Which sets you up for the best travel experience?
As someone who is always on a budget, hotels never factored into my decision of “where to stay?” Instead, I’ve mostly stayed in hostels (the good, the bad, and the ugly) and recently, Airbnb has been the go-to option for traveling. Though I’ve never actually tried couchsurfing, I know some friends who have and I’ve read a bit about it in case I want to try it in the future.
When comparing Airbnb vs. hostels vs. Couchsurfing, there are definitely different benefits and drawbacks that each one brings to the table
In my experience, Airbnb and hostels are tied in this respect. You may find hostels cheaper in some destinations over others or vice versa.
Airbnb has the potential to be less expensive if you are in a larger group and the host has a flat rate for the entire apartment. For example, five of us recently stayed in beautiful apartment in the city center of Belgrade for less than 10 euros per person per night, but if there had been only two of us, it would have been much more expensive. I always try to compare the two options before booking. Sometimes you can find really good deals on hostel booking sites such as the one we had in Ibiza for 18 euro per person per night which actually turned out to be a private apartment.
Or the castle we stayed in in Carcassonne, in southern France for 17 euro per person per night!
If price is your biggest concern, however, Couchsurfing is the winner here, as you don’t have to pay anything to use the service. Instead, the price is more for your time, social interactions and sharing your experiences with the host, if they wish. You aren’t required to spend time with the host, of course, but it can be considered a bit rude if they are hosting you for free and you don’t want to make any conversation with them at all.
On the spectrum, I would put couchsurfing as the lowest level of comfort, as you can many times be sleeping literally on someone’s couch in the middle of their living area. Or you could have your own space; it really depends on luck in this case.
I’ve stayed in some hostels that were absolutely terrible and would have actually rather slept on the park bench outside (cough, cough, in Edinburgh) but on the other hand I’ve stayed in really comfortable hostels, with each bed having their own privacy curtain such as the Lounge Hostel in Skopje, Macedonia.
The clear winner for me in terms of comfort is Airbnb. Having your own private apartment is amazing for any trip and not having to be kept awake by stranger’s snores is a huge perk! Plus, depending on where you’re staying and how much you’re willing to pay you can get a super cool place, such as the one I stayed in in Amsterdam with a rooftop hot tub!
Airbnb is definitely the most private of the options, though sometimes the host is happy to give you some advice and perhaps invite you for a drink with them or something.
If I was to travel alone or with just another friend, maybe a hostel would be the best option so that you could meet fellow travelers and socialize with others. Couchsurfing is also a great option for meeting new people, but you are more limited to the host and perhaps if they want to introduce you to some friends.
Want the cheapest option? Couchsurfing
Want to feel the most comfortable? Airbnb
Want to meet new people? Hostels