The Ultimate Guide to Hostels: Everything You Need to Know

Updated on: 26/02/2024 by Mike

Traveling opens up a world of discovery, adventure, and learning. However, it often comes with a significant cost, particularly regarding accommodation. That's where hostels come into play, offering a budget-friendly alternative to hotels. But what exactly are hostels, and how do they work? This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know about hostels, making your next trip both memorable and affordable.

Understanding Hostels

What is a Hostel?

First off, what is a hostel? A hostel is a type of budget accommodation that emphasizes communal living. Unlike hotels that offer private rooms and extensive services, hostels prioritize shared spaces, such as dormitories, bathrooms, kitchens, and lounges. This setup not only reduces costs but also fosters a social environment where travelers from around the globe can meet, exchange stories, and create friendships.

The Evolution of Hostels

The concept of hostels dates back to the early 20th century, originating in Germany as a way for young people to travel affordably. Since then, hostels have evolved significantly. While they still cater to budget-conscious travellers, modern hostels can rival hotels in terms of design, cleanliness, and amenities, all while maintaining their communal and inclusive ethos.

How Do Hostels Work

Types of Accommodations

1. Dorm Rooms

Mola Hostel Madrid Dorm
Dorm rooms @ Mola Hostel Madrid

Every hostel will offer a bed in a dorm room. A dorm room is a large room filled with beds (singles or bunks). These normally cost only a fraction of the price of a hotel room in the same city. Generally, there will be one or two large bathrooms per floor but more hostels now have en-suite bathrooms in the dorm rooms. Dorms can be mixed, male-only or female-only.

The general standard of dorm rooms has gotten far better over the last 10 years. Some are very stylish and a lot of beds in dorm rooms have their own reading lamp, power-point, and privacy curtain.

2. Private Rooms

What is a Hostel - Generator Paris Privates
Private Room @ Generator Hostel Paris

Many hostels now offer private rooms. Private rooms in hostels can be just as good as a hotel if not better. Obviously, they are more expensive than a bed in a dorm room but generally, they tend to be cheaper than hotels.

Facilities and Amenities

1. Common Rooms

ClinkNOORD Hostel Amsterdam
Common Area @ ClinkNOORD Hostel Amsterdam

Almost all Backpacker hostels have common rooms or multiple common areas. However, some small boutique hostels tend not to have a common area.

Common areas are normally located close to the reception. Some common areas have a dining area or a bar. Some have free or paid activities such as Foosball or a pool table.

2. Events and activities

Many hostels organize events and activities such as city tours, pub crawls, cooking classes, etc. These are normally free and it gives you a chance to socialize with other travelers.

3. Laundry facilities

Hostel Ruthensteiner Vienna Washing Machine
Laundry Room @ Hostel Ruthensteiner Vienna

Most large hostels have on-site laundry facilities (washers and dryers). Normally the procedure is that you buy a token at the reception. This token is used to turn on the washing machine or dryer.

4. Guest Kitchen

What is a Hostel - Home Lisbon Hostel Kitchen
Guest Kitchen @ Home Lisbon Hostel

Nearly every hostel offers some kind of guest kitchen. These can be partially or fully equipped. Some hostels supply you with free essentials with pasta, spices, tea, and coffee.

5. Swimming pools

Swimming pools are very popular in Spanish cities and southern Mediterranean cities such as Rome or Athens. Instead, many hostels in Barcelona have rooftop pools. Plus Hostel in Prague has an outdoor open all year round and it is free to all guests.

6. Free Wi-Fi

Wombats City Hostel Vienna The Naschmarkt WiFi
Hostel guest all using Wi-Fi  @ Wombat's Vienna Naschmarkt

We all need Wi-Fi while we travel. Every hostel will have WiFi but some won't have it in the rooms, they just have it in common areas or vice versa.

7. Rooftop Terraces

Safestay Rooftop Bar is one of the Best Rooftop Bars in Madrid
Rooftop Bar @ Safestay Madrid

Some large or even small hostels in Europe have a rooftop terrace. Some of these rooftop terraces have a bar or swimming pool or both. These are particularly popular in countries with a warmer climate such as Spain.

8. Hostel Bars

What is a Hostel - Generator Hostel Dublin Bar
Hostel Bar @ Generator Hostel Dublin

Many hostels have an on-site bar. These are normally cheaper and more social than regular city bars. Most run daily happy hours and some hold events or activities such as a music gig or karaoke. Some hostel bars are for guests only and others are also open to the general public as well.

