The reason many backpackers choose to stay in hostels over hotels is often not just because of budget. The difference in price is of course a huge factor, but I believe people who stay in hotels and people who stay in hostels are actually looking for something different from their travels. There are distinct difference between the two types of customer (I realise I am generalising here, and not all backpackers are the same, but there are some distinct similarities between us all that are different to those of someone who predominantly stays in a hotel). So what are they?
In most cases, people who stay in a hostel are looking to make the pennies stretch. They want to travel for longer period of time, often as long their money will take them, and this involves staying somewhere that is a lot cheaper than a hotel. The less money you spend on things like accommodation for instance, the more you have to spend on going out, experiencing a country, and seeing all the sights. Of course, if you have a huge budget then you can stay in a hotel and still do this, but for most backpackers there is a different mentality. Most budget backpackers I know, if given extra money to add to the travel fund, would simply make their travels last longer, rather than using that money to simply upgrade their accommodation, or how much luxury they travel in. They may book a hotel now and again, as everybody gets a bit fed up of hostels if they’ve been staying in them for months, but for the most part they would still travel in a budget backpacking style that is much slower, and elongates the amount of time spent travelling. I’m not saying this is any better or worse than someone who stays in a hotel and travels in luxury (although I personally prefer the backpacker way), but there is a distinct different in the way a backpacker spends money to get the most out of their travels, than how someone on a holiday would who is probably going to stay in a hotel the entire time.
Do it yourself
When you stay in a hostel, the type of service you get is very different. You are expected to do a lot of things yourself that say a hotel may do for you. The main one being that it is self catering. You are also expected to make your own bed in hostels when you arrive, hand back your linen once you’re done, do your own laundry, and clean up after yourself a lot more than you would at a hotel. It would be lovely sometimes to get room service on those days when you don’t feel so great, and hostels are just not able to compete with hotels as far as luxury is concerned, but I kind of like the DIY approach. It leaves you with ultimate flexibility to do what you want when you want. If I don’t want to come back at a certain time for my dinner I don’t have to, and if I want to have drinks in the kitchen or wherever it’s not a problem. In a hotel I’ve always felt a little restricted if staying more than a couple days, but then that may just be me. Either way, there is a distinct difference between a hostel and a hotel customer when it comes to what type of services they expect to have, and a hostel customer expects to have the facilities available to do it themselves.
Other than budget, the one overriding factor which makes many backpackers choose hostels over hotels is the fact that they are such an easy place to meet other people. A good hostel is one that knows how to get its customers mixing and engaging with one another. Particularly where solo travellers are concerned this is very important, but travel just wouldn’t be the same without the people you meet along the way. People who stay in hostels are looking for that. They want to meet other like minded people, and place an importance over that than any type of luxury or even privacy!
Anybody who is out there travelling and expanding there horizons is doing something good in my book. Even if it’s just a quick 2 week break, or a year long RTW trip, getting out and experiencing the world, whatever your preferred style of travel is a good thing, or at least a good start. For me personally, I will always choose the backpacker way of travel. There are distinct differences between a traveller who stays in a hostel, and one who stays in a hotel. That’s not to say either are any better than the other, but it’s important to know the differences between the two so you can decide if either suit you, but also for hostel and hotels to understand their own customers better.