What is a hostel?
Even if you’ve never stayed in a hostel before, you probably know that hostels are a type of shared accommodation that helps your travel budget go further. But what you may not know is that the uniquely social nature of hostelling will transform your trip.
We think this quote from travel blogger @glographics sums up the hostelling experience rather nicely:
“With a hostel, you get to pay half the price for twice the fun.” 😜
If you’ve never stayed in a hostel before, allow us to debunk some crazy myths and answer all the questions you might have around what is a hostel. Here’s everything you need to know about hostelling and hostel life. Buckle up, because your travels will never be the same again…
What is a hostel?
No two hostels are alike, but we can promise you one thing: it will never be dull. So what is a hostel?
In a nutshell, a hostel is a budget-friendly type of accommodation that focuses on a shared social experience. Check out the video below for a more in-depth introduction:
Sounds a bit vague, right? To help you get a better idea of what hostelling is all about, we asked our travel community to define a hostel in three words. Here are some of the best 👇
Embracing The Unexpected
Literally Adult Playgrounds
Social. Friends. Adventure.
An Experiences Imaginarium
Anything Can Happen
Diverse Social Exchange
Design. Creativity. Interaction.
Price. Location. Social.
Who Stays In A Hostel?
One of the best things about hostelling is that you get to meet people so many different kinds of people from all over the world. You never know who you’ll meet while staying in a hostel, which adds an element of excitement that’s hard to get if you’re holed up on your own in a hotel room.
Our travel blogger friend @amybakerwrites sums up the type of people likely to stay in a hostel quite nicely:
“You never know who you’re going to end up sharing a beer with – I’ve met people cycling from Chile to Alaska, a dude who survived a crocodile attack, a professional touring clown, an 80 year old born again backpacker. I’ve hung out with metal bands, sports teams, politicians, and ex-soap actors. Hostelling gives you a chance to meet people you’d never encounter in your day-to-day life. It’s what makes it unique, and it’s why it’s always my top choice when I travel.”
So the short answer is that hostels are for everyone. There isn’t just one type of person that stays in a hostel while they travel. The majority of hostel guests are still budget-conscious solo travellers, backpackers, students, digital nomads, and gap year travellers under the age of 35. But the fact that many hostels are now as luxurious and stylish as hotels means that more and more people are falling in love with social travel.
What Facilities Can You Expect At A Hostel?
Once Again Hostel in Bangkok
If you haven’t seen any pictures of hostels recently, prepare to be amazed. In terms of facilities, many hostels have everything you would expect from hotels and much more besides. You should always read each hostel’s description carefully on our website before you book, but here are some of the facilities you can expect to find at most hostels…
Think private rooms with velvet headboards; dorms with “pod beds” which offer privacy on a budget; bunk beds with double mattresses. You can expect nice sheets, pillows and a duvet – and no, you don’t need to bring a sleeping bag. Unless that’s your thing.
Wombats in Berlin
Oh, hello gorgeous sunsets and stunning views. There are some incredible hostel roof terraces out there, and the best bit is you’ll get to share the moment with your new friends. Just add pizza and beer.
Spin Designer Hostel in the Philippines
Hostels are designed to be social hubs that enable you to have fun with other travellers. One of the ways they do this is by organising LOADS of fun events. These are usually free and can be anything from surfing classes to rooftop yoga sessions, picnics on the beach to an evening of Russian dumpling making.
Memory Hostel in Vietnam
Hot water all day long; free towels, or ones you can rent cheaply; en-suite bathrooms for both privates and dorms. Free toiletries, hairdryers, hair straighteners, full length mirrors.
Casa Elemento in Colombia
So. Many. Hammocks. These are pretty much mandatory, and can range from regular chill out hammocks to XXL swinging hammocks with views of the Colombian jungle.
Most hostels will offer daily housekeeping, laundry facilities and maybe even a few encouraging words. It may be boring, but you’ll be grateful for somewhere to wash your clothes and regroup before heading out on the next leg of your adventure. There’s also the option of washing all your clothes in a tiny bathroom sink whenever the stench starts to scare off other travellers…
Many hostels have swimming pools, and they are the perfect place to relax and make friends. Some even host events such as mermaid pool parties. Yes, that is a thing!
Amazing Food and Drink
The Five House in Portugal
The first thing you need to know about food and drink in hostels is that it’s often totally FREE! Most hostels offer a free breakfast, which can be anything from toast, fruit and cereal to decadent fresh pancakes and waffles. Many also offer free or cheap weekly events, such as pasta night, homemade cakes, or cooking classes. You’ll be surprised at just how incredible the food and drink at hostels is nowadays, from barista made coffee to locally sourced vegan curries.
Hom Hostel & Cooking Club in Bangkok
This is one of the best places to make friends in a hostel. You’ll learn how to make cheap authentic grub from all over the world. You can store your food in the communal fridge and cupboards, and there will often be free staples such as pasta, olive oil, salt etc. that you can help yourself to. Some hostels even have their own (rooftop) garden where you can pick fresh herbs and veg.
Town House 373 Saigon in Ho Chi Minh
Did you know many other types of accommodation charge for this basic human right?! Damn them. When you stay in a hostel you’re pretty much guaranteed free Wifi. And often there will be computers in the communal areas for you to use free of charge. If you have a major Netflix addiction, or you’re a digital nomad, it’s a good idea to read the reviews on our site to find out how good the WiFi is in more remote parts of the world.
Purveyor of cheap drinks, new friends and fun times. Some of our best memories involved a hostel bar.
Local Travel Secrets
Free maps, walking tours and insider local tips from travellers and hostel staff in the know – this will help you avoid the tourist traps and save you $$$.
