Hostel or AirBnB?

Some people like to meet as many people as possible, welcome adventure into their life, and fully experience the nightlife when they travel.

Others prefer stability, privacy, open-air markets, museums, and cafés.

Neither is superior.

When considering a new country to visit, you’ll probably have a few questions about accomodation:

1) How many days of accommodation should you arrange before departure?

For those who like to free-wheel and see where life takes them, the bare minimum is zero. That’s right, it’s always an option to rock up and ask for vacancies. That being said, I would only recommend this if you pack very lightly. Otherwise, you’ll be seeking lodgings while jetlagged, sleep deprived, and hauling luggage in tow.

On the opposite end, you could book your entire trip in advance. I also don’t suggest doing this. It can be a cost and time saver, but it also leads to a level of rigidity in planning. You’ll feel tethered to one location, turning down opportunities to be spontaneous.

For someone who wants to play it safe while holding the door open for adventure, I’d suggest choosing a place for the first night or two. You’ll get your bearings, have a place to crash after landing, and ease off the stress a bit.

2) Do you want to meet others?

If yes, then I’d suggest hostels over AirBnB. Generally speaking, hostels will allow force you to meet new people. This isn’t always the case. Check out the common areas and layout of the hostel: are the rooms small and common areas large? If so, then this will be a good formula for meeting people.

If you want to meet people while BnBing, stay at places that are not listed as “whole apartment”, and be sure to extend invitations to your fellow guests for whatever you’re planning to do.

If you’d rather be alone, pay a little extra in hostels for private rooms, and check off the “whole apartment” option when looking at listings on Airbnb.

3) How much are you willing to spend?

Here is where the balancing acts between cost and social opportunities come in. Generally speaking, the formula goes like this:

  • More money = more privacy; more central location
  • Less money = less privacy; more remote location

I’m not the best at budgeting for trips. I tend to save up as much as I can, then try to mete it out sparingly. Yes, I’m a chintzy bastard. But sometimes you can’t/shouldn’t spare expenses, such as those once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and a when meeting your baseline for safety.

Bottom line: you’ll pay more for privacy, central spots. My suggestion: err on the side of less privacy and better locations, at least for a few days of your trip. You’ll make friends, and get to experience being immersed in the city’s bustle.

4) How much comfort do you require?

I have two lines of thought on this topic.

On the one hand, you’re paying a lot of money to go somewhere that you’ll likely never go again, and limited time to see it. Why wouldn’t you blow more money on living it up instead of living on the cheap? It’s a vacation!

That impulse makes sense, and some people would never leave their city if they didn’t expect to be pampered elsewhere. That’s cool, but I hope to persuade you otherwise.

As I’ve said, being uncomfortable opens up unexpected outcomes and opportunities. The first time I lived abroad was in Perth, Australia in the cheapest hostel I could find. This wasn’t out of choice so much as necessity from, uh, poverty. If I remember correctly, it was $15 AUD a day. Dirt cheap.

The central areas were places where people would be smoking, cooking, or hanging out. You didn’t want to spend time in your cramped room unless you wanted some alone time or sleep. In this kind of environment, you’ll find yourself in conversations with people from all over the world, and often have invitations floated your way as they head out the door. Just don’t say “no” and you’ll have plenty of unplanned adventures with minimal effort on your part. This is also how I’ve made some of my closer friends over the years.

I also experienced the more luxurious side in Indonesia and Cambodia, both of which had amazing places to stay. Massive rooms, near the ocean, great amenities, and huge beds. I don’t regret that either, but those were definitely recharge vacations and I didn’t meet a single new person.

Recap: Do you want the chance at creating memories and tales of adventure with some discomfort, or would you rather pure comfort?

5) How much time do you want to spend in your starting city?

I’ve written about this in previous posts. Let’s assume you plan to stay in one city or region for the entire trip. It is a pain in the ass to have to move every day, yes. I’ll grant you that.

The benefit, however, is that you get to see a variety of living arrangements in the city. You get a feel for the different neighborhoods, the people, the locales. In addition, if the city is good for travelling on foot, you gain a very different view of the city and its various architectural styles.

Staying in one location is more convenient, not wasting any lunches waiting around for the next BnB to allow you to drop off your luggage, or arranging the key. No need to research the next bed, and it’s easier to budget.

But you’re staying there, for better or worse. If it doesn’t live up to the pictures, then you’re SOL. Putting your eggs in one basket, as they say.

As you can see, it all depends on your reason for traveling. Some are more social, cheaper, and maybe a little off the beaten track, while others will be more private, pricey, and central.

Are you looking for a recharge, or the adventure of a lifetime?

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