What Is A Hostel? The Answer Will Change Your Travels Forever

What Is A Hostel? The Answer Will Change Your Travels Forever

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.

Who will you meet in hostels? (c) deniselanaiThe Farm Hostel in Bali ? @deniselanai

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.”

what is a hostel / away with the fairies backpackers (c) mariekedutoitAway With The Fairies Backpackers in South Africa ? @mariekedutoit

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?

what is a hostel / once again 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…

Luxurious beds

What is a hostel / Lisbon Calling HostelLisbon Calling Hostel

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.

Roof Terraces

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.

? Hostels With Jaw-Dropping Rooftops

Fun Events

what is a hostel / best food hostels_spin hostel philippinesSpin 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.

Fancy Bathrooms

what is a hostel / memory hostel da nangMemory 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.

Laundry Facilities

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…

Swimming Pools

what is a hostel / freehand miamiFreehand Miami

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

what is a hostel / The Five House Sintra
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.

? 16 Delicious Things You Won’t Believe You Can Find In A Hostel

Communal Kitchen

what is a hostel / hom hostel rooftopHom 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.

Free Wifi

what is a hostel / Town house 373 hostel (c) teejay hughes
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.

Hostel Bars

what is a hostel (c) lola photographySt Christopher’s Inn Gare Du Nord in Paris ? @lola.photography

Purveyor of cheap drinks, new friends and fun times. Some of our best memories involved a hostel bar.

? Eat, Drink, Dance, Repeat: Hostel Bars You Could Live In

Local Travel Secrets

Yes! Lisbon HostelEmma Lucey

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 $$$.


what is a hostle / bambuda lodge in PanamaBambuda 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

what is a hostel / adult ball pit / hub new lisbon hostelHub New Lisbon Hostel

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?

what is a hostel / drifter jacks hostel austinDrifter 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.

? 14 Surf Hostels That Will Make You Want To Take Up Surfing

? 99 Unusual Hostels You’ll Never Want To Leave

? Yoga Hostels To Soothe Your Mind, Body And Nomadic Soul

Where Can You Find Hostels?

what is a hostel / pal's hostel budapest / emma luceyPal’s Hostel in Budapest ? Emma Lucey

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.

? 13 Hostels In Exotic Locations You Won’t Believe Exist

? The Hosteller’s Guide To The Northern Lights

? 15 Hiking Hostels To Unleash Your Inner Nature Beast

What’s The Difference Between A Hostel And A Hotel?

what is a hostel / ecomama amsterdamEcomama 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?


what is a hostel / die wohngemeinschaft hostel cologneDie 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.

? Hostels With Fancy AF Dorms


what is a hostel / fabrika tbilisi in GeorgiaFabrika 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.

? Newsflash: The Hostel Dorms Are Making Backpackers Lose Their Sh*t

Are hostels only in Europe?

what is a hostel / usa ocean san diegoUSA 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.

? Top US Hostels: Live The American Dream For Less

How Much Does It Cost To Stay In A Hostel?

what is a hostel / best hostel food_noordzee hostel smoothie (c) teejay hughesNoordzee Hostel in the Philippines ? @teejayhughes

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?

what is a hostel / ani haakien rotterdam (c) christian escobarHostel Ani & Haakien Rotterdam@ic.theworld 

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.

Why not pin this article for later? ?

what is a hostel pin

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!

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Amy Dutton

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17 Responses to “What Is A Hostel? The Answer Will Change Your Travels Forever”

  1. It’s worth pointing out to British travellers that in the UK they’re often called “Youth Hostels”., but everywhere else they’re simply “Hostels”. I’m a more mature traveller (from the UK) and before I started using hostels I thought there was an upper age restriction because of their name. Not true, in fact while most guests are indeed younger there are plenty of older travellers, and I’m just as accepted as any other guest, even in dorm rooms.

  2. Hi! I am interrailing this summer for the first time, and I was wondering whether you would recommend reserving trains first, or hostel accommodation? Thanks

    • Hey Sasha, the best hostels do tend to get full up about a few weeks in advance during the summer. So it’s best to book as far ahead as possible to avoid being disappointed if you have your heart set on a specific hostel. That being said you’ll almost always find somewhere to stay even on the day of your trip using our app, so don’t stress 😉 train prices will vary massively from country to country, but certainly in places like the UK it’s best to book at least a month in advance to get the cheapest tickets. Even booking your train a couple of days in advance can be significantly cheaper than buying on the day. Hope that helps!

      • Thank you for your help Emma, will keep that in mind! Even though we are not going until June, I think we will start booking hostels soon. I am going interrailing with 3 friends and we have just bought a Global Pass so I will look into reserving overnight trains soon to avoid disappointment!

        I was wondering if you could please advise me on hostels – we are looking to stay in dorms. On the HostelWorld site, for example if there is a 6 bed mixed dorm, and I selected 4 beds (for me and my friends), would we all be placed in the same dorm room?


  3. Bonita Hendricks Reply

    Hi! I traveled outside of my home country, South Africa, at the ripe old age of 56 … Backpacking SOLO through Spain! I did not stay in any hotels. I didn’t pre-book accommodation. I only stayed in Hostels. I was never stranded or lonely. I met wonderful people of all ages. I will definitely do it again.

  4. I am 43 years old and I’ve never heard of Hostels before. How could I possibly have missed this? Sounds so great, especially for younger single people.

    Definitely something to look into the next time we want to travel. One question… are hostels kid-friendly? I have a six year old and a nine year old.

    • Simone Jacobs (Hostelworld) Reply

      Hey Amy, thanks for your comment!

      Having just discovered hostels, your family’s got some exciting adventures ahead!

      On our website, looking at a specific hostel you’ll find a ‘things to note’ heading at the bottom where you can see if the hostel has any age restrictions. Hope this helps!

      All the best with your travels ✈️

  5. johannawhitaker Reply

    Sorry to hear that Courtney! From a fellow introvert, it’s all about picking the right hostel for you.

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