Last weekend, I stayed in a hostel in San Pedro de Atacama with some friends from Maria Elena. They warned me that it would be “sin glamour.” And sure, maybe it was a bit different from the Four Seasons but it was comfy, clean, and homey.
So, in a world where AirBnb has become the cheap lodging of choice for most of my millennial cohort and “hostel” literally became a horror movie, I thought I would take a moment to sing an ode to the underrated institution of budget lodging.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t hate AirBnbs. Staying in someone’s home offers a lot of attractive qualities, even beyond saving money. Staying in someone’s house and living like a local is a totally worthwhile experience. Many AirBnbs offer the chance to stay in residential parts of town where commercial lodging isn’t available, allowing you to experience a place where tourists maybe do not usually go.
And I have definitely had my fair share of horrific hostel experiences, including a terrifying lack of cleanliness and one 2:00 am séance in a hostel dorm in Venice during Carnevale that turned me off of staying in shared rooms. But I still love hostels, and here’s why:
- They are cheap: Everyone loves Airbnb because it’s so cheap, but I have yet to find a place where I could stay in an Airbnb for cheaper than a hostel. Compared to a hotel, both offer much more attractive rates. Both usually offer access to a kitchen as well, allowing you to save money by cooking meals. An extra bonus with hostels is that they also often function as quasi-travel agents that will book tours for you. I have found that the “hostel price” can be cheaper than the “hotel price.” For example, in Cusco I took a horseback riding tour. I paid in advance through my hostel and in the morning was picked up to join the group. Some folks staying at a nicer hotel paid at the end of the tour, and they paid over five dollars more than me for the EXACT SAME TOUR. While $5 may not seem like a lot, over time every little bit adds up!
- They offer better service: At the end of the day, a hostel is a business. They are there to serve you. They will arrange an early morning taxi to the airport for you, book tours for you (see above), and even print boarding passes for you so that you don’t get hit with a $16 charge by the cheapo airline to print it at the airport (I learned THAT the hard way). Furthermore, I never stay at a place without 24-hour reception. You never know when you are going to need something, and having someone right there to help you feels like such a luxury – without the luxury price tag. With Airbnb it really depends on the host, and I have yet to receive the same level of service I usually get at hostels.
- You can meet other great travelers: Everyone asks me how I keep from feeling lonely when I travel. Although I prefer doing things on my own, sometimes it is nice to have someone to pal around with and this is one way that hostels can be very helpful. Hostels are filled with travelers just like you, and you can meet them playing board games in the common space or having breakfast. Odds are they will want to see some of the same things you want to see, so you might as well go together!
- You don’t have to stay in a dorm: For me, I like having my own space. A room where I can have some peace and quiet. I don’t mind sharing a bathroom, but I would rather not be bothered all throughout the night with strangers snoring, coming and going at all hours, or deciding to participate in strange occultic rituals – whatever the case may be. Fortunately most hostels offer private single (or double, if you are travelling with a friend) rooms with a shared bathroom at really cheap rates. In fact, many offer rooms with en suite bathrooms too, if sharing a bathroom isn’t your thing.
- I feel safer: Probably the most important thing is I feel safer in a hostel. My first Airbnb experience had me staying in an apartment that belonged to an overly interested dude (who had a key, of course) who knew that I was travelling alone for a few days. My days ended with me moving a piece of furniture in front of the door before going to sleep because, well, you can never be too careful. I have never felt the need to do something like that at a hostel. Hostels are usually full of other people, so you never feel awkwardly alone with someone who might make you feel uncomfortable. As a business, hostels are regulated and employees vetted in some fashion. And with my own room that I can lock when I leave, I can ensure my stuff has a safe place to spend the day.
And that really sums it up for me. With the rise of the sharing network, the good, old-fashioned hostel has fallen a little bit by the wayside. My intention was to remind everyone of a really solid budget travel option. Of course, what works for me may not work for you and I encourage anyone to get out there and travel wherever they want to in the way that makes them the most comfortable. For some, that is Airbnb. For others, it is fancy hotels. For others still, it is literally crashing on a stranger’s couch through the couchsurfing network. Whatever works for you, go out there and work it!