Should You Book Hostels In Advance – Pros and Cons

Written by: Chris Richardson

Should You Book Hostels in Advance: Pros and Cons

When planning a backpacking trip, one of the decisions you make is what hostels you will stay in at each destination. But should you book your hostels in advance or wait until you arrive at your destination and get a feel for how you travel? This is a common question among travellers, and the answer may depend on many factors.

On the one hand, booking your hostels far in advance gives you peace of mind knowing you’ll avoid the high season rush and won’t get caught out without a place to stay. Not to mention it’s one less stress to worry about while you enjoy your backpacker adventure. You can secure a spot in your preferred popular hostel by booking months in advance and may even get a better rate or deal.

However, with all your accommodation booked early, you lose the flexibility in your travels. You may be forced to leave a city sooner than you might like or not be able to vary your route if you discover a new destination you’d like to see. Booking as you go allows you to change your itinerary and stay in hostels that might be better suited or recommended by other travellers you’ve met.

Advantages of Booking Hostels in Advance

Booking hostels in advance has several advantages that can make your travel experience more enjoyable and stress-free. Some of the main benefits:

  • Peace of mind: One of the most obvious advantages of booking hostels in advance is gaining peace of mind. By booking in advance, you won’t need to worry about what hostel to book for the rest of your trip and can spend as long as you need researching the best options before you leave.
  • Availability: Booking in advance can also ensure you have a place to stay, especially during peak travel seasons or in popular destinations. By booking ahead, you can secure a spot in a hostel that might otherwise be fully booked. I’ve done this to secure a spot in a hostel I wanted to stay in during an event in the city. 
  • Cost savings: Booking in advance can also help you save money. Some hostels offer cheaper rates or discounts for early bookings, and you may be able to find better deals online than you would by booking in person. 
  • Convenience: Booking in advance can also save you time and hassle. You won’t have to spend time searching for a hostel online at booking sites like HostelWorld or worrying about whether there will be availability. Instead, you can focus on enjoying your trip.

Booking hostels in advance can provide security and stability during your travels, allowing you to focus on exploring your destination and having fun. However, it’s important to note that booking in advance may not be the best option for everyone, and there are some potential downsides to consider.

Disadvantages of Booking Hostels in Advance

While booking hostels in advance may seem like a good idea, it does come with some disadvantages that travellers should consider before making a decision.

One of the biggest disadvantages of booking hostels in advance is the loss of flexibility. When you book a hostel in advance, you commit to a specific location and time. This means that if you decide to change your itinerary or extend your stay in a particular place, you may be unable to do so due to future booked hostels. 

Another disadvantage of booking in advance is the potential for unexpected changes or cancellations. Despite your best efforts to plan ahead, unforeseen circumstances such as flight or train delays, natural disasters, or personal emergencies can disrupt travel plans and cause you to miss a scheduled hostel reservation. In such cases, you may have no place to stay or be forced to pay additional fees to secure new accommodations.

Booking hostels in advance can limit a backpacker’s ability to take advantage of last-minute deals or discounts. Hostels may offer discounted rates to travellers who book directly with them or are willing to wait until the last minute to secure a reservation. Travellers may miss out on these opportunities to save money by booking in advance.

Finally, booking in advance can create a sense of rigidity in a traveller’s itinerary. When your trip is all planned out, you may feel pressured to stick to a strict schedule and miss out on spontaneous experiences or opportunities to explore new places. This can detract from the overall travel experience and make it feel less authentic. 

I know from personal experience that as you meet other backpackers in hostels, you’ll get tips on good places to visit or hostels to stay in. On my first backpacking trip around Europe, I changed up the last leg of my trip after getting rave reviews to go and see Italy and stay in a specific hostel. To this day, it’s still one of the best times I had backpacking around. I’d have never experienced it had I planned out and booked out my entire trip.

I also changed my travel days on multiple occasions to travel with others I’d met so we could hang out a bit longer before going our separate ways. 

Factors to Consider When Booking Hostels in Advance

Booking hostels in advance can be a great way to secure your accommodation and get a good deal. However, there are several factors to consider before making a reservation. Especially if you’ve never backpacked or been to the city in question.

1. Location: When booking a hostel, it is important to consider the location. If you visit a popular tourist destination, hostels in the city centre will likely fill up quickly. Therefore, booking a hostel in advance is recommended if you want to stay in a central location or specific hostel.

2. Time of year: The time of year can also affect whether you should book a hostel in advance. If you travel during peak season, booking your hostel in advance is often recommended. This is especially true if you plan to visit popular destinations or attend events or festivals known to be very busy such as Oktoberfest or La Tomatina.

3. Budget: Budget is another important factor when booking hostels in advance. While booking in advance can sometimes lead to better deals, comparing prices and reading reviews before making a reservation is important. Always book directly with the hostel or through a reputable booking website like HostelWorld.

4. Flexibility: Booking a hostel in advance can limit your flexibility during your trip. If you book all your accommodations in advance, you may miss out on spontaneous opportunities or changes in your itinerary. Therefore, it is advised to book only a few nights in advance and leave room for flexibility in your travel plans.

5. Length of stay: Your stay can also affect whether you should book a hostel in advance. If you only stay for a few nights, booking long in advance may not be necessary. If you plan to stay longer, booking directly with the hostel may work out cheaper than booking online. I often book a few nights before my trip and then negotiate to book longer once I arrive. Often getting a slightly better rate when paying onsite.

Still Can’t Decide?

Deciding whether to book a hostel in advance depends on how comfortable a traveller you are, your budget, and your preferred travel style.

For those who prefer a set itinerary and want to secure a specific hostel, booking in advance may be the better option. This is especially true for peak travel seasons or popular destinations where hostels fill up quickly.

On the other hand, travellers who prefer flexibility and spontaneity may book hostels as they go. This allows them to adjust their plans as they travel and take advantage of last-minute deals or change their itinerary if they find a new destination they want to explore.

It’s important to note that booking in advance does not always guarantee the best price. Sometimes, booking last minute or negotiating a deal directly with the hostel may be cheaper.

Ultimately, the decision to book hostels in advance or not should be based on the individual traveller’s preferences and travel style. By considering budget, itinerary, and flexibility, travellers can make an informed decision that best suits their needs.

On my first backpack trip to Europe, I went back and forth on this topic for weeks. Ultimately I decided to book the first couple of cities in advance to give me time to find my feet abroad and then go with the flow after that . I booked hostels a day or two before leaving for my next city. I travelled during the peak summer season and only got caught out with limited hostel options when trying to find a hostel in Helsinki and London. 

For the rest of my trip, I extended my stay if I liked the city and got some amazing tips on hostels to stay in from other backpackers in my dorm room. I’m a big believer in keeping travel flexible. What you might fear before taking off on a big trip will seem silly once you get out there and experience it. This coming from someone who was very shy and not all that outgoing when I backpacked solo around Europe.