Hostel, in the context of travel, is a form of relatively cheap accommodation for travellers and for youth groups, which provides shared accommodation. 'Hostel' means that, at the minimum, there will be some dormitory accommodation. Hostels usually also have common areas, a youthful and traveller orientation, and information on the local area and travel to other locations.
The concept of 'youth hostels', as they were originally known, started in about 1910 in Germany and was soon copied in several European countries. Originally, each Hostelling International organisation sought to provide low cost accommodation in rural areas for young city workers, with an emphasis on hiking, cycling and other healthy activities.
With the advent of international travel, hostels not affiliated to Hostelling International associations were established: these were often known as backpackers hostels. Today, there is less difference between Hostelling International hostels and non-Hostelling International hostels, and both are often referred to as "backpackers".
- Hostels provide dormitory style budget accommodation for travellers with multiple guests sharing a room. Many hostels also provide private rooms in addition to dormitory accommodation. Bathrooms are variously shared or ensuite. For many hostelers, the opportunity to meet other travelers is part of the appeal.
- Hostels vary widely in their rules and regulations, with only a few hostels imposing a curfew. Most modern hostels let guests come and go at all hours. Some hostels impose a limit to the number of days you can stay though this is increasingly rare and usually not the case in backpacker hostels in Europe, Australia and North America. In a few instances, the older requirement that guests have to provide their own sheets or standard "sleep sack" (a sheet folded over and sewn into a sleeping bag), still exists, though most hostels now prohibit guests from using their own linens to prevent guests' bringing bedbugs into the hostel. Towels are often available for a fee and are sometimes free.
- Some hostels have separate accommodations for males and females while others have some or all shared rooms.
- Some hostels have age limits, a minimum age unless accompanied and sometimes a maximum age.
- The style of lodging can vary widely: some hostels are in beautiful historic buildings, or resort style camping villages or modern apartment type buildings; some are spartan while others are almost luxurious. Most are clean and comfortable. To find the best hostels, read online hostel reviews on different hostel booking websites.
- Common facilities often include a shared lounge, laundry room, and kitchen but these often depend on the country. Most hostels now have computers with internet access and also provide free wifi Internet.
- If it's your first time staying at hostels, you might want to try somewhere near home and only one location, and see how you like it. Some hostels can be very cozy and welcoming, but a having a laid-back personality is definitely helpful. If access is 24 hours, you can expect to be woken at any hour as others return to the room, or newcomers arrive. You share common facilities and people vary in their tidiness and respect for others. There is always a very small risk of items being stolen, so you need to take care: increasingly, dormitories have lockers, or secure valuables lockers somewhere. Just follow basic common sense and be sure to lock up electronics, cash, and other valuables.
Hostelling International (HI)
Many hostels have affiliated themselves with Hostelling International (formerly International Youth Hostel Federation)--a network of over 90 separate national hostelling organizations. Note that not all hostels are affiliated to HI, and that there are also other hostelling networks. The best indicator of quality is a hostel's online reviews, which can be found by searching online.
It is advisable to book hostels in advance rather than just turning up and hoping that there will be a suitable bed. To find a hostel, search online or read hostel reviews on various hostel booking sites.
Many hostels appreciate it when guests book directly with the hostel, because the hostel then saves money on commissions that they have to pay to external booking systems.