How to Choose the Best Backpacker Accommodation

Finding budget accommodation for any kind of trip, from a weekend away to a year-long backpacking trip, is an essential part of travel for almost everyone, especially backpackers.  I have been a backpacker and digital nomad for seven years and have stayed in a wide variety of places, so in this article I’m sharing all my tips for finding the best backpacker accommodation around the world, including how to find the best hostels, budget hotels, and other ways of finding a place to sleep without spending much money.  You’ll also find reviews of my favourite backpacker hostels and budget accommodation, so you know what to expect when you stay there.

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Different Types of Accommodation for Backpackers

The places that backpackers stay vary greatly depending on the location and the budget of the backpacker.

Backpackers travelling for a long period of time usually have to stick to a tight budget, so often stay in hostel dorm rooms, camp or find free accommodation where they can.  Backpacking couples or backpackers with a slightly higher budget might stay in private rooms in hostels or look for budget hotels or apartments. 

Families and travellers with more flexible budgets have different priorities of course, so I’ll focus on my experience as a solo traveller, with a backpacker budget for dorms, but still splurging occasionally on private rooms!

There are lots of kinds of backpacker accommodation, from hammocks to hotels!
There are lots of kinds of backpacker accommodation, from hammocks to hotels!

Free Backpacker Accommodation

There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but there may be a possibility for free backpacker accommodation.


Couchsurfing is the largest network of travellers and hosts who offer up a sofa or a bedroom for free, in exchange for a social and cultural exchange.  This can be a wonderful way of meeting local people, experiencing a destination through the eyes of a local and not as a tourist, and making new friends. 

The site used to be completely free but now asks for a monthly contribution (i.e. fee) of €2.89 per month, or €14.50 per year, which is about $3 USD a month or $15 USD for a year, which isn’t much.

However, there have also been reports of hosts (especially men) expecting sex in return for staying at their house – some websites even have articles about how to hook up with your couchsurfer! 

So, if you are a woman travelling alone, be very careful about who you choose to ask for a place to stay. You can search for hosts by gender and read reviews from past guests to reduce any risks.

If you don’t feel like you want to stay on someone’s sofa, then you can still check out Couchsurfing events where you can go along to meet people and hang out.  I haven’t used Couchsurfing for accommodation but I have used it to meet friends.

Volunteer Work in Exchange for a Bed

There are several work exchange websites which offer volunteer work placements in exchange for a bed, and sometimes meals too, as well as other perks.  Volunteering is actually my preferred way to travel and stay for ‘free’ and is a great option for people looking for more long-term backpacker accommodation. 

Placements usually last anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months, so you can really get to know the area where you are staying. Working for a few hours a day with days off to explore gives you the freedom to do more without spending a lot of money.

It is a win-win situation for everyone, where you give something tangible back to your hosts, help them in their business, get some great experience for your CV when you return home, and save money to extend your travels! 

My favourite websites for this are Workaway, WorldPackers, HelpX & WWOOF International, check out this article comparing these work exchange sites and more.

A Dorm Room on the Top Floor of Wombats London - Backpacker Hostels
A Dorm Room on the Top Floor of Wombats London – Backpacker Hostels

Cheap Backpacker Accommodation


Hostels are a backpacker’s dream and are no longer the dingy, dirty hovels of the past so you needn’t be afraid of staying in hostels anymore.  Hostels are changing, and there are plenty of hostels which are cleaner than your average budget hotel! 

Hostels are sociable places so you can meet other travellers and usually have a shared kitchen so you can make your own meals instead of having to eat out all the time.  You can find hostels with swimming pools, hot tubs, games rooms, bars and all sorts of places to socialise and have fun.  

Accommodation is provided in shared dorm rooms, usually in bunk beds which can vary between 4 people and up to 30 or even more in large hostels!  Many hostels also offer private rooms so you can enjoy all of the shared facilities but still get some privacy, although private rooms are more expensive.

The quality of hostel accommodation does vary though, so read reviews to see what kind of hostel it is.  Some people love staying in party hostels where there are drinking games and pub crawls, and other luxury hostels are more chilled out and geared towards a mix of backpackers and digital nomads.

After staying in over a hundred hostels, I consider myself somewhat of a hostel expert, so if you need some help on hostels, including how to choose the best hostel bed, tips on hostel etiquette, and even reasons why hostels are awesome (or not) then you’ll find everything you need here. 

Hostels aren’t just for young backpackers either, I regularly stayed in hostels during my 30s and still do my 40s so don’t worry about feeling out of place!  I do prefer to book a private room in a hostel though so I can still get a good nights sleep and socialise when I feel like it.

How to Book Hostels

For booking hostels, I recommend using as you can compare a variety of hostels as well as other cheap accommodation like guesthouses and bed and breakfasts, which can sometimes be cheaper than hostels.

I do also use Hostelworld, which has a huge range of hostels and other backpacker accommodations to choose from, and often check both and Hostelworld before I actually make a booking. 


