Hotel vs hostel – which is better for a solo traveler – hotel or hostel? I recently spent one night at the Ritz followed by a night at Montreal Central Hostel. The Ritz-Carlton in Montreal is a 5-star hotel that opened its doors in 1912. It was the first hotel in North America with the Ritz-Carlton name. Montreal Central Hostel is an award-winning hostel that opened its doors in 2009, currently rated Number 1 Hostel in North America.
At first glance one might presume the answer to my question would be a no-brainer particularly when comparing the Ritz-Carlton to a hostel. Of course the Ritz is better than any hostel anywhere! Definitely in terms of luxury and comfort the Ritz rules but what about other considerations?
When booking my trip to Montreal this year I automatically looked to Montreal Central Hostel for accommodation. This was my third solo trip to Montreal and I had enjoyed my previous two stays at the hostel – in a private room and in the 4-bed female dorm. Suddenly it occurred to me that I could use up some of my hotel points and rewards I had garnered from credit card sign-ups.
I booked 3 free nights at the Hyatt-Regency on Jeanne-Mance Street in central Montreal – how did I manage that? I received 2 free nights upon meeting the $1,000 spend within 3 months of sign-up with the Chase Hyatt credit card last year. I paid $75 for the annual renewal in June in order to obtain 1 additional night – this is part of the card member perks. For a total of $75 I received 3 nights at the Hyatt – win!
Next I remembered I had 50,000 Marriott rewards points in need of a purpose. I had previously tried to use these points at other locations alas the 50,000 will only get a night or two in most big cities. I checked the Marriott website and looked for their most luxurious location in Montreal. I found it in the Ritz-Carlton on Sherbrooke Street! Huge win!
Luckily for me the cheapest room at the Ritz-Carlton Montreal in August was $505 or 50,000 Marriott rewards points. Tax included. What a deal! I felt like a big winner with a total of 4 free nights in Montreal. Okay, my accounting brain says no, it was actually $75 because I had to pay the annual renewal fee. Whatever, very nearly free!
With my accommodations booked I hadn’t anticipated spending a night at the Montreal Central Hostel. My late afternoon flight home to Austin – via Chicago – was delayed and further delayed to the point I didn’t think I would make my connection in Chicago. Given the option to overnight in Chicago or Montreal I chose Montreal and opted to change my flight to the following morning. I immediately called Montreal Central Hostel to inquire about availability – they had only one bed available in the 4-bed mixed dorm so I booked it. They already had my contact information from my previous stays and I was set.
I didn’t realize what a hurdle it is to leave an airport departures terminal when one has canceled their travel plans. I had to wait in line in order to get someone to contact security to let me out of the airport – I was a “passenger not flying” and needed proper approval to leave otherwise I would have set off the security alarm on the door!
I purchased a one-day pass on Montreal transit (officially known as STM or Société de transport de Montréal) which includes the 747 airport bus and I was at Montreal Central Hostel at 8:45 pm. Off to the IGA grocery store for some cheese, yogurt, and milk for my coffee in the morning.
Here is where the other considerations kick in when comparing the Ritz to a hostel. I met one of my roommates – Shyu from Shandong region of China – she is a student currently living in New York. We have a friendly chat and I tell her I’m going to get a beer then I’ll go walking the neighborhood to have a look around and get something to eat. Shyu mentioned she didn’t feel comfortable walking around at night so I invited her to join me, assuring her that the neighborhood was safe and I had walked around many a night during prior visits.
Upstairs in the bar (which is also the reception area, kitchen, and common room) of the Montreal Central I ordered a Blanche de Chambly and checked my email via the free Wi-Fi.
A few minutes later I was enjoying a conversation with Serena (from Toronto) and two of her roommates Philip and Daniel (from Australia) and David, seated at the next table. Serena who is friendly and chatty suggests perhaps I should be their fourth roommate instead of sad-French-girl that is currently sharing their dorm. This was after a discussion about rings and I had shown them my recently purchased Lego ring – I mean how could you not like someone who sports a Lego ring, right? We had a lot of laughs and enjoyable conversation.
