Hotel Erboy, Istanbul

Can Budget Travelers Afford To Stay In Hotels?

Derek Estonia, Latvia, Travel Costs 27 Comments

Hotel Erboy, Istanbul
For the most part, the type of accommodation I mention on this site is usually hostels, which would make sense considering that over the years, this is exactly the kind of budget accommodation that I have preferred.

However, that does not mean that it is the only type of accommodation I use and these days, I actually find myself using hostels less and less. Don’t get me wrong though. I think hostels are an absolutely ideal option and without them, a significant portion of the travelers out there in the world simply would not have been able to afford their lengthy adventures, myself included.

It’s hard to beat the cheap bed in a social setting that such hostels can offer.

With that said, at some point during your travels there will undoubtedly be a moment, or several moments, when you really wish you were staying somewhere else, maybe at a hotel. You start to crave a large room just for you (or just for you and your friend/travel companion). You want a private bathroom. You want to step away from all of the interacting with other travelers for a while.

And a hotel accomplishes all of this, except for the fact that they are typically more expensive than a hostel, which is not an insignificant factor when you’re traveling on a budget. So, unwilling to spend so much money, our dreams of a hotel room all to ourselves often remain just that, dreams.

You Can Afford a Hotel Room

When I first started traveling, I remember meeting experienced travelers who would always tell me that it’s a good idea to splurge on a nice hotel room every now and then in order to maintain my sanity. However, I never did that, instead choosing to stay in hostels everywhere I went for years on end. I just didn’t want to spend money that I didn’t need to spend and always preferred to keep that extra cash and use it for something more important to me.

It was not until about five years ago when I realized that staying at a good hotel did not actually require me to splurge at all and that, many times, it would cost just a few more dollars than I was spending for a dorm room at a hostel. And while this is not the case all over the world, it is true for many countries, even some surprising ones.

On my current trip around the Baltic region of Europe, for example, I have so far visited two countries, Latvia and Estonia, and in each, I ended up staying at a hotel.

Hanza Hotel, Riga, Latvia

Room at Hanza Hotel, Riga, Latvia

Now these were not the fanciest of hotels by any means, but they were not run-down, bug-infested establishments either. In each case I had a nice spacious room, my own bathroom, a large buffet breakfast included, views of the city from my windows and a mattress that made it remarkably easy to sleep well at night.

And I received all of this for what I would consider very reasonable and non-bank breaking prices. In Riga, Latvia, I stayed at the wonderful 3-star Hanza Hotel for 40 Euros per night and in Tallinn, Estonia, at the convenient City Hotel Portus which offers rooms for 29 Euros per night.

The other thing to consider is that, while I was traveling alone in these two countries, if you’re traveling with someone else and you split that cost, it really is just a fraction more expensive than a hostel. In Riga, the average price for a dorm bed in the five most highly rated hostels on Hostelbookers.com is 14 Euros per person per night. That’s 28 Euros for two people, a mere 12 Euros cheaper than a well-appointed, proper hotel room.

City Hotel Portus, Tallinn, Estonia

Room at City Hotel Portus, Tallinn, Estonia

So, because hotels are much more affordable than I once thought, do I now stay in hotels all the time? Not at all, and in fact, I’m quite looking forward to the hostels I’m about to stay at during my visit to Finland. (I’m actually writing this post from the M/S Star, the Silja Lines ferry that is taking me from Tallinn, Estonia to Helsinki, Finland this morning.)

I do still prefer the hostel atmosphere much of the time and if I don’t feel the need for my own hotel room, I figure that I might as well save a few dollars each night.

The only difference is that now that I’ve traveled for quite some time, I do agree with all of those experienced travelers I met during my younger years. An occasional splurge is indeed important for a traveler’s sanity. It does help reduce the risk of getting burnt out by the constant moving around from hostel dorm room to hostel dorm room when you sometimes just need a break and want your own space.

And when a splurge doesn’t actually require you to empty your bank account and proves to be just a little more expensive than you’re used to spending for accommodation each night, there’s no reason at all to avoid the occasional therapeutic stay at a nice hotel.

I certainly wish I had realized this myself when I first started traveling.


Do you “splurge” every now and then? Have you considered staying at hotels on your travels?

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Comments 27

  1. Elisabeth Sowerbutts

    As a couple I was bermused at the prices for hostels in western Europe. It was much cheaper (admittedly in December) to stay in small hotels than getting a private room in a hostel (we don’t do dorms anymore). I came the conclusion that some people will pay more just to be able to hang with travelers. Instead we were often the only English speakers at hotels in Berlin and Paris and paying around 40E a night – best deals ever. You do need to book online often to get the cheapest rate though.

