The #1 question I’m asked about my jet-setter lifestyle is always, “How do you afford to travel?” I definitely understand the curiosity, and know that the ability to travel is a huge privilege. Travel is undeniably expensive, particularly when you’re trying to cover long-term stays. But after lots of research and budgeting, I found that accommodation was easily one of the biggest potential areas for savings. For me, staying in hotels or luxury accommodation isn’t of utmost importance, particularly as I’m often traveling solo. My travel generally involves getting out each day and exploring as much as possible, only to return back to my accommodation for a quick shower and sleep. If your priority is experiencing your surroundings over lounging on a resort property, then a hostel might surprise you as an excellent, budget-friendly option.
Affordability, at a cost
Let me begin by dispelling everyone’s biggest fear — no, hostels are nothing like the 2005 horror film! That is, unless you consider communal showers to fall into that category. With the option to stay for as little as $20 per night (sometimes even less!), you’ll certainly have to adjust your expectations accordingly. Most hostels provide dorm-style housing, which often means bunk beds, shared showers, and a varying number of roommates. I’ve stayed in rooms with as many as 14 people, but have also found hostels that offered private rooms with private baths for a slightly higher rate.
You’ll most often be provided with sheets at check-in (yes, to make your own bed!), and some hostels may provide free towels, while others rent them for a small fee (usually about $2). Additional conveniences like hair dryers aren’t always available, so be sure to check beforehand if they might be a deal-breaker for you. Most shared rooms have lockers for each bed, so have your own lock on hand to secure your bags while you’re out for the day. As far as cleanliness is concerned, most hostels I’ve stayed in have made this a major priority, with staff cleaning the rooms and bathrooms during multiple shifts throughout the day.
It’s important to note that with the increasing popularity of hostels, many “upscale hostel” chains are emerging as well. These luxury versions include amenities such as rooftop pools, elegant lounge spaces, on-site bars/clubs, renovated rooms and bathrooms, and maximized privacy even for their shared spaces (i.e. bed curtains, individual charging stations, reading lights, etc.) These are a great option if you’re reluctant to forgo all amenities, but still hope to travel on a reasonable budget.
Organized events and community
For me, the greatest appeals of staying in a hostel are the community and opportunities for socializing! Many hostels will run events each day — whether that be organized walking tours, day trips, or pub crawls — which are incredibly helpful to take the burden off planning. Not only are these events either affordable or free, but they provide a great chance to make new friends!
I’m often hesitant to sign up for third-party tours, as they’re commonly marketed toward an older age bracket or tourist families, which isn’t the best fit for me. Hostel activities are ideal for uniting with other young travelers, and socializing with people from different countries and backgrounds that you’d otherwise likely never meet. Particularly if you’re traveling solo, it’s always relieving to have new buddies to join for dinner, or just continue hanging out with for the next few days. And from a travel networking perspective, I’ve made many friends in hostels who I’ve kept in contact with and gone on to visit months, or even years, later.
Save money on food
Aside from accommodation, the other unavoidable travel cost is surely food. Yes, eating out three times a day might be incredibly tempting when you’re in the middle of Italy and surrounded by incredible restaurants on every street corner, I KNOW — but it’s certainly not cost-effective. Fortunately, most hostels offer free breakfast each morning, which I find to be a major life-saver. These breakfasts are simple, providing coffee, tea, cereals, fruits and perhaps some pastries or hard boiled eggs. But if you’re just looking for an affordable, convenient way to get your day started, this is a huge bonus.
Additionally, some hostels have open kitchens, allowing you to store groceries and cook for yourself. Others provide cheap dinners, and some hostel chains, like Hostel One, actually provide free dinner daily, with hostel staff cooking up yummy meals at a scheduled time each evening! With all of these options, in addition to the discount coupons many hostels offer to partnering pubs and restaurants, your savings on food can be pretty profound!
Do you want to party, or chill?
When booking your stay in a hostel, it’s important to not only assess it for cleanliness, amenities, and location, but also keep the atmosphere in mind. There’s a wide range of hostels, from the incredibly laid-back, to the high-intensity, party-all-night vibe. Many hostels do have age restrictions (often starting at 18 and capping off around 35 to 40), so you won’t need to worry about ripping Jägerbomb shots next to some elementary school kids on their family vacation. At the same time, don’t expect much sleep in a 12-person dorm situated right above a hostel club blasting bangers until 5am!
Always check reviews online to find the right vibe before booking your stay. Hostelworld.com is a great resource, with guests reviewing all aspects of the hostel, and usually indicating if a hostel is a good place to socialize, keep to yourself, or show up with your crew of 10 and rage all night. To each their own!
Afford staying in incredibly expensive destinations
How would you feel if I told you that I stayed in Positano, Italy for $35 a night? Interlaken, Switzerland for $40? Many of the world’s most gorgeous locations are also the priciest, but hostels get you access to these incredible destinations for a fraction of the standard hotel price. Particularly in remote spots, it can even be tricky to find affordable — let alone available — Airbnbs. Hostels provide the convenience of being located right on site. Who cares if you’re sleeping in a bunk bed when you’re a 10-minute walk to the Swiss Alps and haven’t even broken $100?
Hostels may not provide plush beds and room service, but they’ve allowed me to explore parts of the globe I otherwise would’ve only dreamed of seeing. For that, I’ll deal with the top bunk.