General FAQ For Hostels

1. What do I get when I book a bed in a dorm room?

These really depend on the hostel. At a minimum,  you will get a bed, (shared) bathroom facilities, and free WiFi. But most hostels offer various amenities such as a living room-style common room, kitchen facilities, guest computers, board games, a pool table, etc. A lot of hostels will have a bar and some even have a restaurant as well.

2. Do hostels provide bedding?

Hostels normally provide all bedding. On some rare occasions, you will be given your bed linen at the reception when you check in and you will have to make your own bed.

3. Do hostels provide towels?

Hostels generally don't provide towels when staying in a dorm room. Many hostels will give you the option of renting a towel (normally at a cost of €1 to €2 per night), but it's best to bring your own. However, towels are provided when staying in a private room in a hostel.

4. Do hostels have showers?

Yes. Most dorms have large communal bathrooms with rows of showers and sinks. Normally the showers are partitioned for your privacy.

5. How much do hostels cost?

The price of a bed in a dorm room in a hostel in Europe varies a lot. It depends on many factors such as the type of hostel and proximity to the centre. Hostels in Western Europe are the most expensive and the more East you go the cheaper it gets.

Hostels in Western Europe start at €15 per night. The most expensive hostels are in London, Paris, Paris, Amsterdam, Zurich and  Scandinavian cities. Hostels in Germany, Spain, Portugal and Austria are slightly less. You can still get hostels in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary for as cheap as €5 per night.

Hostel prices in the US and Canada are the most expensive in the Americas. Prices in Central and South America are significantly cheaper Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia have some of the cheapest hostels in South America.

Hostels in South East Asia are very affordable in general with Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam being the cheapest. Hostel prices in Japan and South Korea will cost far more.

6. Do hostels have lockers?

Yes, hostels nearly always have lockers for your bags and valuables. It is best to always bring your own padlock for your locker. These are normally located in your room close to your bed.

A trend that started about 10 years ago is that many hostels are offering a second smaller locker for your important valuables such as your phone, camera, and passport. Some of these small lockers even have a power outlet inside where you can charge a device.

7. Are hostels safe?

What is a Hostel - The RoadHouse Prague Locker
Under-bed Locker @ The RoadHouse Hostel Prague

In general, hostels are very safe and in most cases, they're safer than most other forms of accommodation.

Most hostels have 24/7 reception, some even have security staff and in a lot of hostels, a personalized key card is required to enter even dorm rooms. Nearly all hostels come equipped with large security lockers in the dorm rooms for you to lock away your valuables when you’re out. It is advised that you bring your own padlock.

8. Are there age restrictions in hostels?

There are age restrictions for hostels in a lot of cities in Europe. Generally, dorm rooms are usually only available for guests between 18 and 39 years old. Some hostels even have a lower age limit (39 years). The over-40s can always stay in hostels but in a private room.

But this rule changes a lot from city to city in Europe. In Asia, there are fewer age restrictions in general. If you are over 40, you will have no problem finding a bed in a dorm in major cities.

9. Do hostels have curfews?

The quick answer is sometimes there are, but more and more hostels are getting rid of this policy as competition increases. This varies a lot from country to country. For instance, some hostels in Paris have a curfew time of 12 midnight. Some hostels in Germany will also have a curfew or a lockout period. My advice is to always read the hostel description and reviews before booking one.

10. Do hostels accept kids?

More and more hostels are now providing family rooms or apartments where kids can stay in a hostel but under the supervision of their parents. Obviously, party hostels are not suitable for kids.

Different Types of Hostels

The different types of hostel are:

  1. Youth hostels
  2. Backpacker hostels
  3. Flashpacker/Boutique Hostels
  4. Party Hostels
  5. Eco-Friendly Hostels
  6. Themed Hostels
  7. Activity Hostels
  8. Digital Nomad Hostels
  9. Cheap Hostels
  10. Family-Friendly Hostels

The Benefits of Staying in a Hostel

1. Cost-Effectiveness

The most apparent advantage of hostels is their affordability. Saving on accommodation means more budget for experiences, dining, and extended travel.

2. Social Opportunities

Hostels provide unique opportunities to meet people from all walks of life. They're hubs of international interaction, ideal for solo travelers looking to make connections.

