Hotel, Hostel, or Vacation Rental: Which Is Best for Your Next Trip?

by Lyle Daly | July 23, 2019

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Not sure where to stay when you travel? This guide has you covered.

Map of Europe on a table with laptop, notebook, camera, passport, and other travel gear

Image source: Getty Images

When you’re traveling, one of the most important decisions you’ll make is where to stay. It’s a delicate balance to find accommodations that are comfortable and also fit your budget. If you end up not liking the place you pick, it could ruin your trip.

There are three popular types of accommodations to choose from: hotels, hostels, and vacation rentals. These all provide their own unique travel experiences, so you’ll need to know how they work to pick the option that fits you best.


For decades, hotels have been the default accommodation option for travelers. They tend to be the most expensive choice, although prices can vary considerably based on the hotel and room you get.

You’ll have a good idea of what your room will be like when you book it, and if there are any issues, the hotel can transfer you to another room. Hotels often have amenities that can either save you money or improve your travels, such as:

  • Free breakfast
  • Maid service
  • On-site dining options and room service
  • A free shuttle to and from the airport

Many hotel brands have loyalty programs that you can join so you’ll earn points every time you stay at one of their properties. You can redeem your points for free nights. After enough stays, you could progress to a higher status in the hotel’s loyalty program, which often entitles you to extra perks. 

Fans of travel credit cards often get most card benefits by staying in hotels. Some of these cards earn points that you can use to book hotel stays, and there are also cards that automatically get you status in the hotel’s loyalty program.

Pick a hotel if you:

  • Want the most luxurious place to stay
  • Prefer the amenities and setup that a hotel offers
  • Travel frequently and plan to be loyal to one hotel brand
  • Are a credit card rewards enthusiast


A typical hostel lets you rent a bed in a shared living space. The setup is somewhat similar to a dormitory, as there will be multiple people sharing bedrooms, bathrooms, and social areas. As you’d expect, this is usually the cheapest accommodation option, so if you want to save money on your travels, a hostel is one way to do so.

Many hostels have private rooms available for a higher price, which can work well if you want to have your own space. However, in that situation, there often isn’t much of a price difference between a hostel and a vacation rental or hotel.

Hostels are very much a "love it or hate it" experience. Some travelers, particularly solo travelers, enjoy hostels because they provide the opportunity to socialize. Others can’t stand the lack of privacy. And, of course, your experience will depend on the behavior of the other guests.

Since hostels attract a younger crowd, they can get noisy at night and they’re not a popular choice for families. That being said, there are both "party hostels" and more laid-back hostels. You’ll need to read the reviews carefully to make sure that a hostel’s atmosphere will be what you want.

Pick a hostel if you:

  • Like to socialize with other travelers
  • Don’t want to spend too much on your accommodations

Vacation rentals

With a vacation rental, you’re booking a home or a portion of a home. Depending on the vacation rental service that you use, you may have the option to book:

  • Entire homes, including houses and apartments
  • A private room in a home
  • A shared space in a home, such as a room with two beds

Vacation rentals are ideal if you prefer the feeling of staying in a home as opposed to the atmosphere in a hotel or hostel. They also work well for families and large groups, because you can rent one home and have enough room for everyone.

Another benefit with this type of accommodation is that it may help you immerse yourself in the local culture more. When you’re living in an actual home, it can make you feel more connected to a neighborhood than you would in a hotel. This is especially true if you go with a room rental, because you’ll have a host who can give you a local’s perspective.

Having stayed at several vacation rentals, I can attest that the quality is hit or miss. There are some fantastic places and hosts out there, but there are also those where you can tell that the host just wanted to make some extra cash and didn’t care much about providing the best guest experience. Fortunately, you can often tell how good a rental is by the reviews, the photos, and how much effort was put into the listing.

Pick a vacation rental if you:

  • Want to stay in a home
  • Are looking for both privacy and affordability
  • Need accommodations for a large group

Finding accommodations you’ll love

Now that you know how all the most common accommodation options work, it’s a matter of choosing the one that best fits your personality and budget. Since all three are very different, you probably already have an idea of whether you’re a hotel, hostel, or vacation rental type of person.

Once you’ve picked which of the three is most appealing to you, you can start reading reviews and comparing what’s available.

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