Budget Hotels

Sometimes, a private room in a budget hotel works out at the same price as a dorm room – crazy huh?  Although I love the social side of staying in hostels, I also love finding small, family-run hotels where I can get to know the people who run the hotel and get a private room to myself, like I did at the Cuna Maya Hotel in Honduras or at the Riviera B&B in Whitby. 

Hotels don’t usually have kitchen facilities but some might have fridges or basic cooking facilities like a microwave or a toaster in the room. 

When choosing a cheap hotel, look out for different room types as private rooms with shared bathrooms are cheaper than en-suite rooms, and some hotels might offer budget rooms that don’t have windows, or single rooms with single beds instead of a queen or double.  Non-refundable rates are also cheaper than ones with flexible cancellation policies. 

It all comes down to what you are willing to compromise on to save money on your backpacker accommodation.

When I’m searching for cheap hotel rooms, I go to, put in my desired location, dates and room requirements, and sort the results by price, lowest first.  On the left hand-side I scroll down to filter the results by rating (usually over 8) and take a look at the list.  Using the map feature I check the location, then read reviews to see if I like the places.  

As I use Booking for all of my hotel stays I am a Genius member and also get access to special offers for up to 30% discount on rooms and other perks like free breakfast or room upgrades for some bookings, so if you travel regularly that comes in handy! >>>READ MORE ABOUT GENIUS DISCOUNTS


My bedroom at the Cuna Maya Hotel Copan Ruinas Honduras
My bedroom at the Cuna Maya Hotel Copan Ruinas Honduras


If you want to spend some time with a local family, then a home-stay could be for you.  Home-stays offer a bed or a room in a family home, and often include some meals too.  Learning about local culture and practising the language are some of the benefits to homestays, and the length of stay varies from a couple of nights to several weeks. 

If you choose to take language lessons when you travel, homestays are often offered by the language school, so you can be as immersed as possible in the language you’re trying to learn. has a good range of options to choose from all over the world.


I like using Airbnb in places where there aren’t many hostels to choose from, like when I was backpacking in Cuba, or if I feel like I need a private room for a longer stay.  You may also find some lovely apartments for a good price too. 

The style of Airbnb offerings varies dramatically, from a bedroom in someone’s home, to a private apartment, or more unusual accommodation like a treehouse. 

Each property is different, so the quality can vary a lot too – so check the reviews carefully before you book.  There are certain Airbnb tips and tricks you can use to get a discount, even if you already have an Airbnb account, check out this post for more information on getting an Airbnb discount.


If you want to have a private room and are travelling with a group, or like to cook, then apartments with kitchens are very useful.  Airbnb and have various options for apartments for rent, or you can find companies such as Internesto in Brno, Czech Republic, who offer rooms in shared apartments where you can socialise if you like, cook meals, or just keep to yourself in your room.

I love staying in an apartment when I am in one place for a long time, so I can feel like I’m at home.  It can be harder to meet people as you’re usually staying in your own place, but for digital nomads to have some peace and quiet to work or just to get some alone time then staying in your own apartment can be a great option.

Of course, a private apartment is usually the most expensive accommodation option aside from hotel rooms, as you’re paying for the larger space and privacy. 

Workspace & Graffiti Room at Internesto Apartments Brno - Where to stay in Brno Czech Republic
Workspace & Graffiti Room at Internesto Apartments Brno – Where to stay in Brno Czech Republic

Co-Living Spaces

Since the pandemic, more and more people are working abroad and digital nomadism is more popular than ever.  I personally see myself as a mix of a backpacker and a digital nomad, so I like the idea of co-living spaces, which have grown in popularity in the last couple of years.

Co-living basically means that you share some of your living space, whether that is in a dorm room, or in a private room with shared kitchen, bathroom and/or lounge facilities.  A hostel could be considered as co-living, but now there are various companies offering co-living in apartments that are more directed at digital nomads.

Short-Term Lets

Digital nomads and slow travellers who stay in one place for more than a month can get some great deals on short-term lets for periods of over a month and up to a year.  In Spain, accommodation providers who only let their apartments or rooms for more than a month don’t need to apply for a tourist licence, so they have minimum stays of at least 30 days.

For example, Flatio offers short-term rentals in cities all over the world for digital nomads, business travellers, students and anyone looking for a fully furnished room or apartment for a short to mid-term stay.  There are options for co-living apartments and single rooms as well as whole apartments.

Airbnb also shows different options for 30 day lets or more and you can get often discounts on stays of over a week or over a month.  

If you’re a backpacker who’s travelling quite quickly then these kinds of apartments and digital nomad co-living spaces probably won’t work for you as they often have minimum stays of 30 days or more.  However, if you are working as you travel, either online or in a paid job in the destination, then co-living could be useful for you.

Mabel the Motorhome Wild Camping in a Forest Car Park
Mabel the Motorhome – My Campervan I used for Van Life

Van Life / Overlanding

Buying or renting your own set of wheels to travel can be a great way of saving money, especially in expensive destinations like Australia.  While I was in Central America, I met several people who were overlanders – they had their own camper vans where they could sleep, cook food, and travel whenever and wherever they please.

