Budget Travel: Airbnb vs Hostel
Whether traveling domestic or international, there are many things to consider when it comes to lodging. Even during backpacking trips, it is likely you are not camping every night. You may require time to get organized before a hike, regroup after hitting the trails, check in with family over Skype, or simply sleep in a real bed.
Airbnb and hostels offer similar, and very different, amenities that may affect the overall cost and experience. No matter what your travel plans are, here are several items to consider when evaluating your lodging plans:
Washer + Dryer
Backpacking requires packing light and constantly reusing/repeating your clothes. The most frequently changed items on the trails are underwear and socks, but the rest of the ensemble is reused daily, so it is important to wash your clothes as often as possible.
While most hostels provide a washer and dryer,* they often require pay-per-use. On rare occasion, Airbnb hosts will also require a small fee, but most often the washer/dryer will be free to use. When searching on Airbnb, be sure to "check" washer under the amenities and read the description thoroughly to see how individual hosts handle using these amenities. Ensure where you lodge (Airbnb or Hostel) also includes a dryer - many places still hang-dry their clothes, and if in a time crunch, this may put you in a bind.
Most hostels these days will provide WiFi, so you can touch base with your loved ones. While some guarantee fast WiFi, you are also competing for high speeds with many other people, which may slow down your web speed significantly. If you are blogging or uploading photos/videos for a travel blog or work, this may be a hinderance for you.
It may come as a surprise, but not all Airbnb's or private residences have WiFi. They may not want to pay for this extra amenity, or they may be providing a retreat space that encourages being offline. If staying in an Airbnb far from town, speeds may also be slow. Be sure to "check" the WiFi box under amenities if this is important for your travel.
Community + Privacy
Whether you have an entire Airbnb to yourself or a private room, owners are really respectful of your space. They may (or may not) introduce themselves when you arrive, and are as involved as you would like them to be. When backpacking, we tend to only be at the Airbnb at night when we are ready to wash up and lay our heads down. We can almost guarantee a quiet, restful night's sleep at a private residence.
Hostels definitely have their pros and cons when it comes to community and privacy. On the upside, you may meet some really interesting folks from all over the world. You will swap stories, share space, and may end up going out for beers or even traveling some together. Some hostels also include breakfast or dinner, which is another opportunity to save money and join in conversation with your bunk mates.
That being said, hostels have a fine mixture of budget travelers and backpackers. Many budget travelers include college students wanting to save money on lodging, so they can spend more of their money on other activities. Their sleep schedules are way different, and they may not be as mindful of the shared space.
Because backpackers have an unusual schedule from the norm, our bodies are utterly exhausted from tramping. Our personal travels have had us in bed as early as 6/7pm and up between 5/7am. When sharing space with college students that are up late and partying into the wee hours, this does not really mesh well. During our last hostel experience, we were getting ready for bed at the same time our bunk mates were getting ready to go out - around 9pm. They were not respectful of the overhead lights, were talking on speakerphone, and using the hairdryer in the same room.
Needless to say, the "shared space" experience is hit or miss. Some hostels will allow you the option to get a private room, but at that cost you could get a private room or entire guesthouse to yourself through Airbnb.
Accessibility + Location
Location, location, location. Here are a few things to consider regardless if you are staying at an Airbnb or hostel:
Do you have an early morning bus ticket, excursion, flight, etc? How far is your lodging from where you need to be?
If you did not rent a car, are you close to public transportation?
Are you staying in an urban area? Have you researched if it is a safe part of town?
Are you sleeping around noisy bars or venues that will be open until the early hours?
Do you want to wake up to a view?
All in all, it is important to do extensive research on your lodging options so that you are getting the most bang for your buck.