My stomach reminded me to get some food so I bid farewell to my new travel amigos and dropped off my laptop in the dorm. Ronald from Costa Rica was now in the room – he is friendly and we have a quick chat before Shyu and I go out for a stroll around the neighborhood.
We walk to the Place Émilie-Gamelin park one block from the hostel. I had seen lights shining on what I assumed to be an art installation and I wanted to investigate. The installation is called Trobadero – we took photos and continued on to St Denis street in search of food. I had eaten a delicious meal at Restaurant Koreana the previous week alas it was already closed. We opted for Kyranis featuring very affordable Mediterranean and Lebanese cuisine. Friendly staff prepared a yummy falafel sandwich for me – only $4 including tax.
As we walked into the hostel our attention was drawn to a smiling guy calling out to us “hey I’m your other roommate” and we sat down in the common room/bar with Tang (from Taiwan) and Ronald – they are both students currently living in Boston. The four of us got acquainted and discussed various topics including languages after Tang observed he was the only one in our dorm that didn’t speak any Spanish.
Around midnight we all headed to the room to get ready to sleep. I had a quick shower in the small ensuite bathroom. There was water on the floor and the hand towel was draped across the bathtub rather than on the towel rack. It was otherwise clean and tidy and the water pressure was great – always a welcome feature. The toilet was just a plain toilet not a fancy toilet/bidet like the one in my room at the Ritz-Carlton.
I finally crashed at 1:20 am and had set my alarm for 5:30 am apologizing in advance to my roommates for the early wake-up – no worries they told me. As it turned out I disabled the alarm after I woke up at 4:45 am. I went upstairs for breakfast grabbing my yogurt and milk from the mini fridge in our room.
I could smell the aroma of baking as soon as I left the dorm. Joel (from Bilbao Spain) was working the night-shift at the hostel and had begun baking muffins. I saw a bunch of croissants and asked for one even though breakfast is not officially served until 7 am. Joel handed me one and continued talking with another hostel guest. Coffee is available 24 hours so I poured a cup and added some milk then enjoyed my yogurt and croissant.
I chatted with Joel for a bit – he talked of his desire to be a writer, his time in Montreal and his plans to remain in the city for another year. I had a plane to catch so I had to cut our conversation short. Finished packing up and off to the bus station to catch the 747 bus on the other side of the block.
During my 9 hours at the Montreal Central Hostel I met 8 people from 6 different countries and enjoyed talking with each of them. Staying in a hostel usually means meeting people from other countries and having discussions that focus on travel, cultural norms, and a myriad of other topics.
For the most part the people I’ve met at hostels have been people who I like to hang out with and enjoy hearing their point of view. I meet a lot of university students at hostels and they usually have interesting stories to tell. There is a commonality in our desire to travel and in our desire to save a few bucks by staying in a hostel.
Contrasted with the Ritz-Carlton where I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in my pristine room with amenities galore but I met absolutely nobody. The staff did make polite conversation with me at check-in and check-out. Not to say that I expected to meet other people whilst staying at the Ritz.
Hotel vs Hostel – which is better for a solo traveler?
So how would I answer the question “which is better for a solo traveler – hotel or hostel?” If I were traveling for business and wanted superb comfort along with peace and quiet I would go with the Ritz-Carlton. Currently the Ritz is not within my budget range. I’m frugal. If you want to stay at the Ritz in Montreal click here for the latest prices.
I like to meet people when I travel and I like a casual atmosphere. Hostels are a better choice for this solo traveler. Even if I were seriously wealthy I think I would stay at hostels (in a private room mind you) on a regular basis simply for the socializing. If you want to stay at the Montreal Central Hostel in downtown Montreal click here for the latest deals.
What do you think – hotel or hostel – which is better when you are traveling alone?
If you have always stayed in hotels while traveling would you consider staying in a hostel?
Dreaming about your next vacation? Explore hotels and hostels in Montreal now!