Last Updated: December 27, 2021

What Is A Hostel?

Want to learn more about hostel life? Then you’re definitely in the right place because this detailed guide will tell you everything you should know about hostels!

There are a lot of myths and prejudice about hostels, and a lot of them are entirely unfounded. People assume for no reason that hostels aren’t safe, that they’re dirty, and that all their stuff will get stolen as soon as they go to bed. But none of that is actually true, and if you want to educate yourself on hostels and see why they’re actually great for young travelers, just keep reading our detailed guide!

History of Hostels

Youth Hostel History

Hostels first became a thing in the early 1909 century, when a German teacher named Richard Schirmann published an idea for affordable accommodation for young travelers. Just three years later, the first Schirmann youth hostel opened up in Altena Castle.

The original rooms from the world’s first hostel are nowadays a museum, and they’re a pretty popular tourist attraction, especially among people who prefer to stay in hostels.

Youth hostels became more and more popular over the years, and by 1932 there were more than 2,000 hostels throughout Germany. Most hostels in Europe were closed during World War II, and it wasn’t until the late 1960s that they were able to reopen again. However, once hostels opened their doors again, hostelling prospered.

They were particularly popular during the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008, largely due to the affordable prices. Budget accommodation prospered during that period, and today it’s estimated that there are more than 15,600 hostels in the world!

Different Types of Hostels

Unique Hostel Rooms

There are many different types of hostels out there, depending on the facilities they offer and the type of traveler they cater to. Cheap hostels are the most common hostel variant out there – these hostels cater to students, backpackers, and young travelers – in general, people who are just looking to spend as little money as possible on accommodation.

Cheap hostels are often called backpacker hostels, and it’s worth noting that there really isn’t any distinction between the two. Some hostels will market themselves as backpacker hostels just to appeal to a certain crowd, but they’re really just basic, affordable hostels. 

Party hostels are also a thing. These often attract young adults who are looking to meet new people, make friends, and party as much as possible. These hostels usually feature bars, and they can even have nightclubs on the property.

Boutique hostels are also a thing that has become increasingly popular over the years, especially in Europe. These usually feature a modern or themed interior design, and they can be more expensive than regular hostels. However, in terms of amenities (dormitories, bathrooms, etc.), they’re usually not very different from basic hostels.  

School hostels are pretty popular throughout Europe and the rest of the world. These are hostels that are more designed to accommodate school-aged kids and teens, who are going abroad on school trips or just traveling with their families.

There are also family hostels, which primarily cater to families. These usually feature smaller shared rooms or larger private rooms, so they can accommodate all members of the same family. Family hostels will usually have feature other shared areas, such as game rooms, lounge rooms, kitchen, and sometimes even a pool or a gym.

What Facilities Can You Expect at a Hostel?

Hostel Dormitory

A hostel usually features several dorm rooms with bunk beds that can accommodate up to 10-12 guests each. The size of dormitories varies, and it’s worth noting that there are hostels with much smaller dorms out there. Some hostels will also offer private rooms in addition to the shared rooms, and very rarely you might even find a hostel room with a private bathroom.

Private hostel rooms are rare, but it is possible to find them. These are great for people who are traveling with a partner or in a group, but who still want to experience that unique social atmosphere of a hostel.

It’s important to note that you can usually choose what kind of dormitory you want to stay in. Most hostels offer mixed dormitories, but it is possible to find male or female-only dorms. If you’d rather not share a room with other travelers of the opposite sex, it’s important to know that you absolutely don’t have to do that.

Hostels are required to specify what kind of dormitories they offer, so just look for single-sex dorms, if that’s what you prefer.

Also, hostel guests will usually have internet access – it is the 21st century after all, and free WiFi is more important than a private bathroom to most people. Even the cheapest hostels offer some sort of internet access, even if it is in the form of a computer that you can use for a small fee. 

Some hostels might even offer free breakfast to their guests, but these are usually just as rare as hostel rooms with en suite bathrooms. Instead, most hostels will have a kitchen where you can prepare your own meals, but keep in mind you’ll be sharing the kitchen with other guests.

Up to now, I’ve told you about the facilities you can expect to find in nearly all hostels. However, there are quite a lot of unique hostels out there, and they can feature everything from a pool to an on-site gym. Just keep in mind that hostels with a bunch of different facilities usually cost more than simple hostels, and they can even be pricier than some two or three-star hotels. 

