Why Backpackers Don’t Just Stay In Hostels. (And Why You Shouldn’t Either)!

hostel-room gap year accommodation
Backpackers and hostels will always be inseparable. Hostels are quite simply the quintessential backpacker stereotype, the option that everyone assumes all independent travellers use whilst trying to do their gap year as cheaply as possible. This is true to an extent, but here is the big secret, backpackers have a wide range of accommodation options open to them, and you can stay in some truly amazing places if you take a leaf out of their book. Here is how you can do it.

Hostels are great, they really are, and the vast majority of backpackers on a budget will use them a lot of the time. Many times backpackers will seek out hostels for the culture and the chance to meet new people just as much as they will to keep costs down, but the thing that most people forget is, hostels are not the only option open to them.

The truth is accommodation options truly have exploded in terms of diversity of choice and in quality at all price points in the twenty plus years I have been travelling the world, new types and levels of accommodation have emerged, backpackers are heading to less traditional backpacker destinations where hostels aren’t as plentiful, such as the US, some options have fallen in and out of favour and others have become as much a backpacker staple as the good old hostel, so why not look outside of the traditional recommendations and give yourself a few new experiences on your next trip?

After all, travel really is about experiencing as much as possible, right? So why would you limit yourself to just one accommodation option?

There are a lot of factors that will determine what options are best for you at any given time, your budget, where you are travelling, individual circumstance and so many other things, but if you keep an open mind and don’t just look at the cheapest hostel accommodations, here are the types of places you could be sleeping in on your next backpacking trip.


I know, I’ve just said categorically that there are so many different choices out there, but they also deserve to be on this list for one very good reason. So many people assume that hostels are just dorm rooms full of a dozen or so strangers sleeping together, and whilst dorms are certainly one option (remember that sleeping together is not meant literally and there are unwritten rules you have to follow), hostels have so many other options now. Many have private or semi private rooms, either en suite or with shared bathrooms, that you can choose to stay in. These have the benefit of being not that much more expensive per night (most of the time) than a dorm, and will give you your own private space with all the social benefits of a hostel too. This is a great option for anyone who has just landed and needs a few days to acclimatise while they are dealing with culture shock.

Beach Huts.

Juara Beach Tioman Island Malaysia

Another stereotypical favourite of island hopping backpackers, beach huts are specific to islands or the occasional coastal area, but are a staple of many backpackers accommodation options for a long time. The benefits are obvious, they are cheap, although certainly not as cheap as they used to be, and are simple, basic options where you can wake up and stroll out right onto the beach!

In the past the vast majority of beach huts literally lived up to their names. They were basic buildings plonked onto the beach with a bed in it and a cold shower hooked up just outside. They were perfect for simply getting away from it all and switching off from the world, especially back when smartphones or wifi weren’t a thing! Now of course their popularity may have raised their prices slightly above the average hostel, but competition has meant that the quality has been upgraded considerably with many beach hut more well trodden areas now equivalent to private hotel rooms!

Guest Houses and Homestays.

These are perhaps one of my favourite options as they are often very cheap, not much more than a hostel in fact, with your own private room with decent standards. you get a great, unique private room in a locals home, and you often get a fantastic local experience with some good home cooked meals to boot!

This type of accommodation option often gives you a more unique, personal experience than a hostel or a hotel, and often helps with cultural understanding and immersion too


Not as popular as it once was, Couchsurfing is one of a type of accommodation option in the shared economy. Basically this is where a network of local hosts who offer a sofa or a bedroom for free, in exchange for a social and cultural exchange.  This can be a great way of meeting local people and making new friends. 

Budget Chain Hotels.

Scarlet Hotel Singapore

I can hear the cries of ‘traitor’ through my screen right now, and I get it, but hear me out. I know backpackers and independent travellers have traditionally shied away from any type of chain hotel, preferring to give their money to the local economy and stay in better and cheaper options. There are many circumstances where that would be the absolute best choice and I don’t disagree with that at all, but there are also many times where a budget chain hotel might just be your best option!

With the rise of staycationing during the last few years, many budget chain hotels came into their own as they allowed the average traveller to afford to be able to take a series of long weekends and short breaks in countries that have traditionally been too expensive to travel through extensively like the UK, and have allowed for extended trips on a budget.

You know exactly where you stand with a budget hotel. You know what you are getting for your money and you know roughly how much it will be so can budget accordingly, and when you are looking at travelling through somewhere like the UK or the US for example where hostels aren’t as readily available and the next options are hotels that cost an arm, a leg and a kidney to boot, they can genuinely be an absolute staple of your travels in these countries. The best thing is although there are certain elements of brand uniformity that screams travelling on business, many budget chain hotels also have a unique identity based on their location and can offer something special if you look closely. Speak to the staff, take advantage of their locations, and most of all take advantage of their regular deals and low prices, especially outside of the weekends and holidays.

Boutique Hotels.

Sri Ratih Cottages Bali Bedroom

Boutique hotels are essentially the halfway house between a guest house and a hotel, a small independent place that has all of – if not more – perks and mod cons of a larger hotel, yet still retains the unique style and personal touch of a smaller family run guesthouse. Quite often they have genuinely unique styles as well, and because of the competition – especially in certain parts of the worluch as south America or south east Asia, more often than not they are more luxurious than their more expensive chain hotel counterparts at a fraction of the price.