During the pandemic when I was travelling around the UK I bought my own campervan so I could explore and still be in a self-contained space.  Some campervans come fully equipped with a kitchen, toilet and shower (like mine did), while others are more basic so you would need to find other places to cook and shower. 

One downside is having to think about where to park and sleep every night, as well as limited electricity and wifi access in remote locations.  Some countries are much more flexible with where you can park up for the night than others, so you may need to pay for campsites – especially if you want to plug into the electricity, empty your toilet and fill up with water. 

If you have your own solar panels then you can be more flexible with wild camping when you don’t need to plug in.  There are several campervan and motorhome apps which show locations of safe camping sites where you can park up for the night.

Remember that if you are travelling through different countries, you will need to make sure you have all the correct ownership papers, licenses and insurance to cross the borders, so make sure you do your research properly.


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 equipment, even if it’s just a hammock.

Alternatively, you could stay in a glamping site which usually has everything you need included, like Colobri Camping in Bolivia, or in a unique place like a treehouse or glamping in an Airstream Trailer!  If you are backpacking alone, check out these safety tips for solo camping.

Splurging on Accommodation

Sometimes, we all need a bit of luxury in our lives.  And in some destinations, that luxury needn’t come at a high price.  In some destinations like South East Asia for example, you can find beautiful hotels for a fraction of what they would cost in Europe or the US. 

Choosing where to go if you’re backpacking on a budget can make a big difference to how much money you spend on accommodation.  

Even if you are on a tight budget and usually stay in backpacker hostel dorms, I’d still recommend spending a little more money every now and again on a unique accommodation if you can.  In Guatemala, I stayed in a hobbit hole overlooking a volcano which was one of the coolest places I’ve ever slept!  

Alternatively, for a weekend away or a short holiday closer to home, you might want to spend a little more to make sure you have a lovely place to stay.  And why not?!  To book hotels, I use to find the best deals on hotels.

Tips on Booking Backpacker Accommodation

If you are backpacking long term, it makes sense that you won’t have a set itinerary, so won’t be able to book all your accommodation in advance. 

I prefer to have at least one night’s accommodation booked in a hostel or hotel for my next destination, so that when I arrive I know where I am going and know that I have a bed for the night.  Other people prefer to rock up and find somewhere to stay once they arrive, but as a solo female traveller, I prefer not to take that risk.

If you are going somewhere for a specific festival like Carnival in Brazil, Day of the Dead in Mexico or any other holidays and busy times, you should definitely book accommodation as soon as possible as you may find everywhere is fully booked.

When you are looking for somewhere to stay, check the reviews on a reputable booking site, and/or Tripadvisor.  Remember though that Tripadvisor reviews are not necessarily from people who have stayed at the property, anyone can write a review so take what you read with a pinch of salt. 

Booking sites have verified reviews from people who you know stayed there.  Reviews from travel blogs are also handy to look at for photos and to get a feel for the hostel or hotel – and as you travel, ask other backpackers you meet for tips on your next destination.

Safety in Backpacker Accommodation

I already mentioned safety briefly when talking about Couchsurfing earlier.  Peer to peer booking sites like couchsurfing, volunteer sites and Airbnb potentially are more risky than booking backpacker accommodation through better-regulated sites like Hostelworld or for example, hence the importance of reading reviews, especially if you are backpacking alone. 

That said, hostels and hotels also have possible safety issues too, and if at any time you feel unsafe in any kind of accommodation, get out of there as soon as you can.  Your safety is your priority.  

When I book a private room, I bring a door stop with me to wedge underneath the door so I know no one can force their way in.  In hotels, I always double lock the door whenever possible, and use the hotel safe for my passport and electronics.  In hostels make sure you lock everything out of sight in your locker. 

If you should have anything stolen, this post about my experience of getting robbed in a hostel in Ecuador might help!

how to choose a hostel bed

Bed Bugs in Backpacker Accommodation

I also feel like I should mention bed bugs, which you will probably come across if you are backpacking for any length of time.  That said, in my seven years of travelling, I have only come across bed bugs twice but they are not pleasant!

Bed bugs are not necessarily an indication of poor cleanliness.  They can spread quickly and are notoriously difficult to get rid of, but they can find a home anywhere from hostels to five-star hotels.  They don’t carry diseases, but if you are bitten they can be very itchy.

As soon as you arrive in a new accommodation, check the bed and seams in the mattress for any signs of bed bugs.  This article from the NHS has some tips on the recognition and removal of bed bugs.

If you do find any signs of bedbugs, report it immediately to reception, taking photos or if you can catch a bug then take that as proof.  Avoid putting your backpack on top of the bed, instead, keep it separate to cut down on the risk of carrying stowaway bugs with you.  

Sometimes you might not know there are bedbugs until you wake up in the morning with itchy bites. In that case, search for signs in the bed then and show reception your findings.  

Accommodation Reviews

As I travel around, I have stayed in some fabulous hostels and budget hotels (as well as some not so great ones).  These are some of my favourite hostels and backpacker accommodation around the world:

What is the best backpacker accommodation you have ever stayed in?  Share your tips below in the comments, I’d love to hear what you think!

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Tips for How to Find the Best Backpacker Accommodation Around the World

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