Who Stays in Hostels?

Hostel Guests

Hostels are generally most popular with young adults, but there are many exceptions to that rule. In general, hostels will be populated with solo travelers, digital nomads, backpackers, and just people who prefer to spend their money on experiences rather than wasting it on a hotel room that they’ll barely spend any time in.

Hostels also sometimes attract groups of travelers, and they’re particularly common among backpackers. 

People who stay in hostels tend to be sociable and outgoing, so if that doesn’t describe you, it’s best to spring for a private room somewhere.

One myth about hostels that needs to be debunked ASAP is that they’re only suitable for party people. Although it is true that there are “party hostels”, you don’t have to stay in one of these if you don’t want to. Party hostels are those that feature a bar, and most of them will advertise that fact. This allows them to attract a certain type of traveler, one who will save money on accommodation but splurge in the hostel bar.

How Much Does it Cost to Stay in a Hostel?

Hostel Price

Hostel prices vary and they depend on a lot of things, but in general, you can expect to spend between $10 and $40 per night. The exact prices depend on a lot of things – amenities, comfort level, type of hostel, location, and even the type of room you choose, so keep all that in mind while booking hostels.

Generally speaking, it should be possible to find a bed in a shared dormitory for as little as 20 Euros in most European cities. That’s the usual price of sleeping in a shared room with other travelers, but you should expect to pay more for hostels that offer private accommodation and better amenities.

Also, unique hostels are generally not cheap, even if they offer shared accommodation and shared bathroom facilities. It’s all about the unique experience, so don’t be surprised if a one-of-a-kind hostel in a plane costs more than a studio apartment. 

The Advantage of Staying in Hostels


The main advantage of staying in a hostel is that you’re not spending a lot of money on accommodation. This is why hostels are so popular with budget travelers – you can get a bed for 20 Euros even in the most expensive European cities, allowing you to travel the world and explore remote countries without breaking the bank.

Affordability is just one of many different advantages of staying in hostels. Location is the second one – many hostels are located in city centers, meaning you’re paying pennies for accommodation in a premium location.

Naturally, hostels can be found in many locations throughout a city, but the vast majority of them are generally in the most attractive locations.

Another advantage of staying in a hostel is the social atmosphere. Hostels are particularly great for solo travelers since the shared dorm rooms mean you’re bound to meet other people, and maybe even make friends with fellow travelers.

People who stay in hostel dorm rooms are usually sociable and outgoing, so even if you’ve traveled halfway across the world on your own, staying in a hostel means it’s possible you’ll easily make friends in a foreign city. This is also one of the major disadvantages of hostels, at least for people who prefer privacy.

The Disadvantage of a Hostel

There are many disadvantages to staying in a hostel, but they’re not exactly black and white. In other words, what someone might perceive as a disadvantage, others could consider a bonus, and an additional reason to stay in a hostel dorm room!

For me personally, the notion of sharing a bathroom with complete strangers is the main disadvantage of staying in a hostel. But that’s just my personal opinion – someone who is used to traveling in large groups and meeting new people likely won’t be as put off by this as I am.

The social atmosphere is another thing that some might perceive as a bonus and others as a reason to pay more for a hotel room or a private apartment. Introverts would likely be horrified by the notion of sleeping in a dorm room with a dozen other people, but extroverts might relish the thought of making many new friends.

Are Hostels Clean?

Hostel Clean

This is another myth about hostels that needs to be debunked! Hostels need to live up to a certain standard, just like hotels and private accommodation. They are clean, and most hotels will have bathrooms and rooms cleaned at least once a day.

That being said, it’s important to note that hostels are usually cleaned early in the morning. That’s when the bathrooms are the cleanest, and if you’re looking to shower once a day, you should head to the bathroom as soon as you wake up.

As more and more people wake up and use the bathroom throughout the day, it’s only natural that the space will get dirtier and fill up with clutter as the day goes by. Especially if you happen to be sharing the space with someone who doesn’t really care about keeping the space clean for others.

It’s worth noting that not every single hostel will be perfectly clean, but the same can be said about hotels and private apartments. If hygiene is important to you (and it should be), never book a hostel without going through its reviews.

If most people are saying that they had a good time and they praise the cleanliness, then booking it is probably a safe bet. But if you notice that the majority of reviewers are complaining about the lack of hygiene, it’s best to skip that specific facility.

