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Hostels: Not *always* the Cheapest Option

Posted by on February 21, 2011

I hope to do a few more blog updates this week, but I had an urge to write this after a discussion with someone on the weekend.

There’s this question frequently found on tourist trails and among backpackers. It’s fairly innocuous, but it assumes a lot – about you, your travel habits, the place you’ve been and the experience you had. That question?

What hostel did you stay in?

The Monkey Mendoza Hostel, my accommodation for about 3 weeks in Mendoza

The Monkey Mendoza Hostel, my accommodation for about 3 weeks

Now I’m not denying I stay in hostels. Far and above, they’re my must common form of abode when travelling. I have no problem with shared dorms, I fit just fine into most bunk-beds, and have no sense of smell. Some chainsaw snorers and late night antics/revellers can be frustrating when you have an early start, but most of the time hostels are a great social meeting place in a new destination, and can often make or break your experience.

While I’m on this, the top three hostels I’ve ever stayed in:

America Del Sur Hostel, in El Calafate, Argentina – for just €6 a night at the time, you have 4 bed dorms with ensuite, heated floors, laundry, free breakfast, a spectacular view, organised tours and a social environment – plus an asado (roast) six nights a week!

Wombats The Base, Vienna, Austria – Wombats is one of the Contiki tour stops, but don’t let that put you off. Ensuite in every room, a sun terrace, a bar in the hostel with happy hour – I spent a few hours one night discussing the perfect hostel with an American from Boston, and we agreed that The Base was pretty darn close…

The Point, La Paz, Bolivia – While a chain of hostels, I’ve stayed here on two separate visits to La Paz, and it’s really well done. It’s a tiring climb up the street to get there – but so is EVERYWHERE in La Paz, and once you’re inside you don’t want to leave. A bar, all-day food menu, free breakfast, tour company onsite, ensuite bathrooms, the most comfortable beds I’ve ever had in a hostel, and a jacuzzi to boot. And they remembered me from 2 months beforehand!

Anyway, the point of this is – in many places, there are amazing deals on hotels or other forms of accommodation. Sometimes it’s fun to stay in an alternative one – the hostel in a ship in Stockholm, the one in a prison in Christchurch, New Zealand. And in some towns (especially in southern Bolivia) there are only hotels. But occasionally, deals on hotels are so good that they can even work out cheaper than a hostel.

This started for me in Rzezow, Poland, where a friend (Pascal) and I had just returned to after visiting Chernobyl, in Ukraine. We were tired after the train trip, and a lot of accommodation was expensive. We just picked the cheapest available place online, which oddly was right on the main square. When we got there we found we were in a hotel, for cheaper than a lot of hostels in Europe, and we had somehow gotten the penthouse suite as well!

In 2009 I was introduced to booking.com – which gets you some great hotel discounts. A few months later when travelling to Edinburgh, we got two rooms for four people, including a massive Scottish breakfast, for less than the nearby hostels were offering, without food.

Now, sure, there are downsides to this. You don’t always get the big social aspect in a hotel. It’s harder when travelling on your own to meet others this way. But when you’re tired, and want some privacy, often this is the cheap (and sometimes a better deal) way to go.

Coincidentally, Wild About Travel has a similar article running from last month – I’ve only just added them on twitter today. They reinforce this and give some more examples in Spain and Italy of hotels being the better way to go.

(Footnote: Also after that trip to Ukraine, where we stayed in a hostel in Kiev, I now use hostelbookers over hostelworld, after an evening of the owner explaining just how they’re treated by hostelworld. It’s a long story, potentially another post one day.)

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6 Responses to Hostels: Not *always* the Cheapest Option

  1. Chloe

    It’s funny you should mention how hostelworld treats hostel owners – I stayed in the Green Tortoise in San Francisco, and their wifi password was ‘hostelworldsucks’. We asked why, and the owner gave us some pretty shocking info about the way they get treated by hostelworld. Makes you wonder how they get away with it, really!

    Another amazing hostel I’ve stayed in is the ACBB hostel in Niagara (Ontario). Patrick, the owner there, is an absolute legend and by far one of the nicest and friendliest guys I’ve ever come across while travelling. Free breakfasts (with fresh, home-made berry and chocolate muffins every morning), instant free upgrades to private rooms if available, tips about how to see the best side of the region for next to nothing. Absolutely incredible. Anyone who’s been there can attest to it!

    • marksmayo

      Interesting – I’ll store that away for my visit to Canada later this year 😉 Just checking out your blog, I’m off to Madrid next month so will try and remember to let you know my thoughts 😉

      • Chloe

        Thanks for the visit :)

        And yes, I was feeling particularly ranty/bah humbug that day, as you may have noticed, hehe. Still, I stand by my post! (for now, anyway…)

  2. Andrea

    We’ve found that too…sometimes hostels can cost more than inns and guesthouses, or they are just barely less expensive and it’s worth it to upgrade for better value. Especially in the off-season. It really pays to explore all the options for accommodation in a place, especially if you are staying for awhile. We regularly update a list on our website of our favourite accommodation from around the world.
    Andrea recently posted..How to Have a Jolly Good Time in Valdivia Part Two- Everything Tastes Better With Beer

    • marksmayo

      Thanks Andrea. Yes, accommodation and so much more can be cheaper in off-season, it’s amazing what you can find if you shop around. Regularly hear of travelers getting incredible deals on boats to the Antarctic or to Galapagos just by spending half a day wandering around town talking to travel companies!

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