Hostels go upscale as budget travelers discover couchsurfing

It used to be that hostels were solely the domain of grungy backpackers looking to save their pennies and not especially concerned if the rat or two might be lurking in the shadows of their rooms.

But, if online hostel service Hostelworld is to be believed, that quaint, cliche image isn’t true anymore. According to the site, hostel bookings by North Americans increased 20 percent in 2008.

Naturally the economy is a factor there — as things get worse here in the states, suddenly sharing space with vermin doesn’t look so bad after all.

But strangely enough, Hostelworld also points to another factor, one that’s just about the antithesis of budget travel — hostels are going upscale.

There are of course still plenty of the notoriously grimy, packed, dorm-bed-style hostels out there, but increasingly hostel owners seem to moving more in the direction of upscale boutique hotels.

Think refined decor, private suites, attached restaurants, bars and of course the social aspect of the hostel — partying with fellow travelers.

But with those amenities comes a slightly higher price tag.

At the same time the couchsurfing phenomena is spreading like wildfire and, if anecdotal evidence counts for anything, most people seem to greatly prefer a local’s couch to a hostel.

The combination of the these two factors makes me wonder if perhaps the hostel’s long reign atop the cheap traveler’s list of preferred lodgings is coming to an end.

Will hostels of the future be simply more social versions of the typical hotel, with perhaps the open kitchen as the only real throwback to the hostel’s golden era? More importantly, does it matter? I for one have never liked hostels, they might be cheaper, but personally I’d rather pay more and get the amenities of the hotel or pay nothing at all and couchsurf with the locals.

But I know many of my fellow budget travelers swear by the hostel, what do you think?

[photo by Mararie, Flickr]

Posted by | Comments (13)  | January 7, 2009
Category: General

13 Responses to “Hostels go upscale as budget travelers discover couchsurfing”

  1. Scott Gilbertson Says:


    That’s an excellent point I hadn’t considered. There is something to be said for safety in numbers. At the same time I’ve had more than a few things nicked out of my bag in hostels, so it works both ways to an extent.

    I think I’m jaded about hostels because my first experience abroad was in southeast asia where private, often very nice hotel rooms can be had for $5 a night. When I got the europe and discovered dorm bunks were in the $30+ range, I couldn’t help feeling a bit ripped off. Plus, the last time I was in a hostel in nicaragua, my wife and I had the feeling of being the creepy old people crashing a teenager’s party. An isolated experience, but still…

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