    In Asia it’s guest houses or hostels all the way – and for a lot less than 40E too!

  2. Pingback: Can Budget Travelers Afford To Stay In Hotels? – Wandering Earl | All Inclusive Resort Reviews

  3. Ava Apollo

    Wow, hostels for YEARS? I could do it for a few months but at some point, I need my solitude. It does pain me to cough up the dough, though. I always like to spend the least on accommodations because I reason I’ll barely be there.

  4. Michael

    I was travelling recently through Scotland with my girlfriend and we were mainly staying at hostels which were fine. But then we started to realise that the dorms in Scotland for 2 people were basically the same price as both of us staying in nice little b&b’s, and these came with private bathrooms and breakfast. Hostels can still be a super fun way to travel but with a partner I figured why not just stay in our own room (we also found many hostels had double rooms with shared bathrooms etc)

  5. Mark Wiens

    I used to think the exact same thing – sure I could stay in a hotel on rare occasion to keep sane, but I just didn’t feel I needed to, as I could use that money on things like food.

    But then about a year ago, I too discovered that spending a little extra on a private hotel room for a night or two is an excellent way to recuperate, and just like you mentioned, in many places it’s not that much more.

  6. RunAwayHippie

    Nice post Earl. i am probably more like you when you were younger, when i go backpacking i plan to only stay in hostels. but i can see the point of staying in hotels every once in a while if you’ve been at it for as long as you have!

  7. Andy

    Did this in Latin America a few times where the hotels ended up costing the same as a hostel (as low as $7 in some cases for a nice, clean room). Sometimes hostels are really overpriced and overrated. And a good night’s sleep is invaluable.

    Staying in a murky local hotel where no gringos go can be an experience of its own. Just make sure it’s not a place where the local riff-raff hangs out, i.e. stay away from questionable neighbourhoods.

  8. Someday I'll Be There - Mina

    I sometimes need that private space, but not for too long. It gets boring quite quickly! 😀

    And it didn’t really take me years to realize that 😀 I guess I was just too overwhelmed after just 4 days of traveling in Bangkok, I had to stay in a private room for 2 nights when I got to Chiang Mai 😀 But no longer than two nights, and then it was time to find people again, and that was another 10 days in a hostel (instead of the planned 3 days)…and that is why I love hostels 😀 they just mess up your whole plans according to the people you meet there 😀

  9. James

    Travelling as a family means hostels are generally impractical. Budget hotels or Airbnb and its competitors is the way to go. Apartments require more organisation but I think for larger groups or families are the best way to go.

  10. Julia

    Definitely true that it is nice to book a hotel every once in a while, simply if it’s just to have your own bathroom rather than a shared one in a hostel! Also nice to have the bed made every day, too, which you don’t usually get in hostels. Some out-of-season discounts on great hotels can usually be found in Asia if you look hard – that’s how I ended up in an infinity pool drinking happy hour cocktails on a backpacker budget!!

  11. jake

    i am with earl’s original thought. i see no need to spend unneccessary extra money. since i have predominantly been traveling alone lately.. usually just stay in cheap dorm rooms. although for sure splitting cost with another certainly makes hotels better value than dorm room. on my recent trip to vietnam discovered that hostels are almost non-existent outside of hanoi or ho chi minh. hotels were just as cheap as hostel. although for sure you sacrifice hostel atmosphere when opting to stay in hotel. of course when you travel alone it is nice to meet other travelers in hostel setting. you can always pick up extra privacy by staying in single room.

  12. kami

    I always tried to stay in the hostels, mostly in dorms but with time I’ve notticed I go for smaller dorm rooms so chances I’ll get some decent sleep would be higher. Now I’m about to leave for the first trips (to the Balkans and slowly after that to China) where I’m gonna stay in the hostels but in the private rooms so I can have the best from the two worlds – the atmosphere of hostel and fellow travelers but also some privacy. I think the change of attitude comes with the age and experience in travelling, you slowly start valuing other things more

    1. Earl

      Hey Kami – That’s a good way to look at it. Also, in most of the Balkans, you can often find hostels that have dorm rooms for only 3 or 4 people, which is not so bad at all either. And yes, things do change as we age and privacy and comfort do become a little more important 🙂

  13. Nico

    Indeedy, Earl. Staying in hotels just makes more sense in certain places. I think the prime example is Vegas. I was recently traveling around the US West Coast (LA, San Francisco) and from all the three places, Vegas accommodation was the cheapest AND the most comfortable, as I was able to spend in a private room with my sister for less than what I had to spent in hostel dorms in the other two cities.

    You definitely don’t get the hostel vibe in hotels, but it doesn’t hurt to check out accommodation options before arriving in town – hostels are overpriced in USA!

