What comes to mind when you hear the phrase ‘backpacker accommodation’? Do you picture beautiful vistas, terraces, large spacious living areas and comfy beds? Or do you immediately think of hostels and dorm beds? People often ask us when it comes to Airbnbs vs Hostels, who wins?
For us, when we were planning to go long term travelling, we assumed that we would have to stay in dorms. After all, one of the most important factors when travelling long term is minimising cost and there is a common assumption that dorms are always the cheapest option.
We stayed in many hostels during our last trip in 2011/2012 across Australia. This was necessary due to Australia being an expensive country.
We found some excellent hostels such as Flashpackers in Noosa and Wake Up in Sydney. These were both immaculate, modern, included a great breakfast, offered comfortable rooms, and extra touches such as city tours and BBQ nights.
On the other hand, we have experienced some awful dorms. These have been damp, unclean and have tainted our stay. Back in 2012 we didn’t have as much access to Internet, meaning TripAdvisor wasn’t so easily accessible!
So, what’s different this time?
We are older, married, hopefully wiser and are no longer so keen on the dorm lifestyle. Don’t get us wrong, hostels are a great platform for meeting people and socialising, something we love to do, but I’m sure you’ll agree hostels are not for everybody.
But what other option is there if we want our money to last, I hear you ask? Here are our top reasons why AirBnB is a winner for us.
1. Cost – Airbnb vs Hostel Dorms
We are currently in Central America but the same principles should apply anywhere.
A bed in a dorm room here is $10-15 / £7-11 each. Of course, you can find cheaper but this is on the basis you would want something reasonably decent.
Our first Airbnb experience on this trip was in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. We had originally booked a hostel, but after seeing it in person we had to cancel it! Our standards were way too high! It was after struggling to find anything cheap so last minute that first led us to Airbnb.
We found a clean, basic studio apartment in the town-centre, with a fully equipped kitchen, en-suite, TV and double bed for a grand total of $20 / £14 per night. It served as a great base for everything we wanted to do in Playa Del Carmen. Our host, Gustavo, could not do enough to help us out during our stay.
Move on to Belize and for $32 / £23 a night we found a beautiful log cabin on a farm with both lake and mountain views. This was immaculate, beautifully decorated and had plenty of space.
Most recently we have set up in Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. For £18 a night we have a huge, brand new apartment. It is bigger than our old home in Manchester and has a large terrace to sunbathe on looking over the lake.
Not only are these prices comparable, in some cases we have saved money and been able to stay somewhere much nicer.
Dorms are not always cheaper and we have definitely got a lot for our money so far! And even if the AirBnB is a few dollars more expensive, it is more than worth it!
Note : We are travelling as a couple, and so this works for us and would also work for a group of friends. For a solo traveller the dorms are likely to work out cheaper.
2. Privacy – Airbnb vs Hostels
If you have stayed in a dorm before then you know there is no escape. There is always going to be someone getting in late, wanting to use the bathroom during the night, someone getting up early, someone snoring or most awkwardly someone having sex in the bunk above you!
Some dorms we have seen do have a privacy curtain on bunks which is a step in the right direction, but privacy and dorms are not two words that go hand in hand.
Airbnb for the most part offers private rooms or an entire home. We have also seen hostels starting to sneak on to Airbnb offering their dorms but for the purposes of this blog we will keep that aside.
In a private room you have your “privacy” whilst in the bedroom, and in an entire home (which is what we usually choose) you have complete privacy. Walk around in your underwear, or dance around naked if you want – the place is all yours!
Especially as a couple, we need our privacy. We aren’t one for a quickie in a dorm room full of people and long-term celibacy is definitely a no go!
Some people need to be sociable all the time, but we like our privacy which leads us on to…
We love travelling. You see new things, meet new people, try new foods, experience new activities. But frequently moving on, the constant packing and unpacking, long bus journeys; it can be exhausting!
Back home after a hard days work we liked our downtime. And even more so now after a busy day travelling or a full day spent working on our blog, that couple of hours before bed is great. And you can pretty much guarantee your Airbnb is going to have somewhere comfortable to cuddle up with a cup of tea and Netflix (we lasted all of 2 weeks before subscribing again and re-watching Desperate Housewives).
Dorms often have lounge areas but it’s not the same for us. We like the feel of being ‘at home’. This is especially true as our travels will be long term.
Again, as a solo traveller, we completely understand wanting to have the option of socialising and meeting other solo travellers. And there is no better place than your hostels backpacker bar and lounge room.
