Hostels, Hotels, & Airbnbs, Oh My!

For most forms of independent travel, your most common choices in accommodation will be between a hotel, a hostel, or more recently, an Airbnb/Vrbo- but how to choose?

Hotels:

Hotels are of course the most established type of accommodation- you’ve got your front desk/concierge where you check in and receive your room key. You can usually pick up a walking map of the area and ask for recommendations here. However, most people don’t realize that your specific room can only be requested, not guaranteed. Although every attempt is made to accommodate your request, if you ask for a room with two queen beds, there’s always a chance that you may receive a single king bed. Granted, this doesn’t happen often, but I’ve experienced this enough to take it into consideration. Additionally, I’ve found that in Europe double rooms (rooms with two beds) tend to be two twin beds while in America they’re usually two queen beds. If a hotel wants to survive these days, it will have free wifi and a tv in each room. Most hotels in popular tourist areas have deals with their neighboring business, so you can usually score coupons to nearby restaurants or activities. My hotel in Luzern even came with the city wifi password! On the flip side, I’ve found that I tend to pay more for hotels with fewer amenities than other Airbnbs I’ve stayed in.

Pros

-Advice about the area available
-established business with easily found reviews
-possibility of free breakfast
-wifi usually included
-family friendly
-universally available

Cons

-Expensive
-can be difficult to meet people
-bedding is technically a request, not a guarantee

Hostels:

Hostels can get a bad rap, but they are honestly one of my favorite ways to travel. There are many variations of hostels to choose from, so make sure you do your research carefully before making your booking! Since I often travel solo, my first step is to go onto hostelworld.com, select “free breakfast” and “free wifi” in the filter and only choose from hostels with a rating of 8.0 and above. I like to select female only rooms of four, but I’ve stayed in larger mixed dorms without any issue. Private rooms are occasionally available, but they cost nearly the same as a regular hotel room so I don’t bother with them. Hostels are by far dominated by young travelers, so there tends to be popular common areas and even on-site bars! In addition to getting advice from the front desk, hostels usually organize open events such as walking tours and pub crawls to get guests engaged in the city and meeting other people- I’ve met some great friends this way! However, because hostels are usually inexpensive and filled with youths, there’s always a risk that one of your roommates will show up late at night drunk and rowdy. This happens less frequently in female only dorms, but it really depends on your location- you get what you pay for! Most hostels are very basic with a bunk bed set up, minimal toiletries, and lockers to secure your things, so don’t forget a lock and a towel unless you want to rent them at the front desk! Most hostels will also have a shared kitchen, so you can cook here- but make sure you clearly label your food otherwise it might go missing!

Pros

-Inexpensive
-Easy to meet people
-tons of activities
-possibility of free breakfast
-tons of reviews available
-advice about area available
-great for solo travelers

Cons

-not typically family friendly
-sometimes cramped rooms
-experience can vary based on roommates
-unpopular in the US

Airbnbs:

The newest and trendiest form of accommodation is also the one I have the most mixed feelings about. Pricing can vary wildly based on location and size of the Airbnb. Most of them tend to be a little farther from the main tourist areas and they get more expensive the closer you get- this makes them the best option to explore off the beaten path. Your experiences here can vary wildly depending on your host- some of them don’t interact with you at all, while others like my host in Prague went bar hopping with us and gave us the inside scoop for local hangouts. Many hosts have a collection of tourism maps, but not all of them are around to give you local recommendations. I find Airbnbs to be the most risky, because you can easily be mislead by the reviews and images online. There’s no way to see pictures from previous guests and reviews are only published once both the hosts and the guest have submitted their reviews- if the host knows they’re going to get a poor review, as long as they don’t post their own comment the next guest will never know! Additionally Airbnb hosts have no obligation to house you- if they have to cancel your stay for whatever reason, refund or not, you’ll be on the streets until you find a last minute hotel or hostel. If you’re careful with your selections, though, this option tends to be the most bang for your buck- there’s a reason they’re so popular! I’ve had spacious Airbnbs with spectacular views for a fraction of the cost of a hotel. Most even have kitchens, so you can save money by stopping by a grocery store and cooking at home!

Pros

-Comparatively inexpensive
-Lots of privacy
-Kitchen
-availability everywhere
-Great for large groups of people

Cons

-Stay can be cancelled at the hosts discretion
-reviews can be misleading
-Quality of Airbnb can vary wildly

Distant mountains from our Interlaken Airbnb
A beautiful sunset from a pool at MGM Grand, Las Vegas

The choice between these three options should be based solely on the traveler’s preferences- and you don’t have to stick to just one! When I travel, I rotate between these options based on what works best for me in each location- hostels are good for making friends and partying, but if I want a little more privacy, a hotel might be better. If I want to avoid other tourists, I check out Airbnb! Don’t be afraid to customize your trip to your exact specifications!


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