When most people see the term ‘backpacker’ they often imagine a bohemian style person, maybe with dreadlocks, donning some psychedelic tie dye outfit, trekking off to see the world. But in truth, backpacking and independent travelling has come a long way since the days of weed smoking hippies wandering off to exotic locales to ‘find themselves’.
Backpacking accommodation today is often very modern and people are often surprised to learn that backpacking hotels are a far cry from the homeless-shelter-style-hostel that is lurking in their mind. So, when you are looking for backpacker friendly accommodation, what should you look out for?
First of all, give careful thought to the type of hotel/hostel you want. Party hostels for example, may not be the best option if you are looking for a quiet place to get an early night, in preparation for a 4am pick-up to trek to Machu Picchu.
Research in advance or ask when you are there about getting a locker. Most backpacker accommodation will have some sort of secure storage, so if it’s not something that is available, avoid that hostel.
Booking Ahead: The Pros
Now of course this might not always be possible, but where you are able to plan ahead, booking in advance can save you time and money. Sites such as hostelworld are great options for finding somewhere charming at short notice and can often be much cheaper than rocking up on the day needing a bed, as many independent hostels will charge inflated rates, taking advantage of you being in need.
Sometimes, hotels have fantastic deals available during the week. Hotels tend to be quieter and many are looking for people to fill their empty rooms midweek, so definitely worth keeping your eyes peeled.
Booking ahead can provide you with that peace of mind in that you know where you will be sleeping at the end of a long day exploring a new city or experiencing a new culture. It also gives you a chance to do some research in advance of your stay so you know what to expect with your accommodation, and gives you a sense of familiarity of the area and what may be nearby.
Booking Ahead: The Cons
Weighing up the pros and cons of any aspect of travelling is important, and booking ahead also has its disadvantages. The main one is that it can be a bit of a drag doing research on where you might want to stay. If you are moving to a new place every day you might find yourself spending a lot of time online looking at different rooms, all of which will inevitably start to look similar after a few hours.
In poorer countries, many of the cheaper accomodations do not have an online booking facility so relying purely on that could mean that you may miss out on a proper local treat.
Booking ahead can also put limitations on your ability to just go with the flow when you are on the road. For example, if you want to spend longer with a group of people you have just met but need to leave to check into a pre-booked hotel across the other side of town, it can leave you feeling a bit downtrodden which doesn’t make for great travel memories.
Hotels vs Hostels: Pros & Cons For Backpackers
So when you are planning a trip, how do you know whether a hotel or a hostel would be right for you? Let’s take a look at some advantages and disadvantages of each.
- Guaranteed private room
- Often restaurants and bars are part of the hotel and easily accessible to guests
- Many hotels often have an abundance of amenities such as swimming pools, spas and gyms
- Hotels are often geared towards relaxation, with rooms being cleaned on a daily basis, fresh linens provided daily and complimentary toiletries
- Can be expensive (although not necessarily!)
- Sometimes inflexible if you need to amend your stay
- Some hotels, especially the larger chains, can be pretty characterless, meaning you can stay in one hotel in Mexico and it would be the same if you were staying at the same chain in Indonesia or Morocco
- Lack of cooking facilities can force you to eat out which can sometimes be costly
- Undeniably the cheapest option when it comes to travelling on a budget
- You get to meet like minded people in communal areas
- Hostels focus on travellers and strive to make you feel at home, even when you are thousands of miles from home
- You can sometimes negotiate a good price for your stay
- Some hostels do not take card payments and there can be additional fees and service charges
- They can be noisy as there are often many people in one room
- Fewer amenities compared to some hotels
- Mess in the communal areas, namely the kitchen, can be a sticking point for some travellers who like things to be done or cleaned to a certain standard
What To Take Backpacking
Hotel or hostel, when you are travelling you might be surprised at what you don’t need to take with you and what can easily be picked up on the road. Things to leave behind include; cups, pillows, excess clothing/ shoes, extensive first aid kits and large camera lenses.
However, travel size versions of these things can be useful so you might want to find space in your backpack for; a water bottle, a fold-up waterproof jacket (and cover for your backpack for when you are caught in yet another downpour), earplugs (for that person in your dorm room if you end up sharing), some small plasters, paracetamol capsules and antibacterial wipes.
At the end of the day, wherever you plan to travel, remember to take your guidebook as they are filled with useful information and maps. Hostel or hotel, shared dorm or private room, if you get stuck in the deepest part of the jungle you probably won’t have a signal to Google your way home!