Solo backpacking: Hostel or Hotel?

On my latest trip I decided that the majority of my stays would be in hostels for one solid reason: to meet other people! It’s one of the highlights of solo travelling and a lot of memories and friendships stemmed from staying in this type of accommodation.

For those who don’t know what a hostel is, think of it like a college dormitory where there are rooms with multiple beds inside to sleep and shared facilities such as bathrooms, kitchens, living spaces, etc. Many hostels are well managed, super clean, and full of life.

My favourite moments during my hostel stays are at night when most of the travellers return from a long day of exploring and we’re just chilling out chatting.

I want to disclose that my experiences of hostels has been mainly in South East Asia & Europe, where I can vouch that the environments are high quality, clean, and safe. Of course there are some which are super sketchy, but if you follow some of the tips that I list below, you can avoid them more successfully.

When is a good time to check into a hotel instead?

There were some occasions on my trip where I just didn’t have the energy to socialize or needed more space to sprawl out on the bed to sleep. Other times I wanted peace to catch up on sleep after enduring noisy neighbours for the previous couple of nights. Having a private hotel room was a god send and it was my self-rejuvenation period you can call it.

Life isn’t perfect and so is the obstacles that comes with travel. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the idea that solo backpacking should always consist of going on hardcore adventures and being always on the go. You’re going to get tired (like a human), you’re going to get annoyed by things (like a human), you’re not always going to meet people who you connect with (like a hu-… ah, you get it.)

The best time to check into a hotel is when you need time for yourself.

What I enjoyed doing to help me reset and relax during the short spurts in hotels was throwing up Netflix on the TV, order food delivery to the hotel room, and just chill out for hours. Oh it was heaven.

Why the hostel life leads to the most fun while travelling

I opted to stay in hostels because it’s where most of the travel magic happens. The hostel life brings all sorts of people from all walks of life, from young to old. In SE Asia it’s common to see some locals staying in hostels because their work requires them to be in a different city and many whom speak English quite well. It’s such a neat experience to hear their stories of why they’re there and where they came from. Plenty of times they can offer up hidden gems in the cities and travel advice on how to navigate certain places.

The friendships you’re able to to make is the main benefit of staying at a hostel. Travellers will commonly stay a couple of days or so before their next destination and when it so happens that the stars align (and it does often) you’re likely to meet someone who has just arrived bright-eyed ready to go out on an adventure with you.

Friendships are often cemented this way and it’s the best maker of travel memories and stories to tell. It’s a lot easier to go to places you think are scary but still want to see before you leave the country with another person. Of course eating and drinking with company is a lot more fun too, especially if it’s a cuisine you’re not familiar with. You can make fun new discoveries together!

What to expect living in a hostel

Sharing is a big thing. This means common space, kitchen, utensils, bathrooms, sleep space, etc.
Maybe this is a turn off for you, but I guarantee you it’s not as bad as it sounds. Almost all folks are responsible and clean up after themselves which keeps facilities clean for the next person to use.

What about privacy? I get that sometimes you just need to have some privacy in a public space, maybe to work on that travel blog or decompress from a day full of activities. Most hostels provide beds with coverings that allows you to have your own privacy within the shared room and is equipped with your own personal electrical outlet and reading light. Some modern hostels will even have work spaces or reading nooks to cater to the nomadic/expat crowd.

Bring some fun energy. There are some travellers who are just looking for a cheap place to stay for a while and keep to themselves, and that’s fine. Everyone is on their own travel path. If you bring some energy and genuinely love being there, it helps you make the most out of the temporary stay there. Just like school, there are the talkative crowd and the more reserved crowd that can be found in the hostel.

Tips on avoiding sketchy hostels

  • Read reviews across all booking sites/apps, do not rely on just one.
  • Using booking apps which can provide you refunds, it gives you more leverage. Personally I used Agoda on all my trips.
  • Use Google Maps to view real photos taken by guests, advertised photos are always better than they seem.
  • Pay a little more for great places, they are well worth it. Most of the rock bottom priced places are usually the ones that are very sketchy.
  • If you’re in the area, go ask to view the facilities in person before you book. This is a common thing for travellers to do, so don’t feel shy or scared you may offend the hostel.
  • If available, pick newer hostels that appear to be just built. Those always offer the best quality facilities, but the crowd may not be there yet.

I’ve found myself in sketchy hostels a few times, sometimes because I was desperate to find a place that night, curious to see how bad it could be, or to save a bit of money. Every time I did that, I ended up leaving that same night or in the morning when I’ve found a more suitable place. The vibes you get for booking at a sketchy hostel is…. really sketchy.

One night I found myself sitting in front of a group of people who were chain smoking and one of the guest which appeared to be local was trying to get into bed with a female traveller. She shared that she went on travel to escape the memories of a recent breakup in her home country. All the while her friend was trying fend him off by shredding him down with the truth that he was trying to take advantage of her in a vulnerable position. Absolutely awkward.

Later that night as I retire to my bed, I see the same guy standing by the woman’s room door trying to persuade her to let him have a go at it, but moments later the woman’s friend come crashing through the hallways from her room threatening to call the police on him. The whole place was chaos in the middle of the night.

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