How can you save up to 80 percent on lodging when you travel? Stay in a hostel instead of a hotel…
When I went to Ecuador fifteen years ago, I stayed at a hostel in Quito. I got a bed in a room with four others. Breakfast was included, as were free rum and cola parties three nights a week. The price: $4 per night.
The days of $4 hostels are past and, sadly, my favorite hostel in Quito closed earlier this year. But a quick search of HostelWorld.com shows there are currently at least 80 hostels to choose from in Quito, and 20 of them are under $10 per night.
Over the years my wife and I have saved a lot of money staying at interesting hostels overseas and in the states.
Why stay in a hostel?
You might love the party atmosphere in certain hostels, or the chance to mingle with people from all over the world. Hostels also typically have employees who know the area well, and they can help you arrange excursions.
If you have special dietary needs that make restaurant meals tricky (try ordering vegan or gluten-free food when you don’t speak the language), you can use the kitchen in a hostel to prepare your own meals.
But the biggest single reason they’re popular is that hostels cost less than the alternatives. You can save a lot of money by staying in hostels.
How Much Can You Save?
In most of the major cities of the world you can expect to pay well over $100 per night for a hotel room. Hostels provide a much cheaper alternative. Do a search on Hostels.com to see that you can stay at several hostels in Paris, France for less than $20 and for less than $15 in Madrid, Spain.
At the moment (according to a Google search) that’s less than a third of the price for the cheapest hotel room in either city. How much you save depends on whether you’re traveling alone or with others, where you travel, and how you use hostels. Let’s take a look at each of these factors and consider a few examples.
Where To Check
Hostels save you the most when you’re traveling alone. For example, using Expedia.com and Hostels.com as sources, as of this writing it will run you about $120 for an inexpensive hotel room for three people near downtown San Francisco, and it will not be a great room. A hostel with a decent rating from past customers will cost about $30 per night, per bed.
That’s a savings of $90 for a single traveler, but if there are three of you it might make sense to pay the extra $10 each for the hotel. For that you get a private bathroom and only three of you trying to control the television.
On the other hand, if there are two or more of you traveling together, you can still check out the private room options that many hostels offer — more about that in a moment.
You’ll save the most in large cities, where a decent hotel room will often cost three to five times as much as a bed in a hostel. In Athens, Greece, for example, a room in a hotel that is rated at least 3 out of 5 stars by users will generally cost $50 to $100 per night.
Hostels start at around $10 and there are a dozen options below $20 per night. Check online before you travel to compare the prices you can expect to pay for a hotel or hostel is each of the cities you’ll be visiting. Expedia.com and Hostels.com work well for each part of this process.
Next, depending on whether you value the other aspects of hostels or not, you can decide if the savings are worth it and/or in which places you’ll splurge for a nice hotel room.
The Key Difference
How you use a hostel also makes a difference in what you spend. That’s because in hostels you can typically use the kitchen (ask before you arrive). If you like to cook your own meals, you can buy groceries locally and avoid the cost of eating out.
The savings from this will depend on prices at area restaurants, but if you do all your meals in the hostel you might easily save $20 to $40 daily.
Between the lower room cost and the savings from cooking your own meals you might save $50 per day versus hotel rooms, or even more if you are traveling alone.
Finally, if you use Airbnb when you travel you’re probably already saving money versus hotels, but a hostel can save you even more. Most travel writers and travel forum participants find that hostels are cheaper than Airbnb, and some warn about Airbnb’s hidden fees.
But Is a Hostel Right for You?
You might hesitate to try a hostel if you haven’t been in one before. They can take some getting used to. For example, you might have a snorer in the same room or a midnight conversation going on between the two people on either side of you.
Some of these problems have a solution. Bring earplugs for better sleep, for example. For more privacy or a quieter stay in a hostel, try a private room and check reviews.
But still, a hostel certainly isn’t right for everyone. To decide if it’s the best way for you to save money on travel accommodations, consider the following good and bad points…
There’s Usually a Young Crowd
Hostels are often oriented toward young travelers. In the states they used to be referred to almost exclusively as “youth hostels,” and many even had age limits. That’s changed, and anyone is free to stay at most hostels.
But even though you’ll see some frugal older travelers in hostels, plan on having more college-age roommates. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? That probably depends on your own age, as well as your perspective and approach. In any case, expect a young crowd.
Some hostels (but certainly not all) encourage a party-like environment, so you might not have a quiet stay. Check reviews and the hostel website to get an idea about what kind of environment is normal. You can find reviews on Lonely Planet, Hostel World, and Hostelz.com.
Perhaps you want to party all the time when you travel. On the other hand, if you like a lively social environment but also need your quiet time you can alternate hostel nights with hotel rooms.
Interesting People From Around the World
During my stay in Centro del Mundo, there were guests from at least a dozen different countries. CNN International was on the television in the living room much of the time (a much better news broadcast than the one in the US, by the way), and many languages were being spoken.
I met a flower broker from Holland, took a tour with guests from Israel and France, and met a beautiful Ecuadorian woman — we recently celebrated our fifteenth wedding anniversary.
Many hostels have private rooms that cost less than local hotel rooms. For example, a few years ago my wife and I stayed in a private room (with a private bathroom) in a hostel in Leadville, Colorado for $40 for the night.
It wasn’t a dramatic savings versus the $65 hotel rooms available, but it did have everything a hotel had, plus the opportunity to mingle with other guests in the living room.
Ask beforehand if your room has a private or shared bathroom — both are common. If you travel with others a private room in a hostel can save you money, but be sure to ask how many people can use the room.
When my wife and I stayed at the Simple Lodge and Hostel in Salida, Colorado a couple years ago, our private room was only $20 less than hotels in town, but we saved another $20 per day by cooking our meals in the kitchen. Just as importantly, we were able to cook the vegetarian foods we prefer. Check to be sure the hostel offers kitchen privileges.
You might save some money by tapping into the knowledge of the locals who work at hostels. They know where to get the best deals and where the interesting sights and events are located, because they’re used to advising budget-conscious backpackers.
For example, when we stayed at The Rain Forest Hotel in Forks, Washington, the owner was able to tell us where the best no-fee sights were in the Olympic Peninsula and the Olympic National Park.
Convenience and Arrangements
Many hostels not only have information about the area posted on their walls, but also help arrange tours and excursions of various sorts.
When I was in Riobamba, Ecuador I didn’t know where to go to find a guide to help me climb Mount Chimborazo, but all I had to do was ask the hostel management and they set it up.
It isn’t common to get to know people at a hotel — guests stay in their rooms most of the time. But at a hostel you share common space. Even if you get a private room you usually have to go to the common areas to watch TV with others.
Because hostel guests sometimes stay for a long time or are repeat customers they can provide you with a wealth of information about the local scene.
Not all Hostels are Dirty
Yes, some hostels are a mess, but not all. The Simple Lodge and Hostel in Salida, Colorado was spotless when we stayed there; others… not so great. Read the reviews online to get a clue about hygienic conditions.
Some hostels are in big city downtown areas, right where the action is, and where you might not be able to afford a hotel room. Others are out in the middle of nowhere, where there are no hotels.
We’ve stayed more than once at Riverbend Hot Springs in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, because the hostel (which now calls itself a hotel and seems to have only private rooms), has natural hot springs you can soak in right on the banks of the Rio Grande River.
Decide where you want to be and look for the closest hostel. Visit the hostel’s website, read the reviews to see what other guests saw and did in the area.
If you’ve stayed at hostels when traveling, tell us about your experiences in the comment section below. Thanks for reading and happy frugaling!