3. Cultural Exchange

Beyond mere socializing, hostels facilitate a deeper cultural exchange, offering insights into different cultures, languages, and perspectives through the stories and experiences of fellow travelers.

4. Local Insights

Hostel staff and the community often provide valuable local knowledge that you won't find in guidebooks, from hidden gems to advice on local customs and practices.

Navigating the Hostel Experience

1. Choosing the Right Hostel

Not all hostels are created equal. It's crucial to research and choose one that aligns with your preferences. Consider factors like location, reviews, security, amenities, and the type of travelers it attracts.

2. Etiquette and Tips

  • Respect the communal living setup by being mindful of noise, cleanliness, and the use of shared resources.
  • Engage with fellow travelers and staff, but also respect privacy and boundaries.
  • Security is paramount, so use lockers for valuables and be cautious with personal information.

3. Making the Most of Your Stay

  • Participate in hostel-organized events and outings. They're great for exploring and socializing.
  • Use the communal kitchen to share meals with new friends, a fantastic way to bond and save money.
  • Embrace the diversity and openness of the hostel culture. You'll leave with stories and friendships that last a lifetime.

Why Hostelworld is the Best Website to Book a Hostel

Why Hostelworld is the Best Website to Book a Hostel

When it comes to booking hostels for your travels, there are several platforms available. However, Hostelworld stands out as a leading choice for many travelers. Let's delve into the reasons why Hostelworld is often considered the best website for booking hostels.

1. Comprehensive Selection of Hostels

Hostelworld boasts an extensive global database of hostels. Whether you're looking to stay in a bustling city center, a quiet countryside, or near a sun-soaked beach, Hostelworld offers a diverse range of options. This variety ensures that travelers can find a hostel that perfectly matches their itinerary and preferences.

2. User-Friendly Interface and Experience

The Hostelworld website and mobile app are designed with user experience in mind. The platform is intuitive, making it easy to search, compare, and book hostels. You can filter searches by price, location, room type, and amenities, which helps in making an informed decision.

3. Reliable Reviews and Ratings

One of the strongest points of Hostelworld is its review system. Guests who have booked and stayed at a hostel through the platform can leave reviews. These user-generated reviews and ratings provide honest and transparent insights into what you can expect from each hostel, covering aspects like cleanliness, security, location, staff, and atmosphere.

4. Flexible Booking Options

Hostelworld understands the needs of travelers, especially those who require flexibility. Many hostels on Hostelworld offer free cancellation policies and flexible booking options, which is crucial for travelers whose plans might change.

5. Excellent Customer Support

Should you encounter any issues before, during, or after your booking, Hostelworld provides reliable customer support. Their team is accessible and ready to assist with any queries, giving travelers peace of mind.

6. Special Deals and Discounts

Regularly, Hostelworld provides special deals and discounts that are exclusive to their platform. These offers can make your travel even more budget-friendly, which is a significant advantage for cost-conscious backpackers and travelers.

7. Community and Social Features

Hostelworld is more than just a booking platform; it’s a community. The website offers travel guides, blogs, and tips, contributing to the planning of your trip. Moreover, Hostelworld often highlights hostels known for their social atmospheres, making it easier for solo travelers to find hostels where they can meet fellow travelers.

8. Trust and Credibility

Having been in the business for many years, Hostelworld has built a reputation for trust and reliability. This credibility makes travelers feel more secure in their bookings, knowing they are using a well-established and respected platform.

In summary, Hostelworld stands out due to its vast selection of hostels, user-friendly interface, reliable reviews, flexible booking options, strong customer support, exclusive deals, and its role in fostering a community of travelers. These features make it an ideal platform for anyone looking to book hostel stays, providing an efficient, reliable, and enriching experience. Whether you're a first-time hostel-goer or a seasoned backpacker, Hostelworld caters to all your hostel booking needs, ensuring your next adventure is both exciting and affordable.

The Future of Hostels

As travel continues to evolve, so too do hostels. They're becoming more sophisticated, offering a wider range of amenities and increasingly catering to niche markets, including eco-conscious travelers, digital nomads, and even families. The essence of hostels, however, remains unchanged: they're about affordable, communal living spaces that enrich the travel experience through shared stories and adventures.

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I'm Hostel Vagabond aka Mike McGuinness. I've stayed in countless across the world. I set up Hostel Vagabond to share these experiences with you.

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