We have done Uni and know how fast a kitchen can go from sparkling clean to a midden in no time.
When we cook we always clean as we go, but that does not apply to everyone.
Cooking is very important to us for two reasons.
- If we ate out all the time we would end up being The Globeblobber Guys. Eating healthy and keeping in shape is hard when travelling, a good kitchen to cook your own healthy meals helps make this possible.
- Saving money. This is the biggest saving tip we can offer (see more here!). Go to the local supermarket and we can each have three meals a day for a combined total $10. Go cheap eating out and at a push you can probably do $15 each for three meals. Over the course of a week that’s $140 saved or $560 over a month. Note – we still make sure we go and eat out and experience the local food a few times wherever we are!
Not all dorms have a kitchen but those that do don’t always fill us with confidence.
The AirBnBs we have stayed at so far have all had great kitchens which we can keep clean and not have to worry about anything going missing! Some of them have even been really well equipped with coffee machines, blenders and toaster ovens.
Similar to the kitchen, having tons of people constantly using a bathroom means it’s going to be hard to keep it clean 24/7. In the 2 hostels mentioned above the bathrooms have been absolutely fine, but this is not always the case.
Sometimes the bathroom is attached to the dorms and no one wants to hear other people go to the loo. Again, some people’s hygiene is questionable and you have to share door handles and taps with these people!
Where the bathroom is located outside the room and down a corridor it can be a bit of a mission, especially at night, to use it!
And there is always the girl with super long hair that spends 20 minutes in the shower.
At an AirBnB private room you are only going to sharing with maybe two other people and even better with an entire place it’s all yours. No rushing, no queuing, take your time and enjoy a long, hot shower.
Dorms are generally really safe. You just need to be careful and make sure the dorm you book offers lockers as a minimum, and always keep your valuables on you.
However, having to constantly lock everything away and watch your things can be draining. Personally, we never had any issues in the dorms we stayed in, and naively used to just leave our passports out on the bed! We trusted that the people we shared with were in the same mindset when it came to our valuables.
However, after getting robbed on a bus in 2012 we have been on high alert and it would stress us out to have so many people around with access to our belongings. At the end of the day you are sharing with strangers and 99% of them will be fine, it’s just the 1% you need to be wary of.
No doubt the same could be said in an AirBnB, as it’s likely the host will have extra keys. But we would never suggest booking an AirBnB unless you have fully researched the host, read all their reviews and feel completely satisfied with both them and the property. If they are a superhost then that’s even better!
7. Extra Special Local Touches
We have really lucked out on our Airbnb stays so far.
The Airbnb in Belize had a horse on the farm which we were free to ride whenever we wanted. This made Ben extremely happy, as this is his number one hobby! The Airbnb in Lake Atitlan provided a fruit bowl upon arrival, and the owner makes his own yoghurt and brought us some freebies.
There is a lot to be said for getting a more local experience when staying at an Airbnb, this is something we specifically try to achieve when travelling.
Equally, hostels still have some special touches if they are a good hostel. In Lucky Traveller Hostel in Tulum we really appreciated the use of free bikes, a basic gym and Netflix in the room (we had a private room) (Tulum is a must go! Take a look here to learn more!).
However, Airbnb has won us over so far for the horse alone!
8. Being a Gay Couple in a Hostel
In our experience, most if not all of the people we have met through travelling have had no problem with us being a gay couple at all.
However, walk us into a dorm room full of straight guys or couples and, rightly or wrongly, we are not going to feel 100% comfortable cuddling up at the end of the day or being that affectionate.
This is purely just a product of society and even if no one were to bat an eye lid, it’s still hard to shake off the worry in the back of your mind. And when you’re travelling and enjoying yourself, you shouldn’t have to worry about these sorts of things!
In 2016 Airbnb required all hosts and guests to electronically sign an anti-discrimination policy. If a host did not sign this then they would be removed from Airbnb. This gives us more confidence to act naturally as the married couple we are when we stay at an Airbnb.
So there you have it. This is absolutely not an attack on dorms, they can be incredible, super cheap, and are truly the best place to meet other travellers. If you are all about hostels, you should definitely check out this checklist from Laura (a fellow travel blogger), to make sure you choose the right hostel for you!
This is just our take, specifically as a couple travelling long term, as to why Airbnb works for us and could work for you too!
Don’t forget, if you want a good Airbnb experience you have to read the reviews. We are aware that there is an entire spectrum of properties to choose from, but pick a good host with good reviews and you should have a great experience too.
Let us know about your experiences in the comments section below. Which do you choose?