Are Hostels Safe?

Hostel Locker

For the most part, hostels are perfectly safe for travelers. They’re equally as safe as hotel rooms and private apartments, especially in Western Europe. All hostels will provide guests with lockers they can use to put away their valuables, so you usually don’t have to worry about your belongings getting stolen.

Usually is the keyword there – you can never be 100% certain about someone else’s intentions, but that’s also true for private apartments and even hotel rooms.

You can’t be certain that someone won’t break into your fancy hotel room, or that the owner of that affordable AirBnB hasn’t hidden cameras all over the apartment. There are certain risks that come with traveling abroad and staying in accommodation provided by strangers, but the chances of actually having a horrible experience truly are minimal.

That being said, you should still take certain precautions when staying in a hostel, or anywhere really. Always lock up your valuable items – if you can’t afford to lose something, it should either be on your person at all times or under lock and key. Also, never leave valuables lying around.

Additionally, drink responsibly when you’re staying in a hostel. This is for your’s sake, but also for the sake of all the other people who are sleeping in the same room as you. You should never allow yourself to get so drunk to the point that you’re throwing up and you can’t control your actions when you’re sharing a room with other people.

The Difference Between Hostel and Hotel

Hotel Room

The main difference between hostels and hotels is the cost of a room. Hostels cost less money than hotels, which is the main attraction for most people. However, hotels usually rent out private rooms with private bathrooms, whereas staying in a hostel generally means that you can forget about personal space and privacy for a little while.

Also, hotels usually offer at least 4-5 types of rooms, which can accommodate between two and six people. A hotel will rarely have a dormitory, and instead, they will offer spacious and luxurious apartments for large parties of guests.

Hotels will also offer a lot of additional amenities for their guests, from plushy bathrobes and toiletries to spa and gym access. Most hotels have restaurants and offer free breakfast to their guests, as well as the option of paying extra for lunch and dinner. This isn’t something you should expect to find in a hostel – free breakfast is rarely ever offered in hostels, and in terms of toiletries, you might get free soap and toilet paper.

Unique Hostels

Pod Hostel

It’s estimated that there are more than 15,600 hostels worldwide, and very few of them are actually alike. There are certain chains of hostels that feature similar establishments in different locations, but we’re much more interested in unique hostels that have something special to offer to their guests.

So, if you’re on the fence about staying in a hostel, maybe one of the special hostels below might make you curious enough to finally bite the bullet!

Book and Bed is a unique hostel in Tokyo, and it’s pretty much heaven on Earth for bookworms. The hostel offers beds inside a huge bookcase, and all guests are free to read as many books as they want while they’re staying here. The hostel also rents private rooms, but sleeping inside an actual bookcase sounds like a lot more fun!

Bayram’s Tree Houses is a hostel near Olympos Mountain in Turkey. The hostel offers private rooms for parties up to three guests, and it’s also possible to book a bed in a six-people dormitory. The smaller room sizes feel much more intimate and private than 12-people dormitories, making this hostel ideal for people who are on the fence about sleeping in the same room as complete strangers. The thing that makes this hostel unique is that all the rooms are situated inside treehouses!

If you’ve ever wanted to spend a night inside a jail cell, the HI Ottawa Jail hostel will literally be a dream come true for you. The hotel is situated in a former jail, and some even claim it is haunted. It’s possible to choose between five types of private rooms, family rooms, and three dormitories, and they even have a room that’s decorated like an authentic jail cell. Unlike an actual prison, the hostel is clean, modern, and absolutely fascinating!

Jumbo Stay is another one-of-a-kind establishment that will erase any prejudice you might have about hostels. It’s located at Arlanda Airport in Stockholm, and all the rooms are inside 747 jumbo jets. It’s possible to choose between dormitories, suites, and standard rooms, and no matter which you choose, it could be your first time getting a good night’s sleep in an airplane!

Tresor Hostel in Ljubljana, Slovenia is the final unique hostel featured in this guide. It’s situated in a former bank building in the historic center of Slovenia’s capital, and it’s easily the best hostel in the entire city.
The central location makes it ideal for exploring Ljubljana, while the comfortable and modern rooms quickly let you forget you’re staying inside a former bank. They offer private suites and dormitories of varying sizes, and it’s worth noting that Hostel Tresor features a female-only dorm for the ladies.

About the Author Roger Timbrook

Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!

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