Hotels, Hostels, and Motels: What's the Difference?

If you’ve done much traveling the chances are that you’ve staid overnight at a hotel before. Hotels are the most common place for travelers to stay when they’re visiting somewhere far away from home and don’t have family or friends in the area.

However, there are several other options for room and board while traveling that some people aren’t as familiar with. Unfortunately, some folks are scared to sleep anywhere that isn’t a well-known chain and are missing out on other opportunities.

Motels and hostels are among the most popular sort of establishments to stay while traveling, aside, of course, from hotels. And, despite what you may have heard, the differences between all three are massive.

Each one has distinct features and benefits that help classify which category it falls under. Likewise, hotels, motels, and hostels all have different advantages and disadvantages as well. In this article, we’ll give you a quick rundown of all three.

The Difference Between Hotels, Motels, and Hostels

Hotels, motels, and hostels, are all establishments which provide rooms for tourists and travelers. Depending on the company, location, and other factors, additional accommodations and services, such as room cleaning, laundry, and room service will vary.

In fact, some establishments offer nothing more than a bed, pillow, and blanket while others provide you with food, clean towels, spa treatment, access to swimming pools, saunas, hot tubs, and more. Knowing the differences between these three major types of establishments will save you time, money, and peace of mind.


Technically speaking, a hotel is an establishment that provides accommodations, such as private rooms, food, and other basic needs, to travelers.

That said, hotels are also thought to be the oldest traditional sort of business in the industry, dating back over 4,000 years to the time when Hammurabi ruled the lands of Babylon. Technically speaking, these ancient hotels were actually Inns & taverns more so than modern hotels.

In the 18th century, King Christan the Fifth opened up Inns and taverns across the entire country of Denmark in order to provide rooms for those traveling under the employment of the newly formed postal service. The King ordered at least one hotel to be opened in each city along the postal service’s route. Since then, not much has changed. Many hotels to this day still operate as Inns with taverns.

Hotels are the most luxurious establishments in the travel lodging industry, no doubt about it. In fact, even the most basic hotels provide food, bar, pool, gym, and room service.

Another significant factor about hotels is that they are located in all major cities and tourist destinations, similar to hostels but opposite of motels.


Much like hotels, motels are also defined as establishments that provide basic sleeping and showering accommodations to travelers. Normally a motel room will include a private bathroom, shower, bed, TV, and writing desk or sitting table.

Unlike hotels and hostels, however, motels don’t include any sort of room service, extra accommodations, or food.

Motels are also the newest kid on the block as far as the travel lodging industry goes. Started in the middle of the 20th century in the United States, motels began popping up left and right along the newly formed interstates and highways that criss-cross America.

These new establishments were created to benefit the long-haul truck drivers and a large amount of tourists on road-trips, hence, they are mostly found outside of city limits and on long stretches of lonely roads.

Most motels were built in I, L, or U shape with a parking lot in the center. The buildings are much smaller than hotels, they offer no services or facilities like a common room, pool, or lobby, and are all around generally cheap quality from the construction materials down to the bed covers and toilet paper.

However, the price for a motel room is also typically three to five times cheaper than a standard hotel room.


The cheapest travel lodging available in most countries are hostels. Started over a century ago in order to provide cheap lodging for touring youth, the idea has more than stuck around; it’s caused a major impact on the travel lodging industry.

Today, hostels are more popular than ever, especially in places like Europe. However, many people, specifically those from the United States, seem to have a fear of hostels due to urban legends and horror movies.

Some of the main differences between hostels and hotels and motels are that hostels provide no services at all, rather they offer many self-services such as laundry rooms, full kitchens (stocked with ingredients in many cases), pools, and more.

In addition, for the most part, hostel rooms lack private bathrooms and showers. Unless you request a room with a private bathroom (which will cost you $5 to $50 extra), plan on sharing the toilet with anywhere from 5 to 20 other people.

Hostels tend to have a much more laid back and casual atmosphere than hotels. Likewise, hostels are also much more interactive than motels, meaning, you’ll probably meet a few people while staying overnight at a hostel (whether you want to or not).

The rooms also tend to be lower quality than hotel or motel rooms, while the common areas are generally high quality. All of that said, you have less chance of catching bed bugs or seeing roaches at a hostel than you do at a major hotel or motel.

A Final Word About Hotels vs Hostels

As you’ve probably figured out by now, hotels and hostels are worlds apart. Other than being competitors in the same industry, they don’t have as much in common as you’d think. Staying at a hotel is somewhat of a production, they have professionally trained staff that wait on you and stay on call in case you need something.

Hostels are more like staying with a friend or family. No one is going to serve you, they’re simply going to show you to your room, as well as where to find the bathroom, shower, and kitchen.

Depending on where you’re traveling, another factor to take into consideration about hotels and hostels in the price. Tourist destinations, especially the popular ones, tend to attract high-ticket hotels and not have much else to offer in the way of lodging, which can cause a real impact on your wallet.

In the past few decades, more and more hostels have been popping up around popular tourist spots and major cities around the world as well. The difference in price? A Standard hotel room may cost between $100 and $150 for a single night, while a hostel costs only $5 to $50 per night.

Suggested article: Top Tourist Destinations

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