Independent Hotels.

Lime Tree Hotel Kuching

Many backpackers dismiss hotels as too expensive or as too far out from the whole ‘backpacker experience’, but they are really missing out. Part of being a backpacker is to experience as much as possible – and as much of a range of experiences as possible – during your trip, and a part of that is not limiting yourself to one accommodation option. If you do that, you miss out. Hotels really are great places to stay for backpackers on certain occasions, especially when practicality has to come before anything else such as when you are arriving into a new place late at night and need somewhere to get to and get your bearings, or those times where you feel under the weather and need some creature comforts, or even if you have been on the road for a while and just want to decompress. Hotels can be an amazing option if you look around and get a good deal, and outside of the cities and major tourist hubs often don’t cost that much more than other options, so don’t dismiss them out of hand.

The best thing about independent hotels as well is that quite often they can offer just as unique an experience as a boutique ho


Travelling long term often means that you want to spend a bit longer in one place than the average traveller, and the rise of the digital nomad in particular, where staying still to work in between bouts of travel has meant apartments have become one of the best options for slow travelling backpackers. These places are quite literally a home away from home and give you all the comfort of your own space, your own kitchen and more, and often for a lot less than long term hotel rooms.

Luxury Hotels.

Michael Huxley upgrade to a flashpacker

That’s right, you didn’t hear me wrong, you did just hear me as a self confessed backpacker recommend a little bit of expensive luxury, but hear me out.

Just as with staying in hotels, travelling the world is about experiencing a whole range of options, and part of that is pampering yourself from time to time too. I do it all the time, and have no qualms at all switching between a budget backpacker and a flashpacker. And neither should you. By all means stay in cheap hostels and beach huts most of the time, they are amazing and worth the experience, but after a few months of that you may be feeling the need to just spoil yourself a little, kick back and relax, and that is where these accommodation options come in.

There is another reason though. Provided that you have budgeted well and not overspent, staying for any length of time in cheap accommodation options will give you a build up of accounted for funds that will allow you to splurge a little and enjoy yourself, and since Malaysia is in general a very inexpensive country by Western standards you can really get great value for money here, and a relatively small amount of money will get you a lot of luxury.

To give you an idea of what I mean, I splurged on the presidential suite pictured above for a few nights, three huge rooms, gold plated taps, a private pool and a butler on call for less than half I would pay per night for a basic chain B&B back home in the UK. Yes the rate was more than my usual budget but the experience was worth the splurge, because when else would I be able to experience this level of luxury?

Don’t deny yourself!


Himalaya Road Trip Banjara Camp Glamping

Camping can be a great way to save money when you travel, as long as you have all the kit necessary for a comfortable stay. The downside is that you have to carry your own tent, sleeping bag and other equipment, and to pay to stay on campsites in some parts of the world honestly is not that much cheaper than getting a dorm room for the night. The alternative of course is finding a place that will rent out that equipment for you, again which makes it not that cost effective, or even better, going glamping! Glamping can often be as expensive as a good homestay or cheap hotel depending on where you are, but can be worth it for the unique experience.

Unique Options.

The unique options that have opened up to backpackers in the last couple of decades is absolutely staggering. Imagine staying in a tribal longhouse in the jungles of Borneo, an ecological tree house in Bolivia or an ancient castle in Ireland! All of these experiences can be easily budgeted for even on a backpackers budget!

So again, don’t make the mistake of thinking backpacking means you have to stay in a hostel! The point of all of this is that there are a lot of options out there, don’t just close yourself off and limit yourself to just one!

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

Avoid Backpacker Burnout And Enjoy Your Inner Flashpacker.

Is Airbnb Unethical And Irresponsible?

The Unwritten Rules Of Hostel Etiquette.

Top Tips On Choosing A Good Backpacker Hostel On Your Gap Year.

Michael Huxley is a published author, professional adventurer and founder of the travel website, Bemused Backpacker. He has spent the last twenty years travelling to over 100 countries on almost every continent, slowly building Bemused Backpacker into a successful business after leaving a former career in emergency nursing and travel medicine, and continues to travel the world on numerous adventures every year.

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10 comments on “Why Backpackers Don’t Just Stay In Hostels. (And Why You Shouldn’t Either)!
  1. Matthew Boulton says:

    PREACH!!! I have met so many people on the road who are so snobby about only ever staying in hostels or you are somehow not a real traveller! Well I’m sorry I’m not 18 anymore and I like an en suite. Sue me!🤣

  2. Dinah Calakovic says:

    So this! As a woman I do stay in hostels a lot but if I have just arrived in a new country or I’m just not feeling the vibe somewhere I have no hesitation booking a hotel or a private room somewhere too to have my own space and a bit of extra security. It’s so easy to do.

  3. Kasia Wasielewska says:

    Loved the hostel dos and dont’s! So funny and so right! The shame of having sex in a full dorm though!

  4. luiz says:

    You stayed in a castle? That is so amazing!

  5. Yvonne says:

    I agree, there often isn’t that much of a saving between a dorm and a private room now in some places, the only reason to stay in dorms a lot if the time, unless you really are on an ultra thin budget, is the experience.

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Hi, I'm Michael! I'm a former nurse turned published author and world travelling professional adventurer! I have spent over twenty years travelling over 100 countries and I want to inspire you to do the same! Want to know more about me? Just click here!

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