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 in a hostel, 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 small risk of items being stolen, so you need to take care: increasingly, hostels provide lockers or safes where you can store your bags (or at least your valuables), though sometimes you do have to bring your own padlock. 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.
For some national hostelling organizations, you have to be a member to stay in a hostel. This can be membership of that organization, or another Hostelling International affiliated organization. Other organizations do not require membership, but members get a discounted price.
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.
A few useful items for hostels that you might not otherwise think to bring:
- Flip flops or shower shoes — as mentioned below, hostel showers get a lot of use. Better safe than sorry—bring something to wear on your feet when you shower.
- A padlock — different lockers have different shapes and sizes, so you may want to bring two locks of different sizes, in case one is too big or small to fit in the locker. Even if the hostel doesn't have lockers, you can use this to lock your bag shut and attach it to your bed to deter theft.
- Something to sleep in (pajamas, etc.) — in a hotel room you can do what you want, but in a shared hostel room, be respectful to your roommates and put something on to sleep in.
- A sleep mask and/or earplugs — shared rooms tend to have people coming and going at all hours, so these will help ensure you get a good night's sleep.
- A flashlight — so you can hunt through your stuff in the middle of the night, without turning on the lights and annoying your sleeping roommates.
Traditionally hostels only had bunk beds in shared dormitories (bedrooms). Usually the dormitory is only for one sex, and some hostels have greater separation with male and female floors.
Some hostels also let you rent a (private) room, and usually are happy for male and females to share a room that they have booked. If a hostel is not busy then smaller dormitories may also be let as complete rooms. If you are travelling with younger children, the hostel may insist that you rent a room.
Many hostels provide shared kitchens for you to prepare your own food. However not all hostels do, so this is something to check when booking. Some hostels have a cafe, or serve meals (maybe only breakfast) at set times.
The cooking facilities vary greatly between hostels. This can affect both the basic facilities (number of hobs etc) and the provision of pans and plates etc. Often the facilities in a busy city hostel take a lot more abuse than a rural one.
It is best to design your meals so that you do not need a lot of cooking facilities. Otherwise you may have difficulties if the hostel doesn't have an oven (or others are using it), or you can only use two rings on the gas hob.
If you leave food in a shared fridge, make sure that it is wrapped and labelled with your name and when you are staying. Bring some colourful carrier bags from home, as these will be easy to spot in a fridge full of bags from the local supermarket.
Wear flip-flops or shower shoes in the shower. Hostels generally work hard to keep the bathrooms clean, but they get a lot of use from lots of different people. You never know if one of your roommates just got back from a tropical rainforest where they decided to walk around barefoot...so it's better not to take chances.