    1. Earl

      Hey Nico – I don’t know as I’ve never stayed in a hostel in the US but I’ll take your word for it. Although, I’m in Finland right now where dorm rooms can cost as much as 30 Euros per night!

  14. Tracey - Life Changing Year

    I have a question about hostels. If you’ve been staying in dorm rooms for all these years how exactly are you still sane? We’ve been travelling for 7 months and have had to force ourselves to stay no longer than 2 nights in a shared dorm as we just can’t get any sleep! We generally sleep anywhere – bus, train, car!! But a shared dorm with people in and out all night, rustling their stuff, unzipping their bags 300 times….it’s killing us!!! What are we doing wrong Earl? Please tell me the secret!!!

    1. Earl

      Hey Tracey – Well, I also worked on board cruise ships for 4 years or so and I had my own cabin, which was quite nice. And I’ve been using hotels/guesthouses more and more over the past 4-5 years, so it was really only a few years of constant dorm rooms. And I didn’t mind it back then because my main goal was to do whatever it took to travel for as long as I wanted!

  15. Christine Hayes

    I have always stayed in budget hotels and B&Bs, granted at one point I was on paid vacation and traveling in SE Asia, which is cheap, cheap, cheap! I generally like to have a place booked for my first night and am then flexible with finding places for the rest of the trip. With so many web sites with discount prices, and the fact that many hotels will give a very good rate to fill empty rooms last minute, it is always worth a try. Even in NYC, one of the most expensive cities in the world, my friend and I managed to get a room that would normally cost over 350.00 per night in a boutique hotel IN Times Square for just 109.00 for the night (in May 2010). Split between us, it was very cheap and the bed was VERY comfortable, the decor was lovely and it was very clean and convenient. Thanks for sharing this advice Wandering Earl! It i nice for travelers to know there is an option to either use hotels, or at least use them at times to get a break from the hostel environment (no pun intended). 😉

  16. Dani

    Totally agree! I love the atmosphere in hostels and love staying there, but sometimes it’s nice to splurge on a bit more expensive room and have fluffy towels, comfy pillows and some peace and quiet 🙂 And you are right about the marginal price difference- we usually stay in a double room at hostels, and we’ve found that in many places we can get a room in a guesthouse or hotel for the same price.

    1. Earl

      Hey Dani – Peace and quiet is indeed quite nice every now and then! How you both are doing well as always and I think it’s time for an email update 🙂

  17. Carlo Cretaro

    As it’s my girlfriend and I travelling 99% of the time, we always look either for private rooms in hostel(if available) or then as cheap a hotel room as we can find(safe and clean). Are most travelling couples in the same boat regarding not using shared dorm beds in hostels?

    1. Earl

      Hey Carlo – I think so but I have met a few couples that do use hostel dorm rooms. But maybe this is in countries where beds can cost as little as 5 Euros so it really is much cheaper than a decent hotel in the end.

  18. John Bardos - JetSetCitizen

    As a couple, it has always made more sense for my wife and I to stay in hotels. The costs are often comparable or cheaper than two in a hostel. Then we are not using shared bathrooms and don’t have to worry about noisy roommates or locking up our stuff etc.

    Another budget saving tip that many travellers don’t realize is that going on a tour package for the first week of visiting a new country, is quite often only marginally more expensive than booking airfare alone. You can stay in a nice hotel for a week, have meals included and get an airport pick up, all for only an extra one or two hundred dollars. Sometimes it’s nice, to stay in an all inclusive 4 star hotel for less than the cost of a hostel.

    Instead of going back to the original country with the tour, just stay behind and continue your travels any way you like. Some tours even allow you to change your return date, so you can go back to the original country at a later date.

    1. Earl

      Hey John – Thanks for sharing your tips…as always they are very useful! I’ve never thought of doing that – booking a tour for the first week to take advantage of a nice hotel – but it makes perfect sense. I think most people just associated the word ‘tour’ with something quite negative and expensive, even if that’s not the case, so they don’t normally even look at such an option.

      1. Globetrotter

        I agree with John that booking an all-inclusive package tour is just a hundred or two more than the cost of mere air tickets. But personally I am not too fond of following a set schedule with a group of tourists.

  19. Katy

    I try and book a cheap hotel room after each long journey – eg. Night on a train = next night in hotel. Then at least I’m well rested to head to a hostel for the rest of my stay. Expedia normally has some great deals that with 2 people aren’t more than 2 hostel beds.

    I’m also impressed with airbnb – you can (and I have in San francisco) rent a whole apartment for £55 a night, which when you factor in not eating out every meal, really doesn’t work out too bad. Thought it was perfect as I personally couldn’t face staying in a hostel for 3 weeks straight!

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