who only stay a couple of nights at a time, you may be able to negotiate a better rate if you’ll be staying a week or longer. Many owners would rather have a long-term guest occupy a room to avoid cleaning or the chance that a room sits empty for a few nights. Hostels may be willing to work with you on price, particularly if you’re staying during the low season in Asia.
  • Less Hidden Fees: Many hotels throughout Asia tack service charges of up to 15 percent onto your bill at checkout. Despite a lack of tipping in most Asian cultures, the staff in upscale hotels have actually become conditioned to receiving a gratuity. Western guests who don’t know better tip when they shouldn't. This usually isn't a problem in hostels.

Potential Downsides of Staying in a Hostel

  • Payment May Not Be as Convenient: With already low rates, many budget hostels simply won’t accept payment via credit card, or if they do, a service charge will be tacked on. Some hostels in Asia may ask that you pay for your stay either up front or day by day.
  • Don't Expect All Amenities: As already mentioned, good hostels can reduce their nightly rates by eliminating a lot of the extras found in hotels. Don't be disappointed if the TV in your room — if there is one at all — doesn't have HBO.
  • Some Hostels Are Noisy: This is where a little research pays off. If booking online, read reviews carefully but take them with a grain of salt. Reviews about bed bug infestations are often left by competing hostels. Some hostels do attract a younger crowd. If your room is adjacent to the bar or common area, you may have to deal with late-night noise.