Bambuda Lodge in Panama
WARNING: Some hostels have slides. We call these THE BEST hostels. Our favourite is Bambuda Lodge, where you can slide directly into the ocean. The gorgeous concrete slide at Here Hostel in Bangkok is also pretty mega.
24/7 reception; entry cards for rooms; big lockers for your precious things. It’s a good idea to pack a padlock for the lockers, though you should be able to rent one cheaply from reception if you forget.
Adult Ball Pit
Okay, okay, so there’s currently only one hostel in the world with its own adult ball pit, but it’s surely on a matter of time before this becomes a hostel staple… right?!
Are There Different Types Of Hostel?
Drifter Jack’s Hostel in Austin
If at this point you’re thinking “I’m an introvert who hates partying. Hostels are my idea of hell.” then we need to talk. Yes, hostels can be great for partying. But they can also be great for a more chilled travel experience with people on your wavelength: think rooftop yoga, private beaches, hiking adventures, surf lessons and vegan food.
Hostels come in all different shapes and sizes, so it’s just a question of always reading the reviews from fellow travellers before you book to find one that will suit your travel style. Many hostels offer the best of both worlds: A crazy wild bar and an indoor wigwam with Netflix on repeat. A huge cook up in the communal kitchen and chill time in the library.
Where Can You Find Hostels?
EVERYWHERE. The amazing thing about hostels is that you can stay at the heart of some of the world’s most exciting cities; in an exotic paradises with its own private beach; or even under the majesty of the Northern Lights – all on a backpacker’s budget. Check out the location ratings for each hostel on our site to make sure you pick the neighbourhood that’s right for you.
What’s The Difference Between A Hostel And A Hotel?
Ecomama in Amsterdam
There are two main differences between hostels and hotels: the price, and the people.
Staying in a hostel will save you huge amounts of money, whether it’s a six month backpacking trip through Southeast Asia with your mates, or a long weekend in Berlin with your bae. But the main reason people stay in hostels isn’t the price, it’s the people. The social atmosphere in hostels is totally unique, and it’s what makes hostelling so addictive. It can transform your trip from a sightseeing tour into a more meaningful experience. You’ll meet new friends from all over the world. You’ll cook together, drink together, and go on adventures together. You’ll get tips from the hostel staff, some of who might have exclusive local knowledge, and others who are travellers just like you.
In terms of facilities, location and safety, hostels can easily give hotels a run for their money. They’ve got rooftop pools, kingsize beds, 24/7 security and en-suite bathrooms. To find out just how luxurious hostels have become, read the section on hostel facilities above.
What Types Of Rooms Do Hostels Have?
Die Wohngemeinschaft in Cologne
Most people know that hostels have dorms, which are basically large rooms that sleep between 4 and 16 people. By staying in a dorm room, you can pay a fraction of the price per night compared to other types of accommodation; in general, the more people you share your dorm with, the cheaper it will be.
Dorms come in different shapes and sizes: from the basic and cheap to the more swanky ones with pod-style beds and double mattresses. No matter what type of dorm you opt for, pretty much all dorm beds will come equipped with a reading light, power socket to charge your gadgets, and possibly a privacy curtain. Many even come with en-suite bathroom. And ladies, if you don’t fancy sharing your sleeping space with guys, many hostels have female only dorms. If the hostel offers this option, it should appear in the list of room types when you’re booking.
Fabrika Hostel & Suites in Tbilisi
Lots of people don’t realise that in addition to dorms, hostels also have private rooms. So you can have your own space, without sacrificing the fun that only a hostel can give you. Private rooms in hostels are perfect for older travellers or couples who want a bit more privacy. They’re more expensive than dorms, but they tend to be cheaper than other types of accommodation. In terms of facilities, private hostel rooms are on a par with hotels – plus you get the added bonus of amazing social areas, free events and like-minded travellers.
Are hostels only in Europe?
USA Hostels Ocean Beach in San Diego
Hell no! It’s a common myth, particularly amongst Americans, that you can only find hostels in Europe. While it’s true that this is where hostelling first began, you can now find hostels all over the world. Hostels in Asia and South America have long been a popular option, and yes – there are even hostels in the US.
How Much Does It Cost To Stay In A Hostel?
As a general rule of thumb, hostels cost much less than other types of accommodation, because you’re sharing your space with other travellers. Even if you opt to stay in a private room, hostels can still save you money both on the basic price of the room as well as all the added extras such as events, communal kitchen, and free wifi.
The exact price of a hostel will depend on where in the world you’re travelling, how many people you’re sharing a room with and when you’re travelling. Roughly speaking, you can expect to pay anywhere from £6 to £30 per night to stay in a hostel in Europe. One way to keep the cost down and ensure you don’t miss out on an awesome hostel is to book in advance, especially during peak season, when lots of hostels get fully booked.
Are hostels safe?
Hostels are as safe if not safer than many other types of accommodation. The fact that you’re sharing a space with lots of other travellers means there will always be people around, and if you don’t return home from a night out, your new friends will notice your empty bed and raise the alarm. That doesn’t happen in a hotel or private apartment.
Most hostels have 24/7 reception, security staff and card keys for the rooms to make sure only guests can get into the hostel. Nearly all hostels come equipped with lockers in the dorms for you to lock away your valuables at night or if you go out during the day. Provided you take the same safety precautions you would anywhere else, there’s no need to be anxious about staying in a hostel.
Got a question about hostelling? Leave a comment below and we’ll do our best to answer 👇 And for all the hostel geeks out there reading this, why not share this blogpost with your hostel virgin friends – they’ll thank you for it!