The Traveler’s Dilemma: Hostels Versus Hotels

Originally posted for

When I booked my weekend trip to the Amalfi Coast as a Florence study abroad student, I figured I was making the obvious choice when I chose a hotel instead of a hostel. The idea of a hostel brought forth horrific film images of dingy basements, fake blood, and conniving Europeans. However, upon stepping into a dingy econo-lodge reminiscent motel, equipped with stray hairs and sour milk, it quickly became apparent which was the better choice, especially when checking out the modern, chic, and youth-friendly hostel down the road.

As in all situations, one isn’t always better than the other, however when it comes to backpacking, hostels are bound to be your better bet with a little bit of background research beforehand. So why are these colorful cohabiting pseudo-homes so much cooler and more fun than your run-of-the-mill hotel?


Hotel Verona in Milan, Italy

1. Hostels keep you social. Unless you specially request a private room, normally, hostels bunk you with a bunch of other rowdy travelers like yourself – they usually have between four to sixteen beds per room, although some can range up to 100 beds. For some, this may be a turn-off, but for young backpackers, especially those flying solo, it’s the easiest way to grab a travel buddy and make international friends for the next time you hit the road. What better way to make friends with someone than to brush your teeth next to them?

2. You’ll meet more “travelers” than “tourists” at hostels. When staying at hotels, you’re bound to run into some loud little kids, stuck-up tourists, and confused vacationers. However, at hostels, it’s a sure bet that you’ll be with other adventurous backpackers that you’ll have more in common with and can stay in contact with for years to come. The average age of one staying in a hostel is between 18 and 26, according to Rick Steves, however there is no average age or demographic of one staying in a hotel.

3. Hostels add an interesting new level of surprise to your travels. A hotel pretty much always looks like a hotel, especially if you’ve opted for a chain or you don’t have the dollars to drop on a luxury hotel. However, hostels tend to be more optimized with amenities, activities, and décor related to the city you are actually staying in.


Image of Generator Hostel Dublin, Ireland, Photo Courtesy of

4. Hostels tend to run much cheaper. Because you usually share a room with other travelers and they are geared towards younger travelers, hostels are almost always much more cost-effective than hotels, especially if no loyalty points are involved or you’re only staying for a night or two. The average nightly price of a hostel is only between $20 and $40. If you can part with Egyptian cotton sheets and private bathrooms, then the hostel price is worth it.  

5. Hostels tend to be locally owned and operated. If you’re pissed that your room is sub-par and you complain to the desk staff at the local Holiday Inn, the college dropouts at the front desk probably don’t really care. However, when you’re upset about an issue with your hostel, the person you are complaining to (or praising) at the front desk, most likely owns the whole place and they will personally help you handle your issue and can easily change hostel policies to avoid that issue at a later date.


Image of Goli and Bosi Hostel Split, Croatia, Photo Courtesy of

Krka National Park

It is our final day in Croatia. We pack up our stuff skip the shitty hostel breakfast of stale coffee and cold bread and get on the bus, where we go to Krka National Park, which is about two hours north of Split so it’s on our way back to Italy anyway.

Krka National Park is actually kind of overwhelming. Our bus teeters on the edge of cliffs overlooking a jungle, in which a small wooden path weaves in and out around the various waterfalls that make the place famous. We stop to look at all of them, taking pictures of the little fish darting around the clear green-blue waters, pieces of the jungle trees blowing back and forth.

The biggest and most famous part of Krka National Park are the big waterfalls that are at the summit of the entire park. They are huge, thundering waterfalls that fall in and out of one another in the freezing water that look like someone strung them together like a piece of blue jewelry. After making sad faces, we strip and slowly walk into the freezing water to take cheesy pictures before attempting to swim towards them, a nearly impossible feat with such roaring water coming towards us.

This is not a vacation. This is not the Bahamas, Bermuda, a cruise to Florida. This is a whole new animal.

Yes, This is Pandora.

So even though we all literally want to die because the pub crawl robbed us of whatever energy we had left and those hostel beds are seriously awesome, we get up at a nice ripe time anyhow to go on an island hopping tour of the islands lining Croatia. Not a bad way to start the day. The second we climb onto the little ferry and take some places on the roof to listen to some music and gander at the sea, boat staff are coming up to us and pouring shots. Please God, NO. No shots. Seriously. It’s 8:00 am.

It’s pretty relaxing to cruise down the Dalmatian Coast, which boasts crystal-clear blue waters and nice views of the marina that hugs Split as well as the never-ending line of white marble buildings that look like they were once fit for a king but now host little restaurants that line the sea. We listen to music once our heads stop thumping and after some time of chilling in the boat, we get to our first island, Solta.

Unlike basically every other place I have ever been to, Solta, or really Croatia in general, hasn’t been sabotaged by tourists quite yet. Croatians are excited to see us as they ask us if we are from California (well jeez, I wish) and a couple of the Croatians hang out up to their knees in the ocean with naked babies and pretty dogs that hang around. It’s a pretty empty island, so we mostly just buy some food and floaties for when we go to the beach later.

Back on our boat, the staff serves us lunch, in which I once again get a whole fish. Unfortunately, I think someone nabbed this one out of the nearest fishbowl and it’s really kind of nasty. Whatevs. Throw it into the ocean, that’s where it came from anyway. They give us wine too, and let me tell you I am no wine connoisseur, but this is the nastiest wine I have ever had. I’m a senior in college and I can’t even chug this stuff down.

Then, we climb back to our perch on the top of the boat and blow up our floaties. Mine has little orange fish all over it and was clearly made for a toddler. Awesome. We boat to the next island, Brac, which is a lot bigger than Solta but is still totally devoid of any tourists whatsoever.

After getting off the boat, we start the hike to the Golden Horn, a beach that is famous for looking like a triangle with trees in the center. We wade around in the freezing cold water a little bit, and then I actually pass out on the beach, which is the best slumber of my life. This beach isn’t littered with tourists and isnt cliched like Mexico or other tourist destinations. It’s hidden from the world and seems delicately pressed into the side of the land, surrounded by trees and filled with deep blue water that looks good enough to drink.

That night, we don’t go to one of the surrounding towns of Split like some of the other students do, but we stay in Split to see the Diocletian Palace by nightfall, which is the most complete Roman ruin in the world. The town is literally built around these ruins and it actually looks a lot like a castle. Wonder why no one booked this place for us to stay.

After seeing the Palace and wandering, we do some more exploring of Split and hike up the mountains a little bit to find a nice place to eat. Thank God for me, the dollar kicks the Croatian kuna’s sorry ass, with $100 being equal to about 575 kuna. We eat at a restaurant that I would usually count on my grandparents to take me, and my entire seafood-pasta dish with a house red wine comes to about nine euro. Why did no one tell me to study abroad here?

Is This Pandora?

Okay. So think for a second. What do you know about Croatia?

Yeah, that’s what I figured. Me neither. And this is precisely the reason why I booked a four-day trip there with Bus2Alps, starting out with a how-could-you-say-no 10 hour bus ride. This actually sounds a lot worse than it is. In reality, I find it pretty nice to show up at the train station in my pajamas, squeeze myself into a bus seat, pop some NiteQuil, and wake up to the sun rising in another country. Doesn’t sound too bad now, does it?

A tour guide from Bus2Alps that we have traveled with before, Tiernan, told us that Croatia looks like Pandora. I was a little skeptical, because come on now, what kind of place looks like Pandora? We’re not in damn Australia over here, we’re in Europe. However, once my NiteQuil wore off in the morning and I scrubbed the pillow face lines off of me, I could see pretty clearly that she was right.

Driving into Split, the city we were staying in (and one of the major cities of Croatia) it was neat to see the towering apartment buildings that look more like little pods more than anything else, their soft edges seemingly swaying with the breeze. I’ve been to beaches before, people. I have been to a lot of beaches. But when that beautiful beach is next to a city made of white marble with tan-skinned Amazon people who speak a language that sounds as unfamiliar as German or Norwegian? Uhh yeah. We’re not in the Bahamas.

After we check into our hostel, Goli & Bosi (“Naked and Barefoot” in Croatian), we run upstairs to explore a little bit, a pretty impressive feat considered we just slept on a bus (again). The entire place is highlighter yellow. And I mean EVERYTHING is highlighter yellow. Definitely a nice way to wake up in the morning. All of the room numbers are written on the floor, along with the entire history of the world. Every floor corresponds to a century. Walking into our room, we see that the seven beds have been packed into the walls, looking like little private pods packed into the tiny room.

Soon after, we shuffle out to go to our tour of the Cetina River VIA WHITE WATER RAPIDS. I’m not much of a rafter (I don’t really like dirt… or cold…) but if there’s a place to white water raft, this seems like the place to do it. Plus it’s hot as hell outside. Good deal.

We are all given wetsuits and boots, which seem unnecessary at the time given that it’s literally like 90 degrees outside. After shimmying into them, it’s hard to refrain from taking Power Ranger pictures. Our tour guide, a big hefty Croatian man named Stefan with beautiful blue eyes, tells us in his cool and collected English how to paddle and basically not die. After we prove that we are a worthy team, he invites us to take a jump into the water.

Umm literally the coldest water of my life. Five seconds in and we are begging Stefan to let us back into the raft. This wetsuit has done nothing for me except for maybe make me colder. Stefan shows us how to pull ourselves into the raft, but of course, no one can do it, so he holds out his arms for us to grab onto to pull us in. It is at this point that the Big Crazy Croatian comes out.

ONE, TWO, THREE, OPAAAAAA! he yells as he literally throws us into the boat.

Paddling down the river, it’s clear that these rapids aren’t really as intense as I was hoping, but Stefan steers us well and tells us of his days as a professional rafter (didn’t know this existed) and how his Croatian team went to the world trials. He tells us how he loves to surf and bike, and looking at the guy, that was pretty obvious anyhow.

About halfway down the Cetina River, we stop at some cliffs and Stefan invites us to jump off of them. I hate to say it, but I stayed in that damn boat. Jumping from a cliff into water that’s colder than an ice bath? No thanks, pretty sure I already have hypothermia anyhow.

We boat past a little farm with horses that literally just run wild, with only bells around their neck for their owners to find them. Stefan says that they always come home anyway- who wants to sit out in the rain? It’s nice to see the natural streams and the Croatian countryside and mountains, which look remarkably similar to the Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre.

At the end of our leg of the river, we stop at an old mill alongside the water to have dinner. I ordered the seafood… which is a whole fish. Not a fish filet. A fish. With eyes and bones and a face. I have to cut this off with my eyes closed just so I can eat it, and even still, I am picking out bones the entire time and possibly choking a little bit. None of this seems to matter though when you are literally eating the best meal of your life. People make grossed out faces when my fish is served, but I really don’t care, because it is seriously awesome.

That night, we sign up for a pub crawl throughout Split. At the first pub, there is open bar, in which our bartenders gladly make us strong drinks of cheap vodka and soda, because hell, I am getting my 20 euros worth. My favorite part of this isn’t actually being in the bars (however of course this is great too), but really, it’s wandering Split, a city of marble, with a drink in my hand as we clamor through tiny alleyways and rosebushes.