All About Hostelling

Hostels provide accommodation. In British English, an effort should be made to distinguish between establishments that provide longer term accommodation (often to specific classes of clientèle such as Nurses, Students, drug addicts, arrested persons subsequently bailed to await trial and homeless people where the Hostels are sometimes run by Housing Associations and charities) and those offering short term accommodation to travellers or backpackers.

Within the latter category another distinction can be drawn between those particularly encouraging outdoor activities and cultural exchange for the young, who are often members of Hostelling International (HI) a nonprofit organisation, and commercial backpackers’ hostels (or backpackers’ for short), particularly in Australia and New Zealand. The former may be easily distinguished by reserving to them the term Youth Hostel. 

Hostelling is, in part, the act of traveling and staying in hostels. Referred to as “backpacking” in many parts of the world, it’s perhaps best described as traveling cheaply with an adventurous spirit. The terms hosteller and backpacker are basically synonymous. Backpackers tend to travel for longer periods than the typical tourist. 

In many countries, especially Australia and New Zealand, it’s customary for students and recent graduates to take trips of up to a year or more! While hostelling, you see the world from a perspective that the average tourist will never see. You meet local people, learn customs, eat local food and often have opportunities to do things you never imagined. Trips are usually only roughly planned without itineraries to allow for last minute changes when something unexpected and exciting presents itself. Basically, backpackers stay longer, see more, and do more for less money! 

In a Hostel guests often rent a bed (sometimes a bunk bed) in a dormitory and share common bathroom, kitchen, and lounge rooms. Private rooms are increasingly common in all types of Hostel. All Hostels are generally cheaper for both the supplier and the guest. A benefit of Bail Hostels and Youth Hostels will be the relatively closer supervision that can be exercised.

They come in all shapes and sizes. There are hostels in castles, in teepees and in railroad carriages. They are in sleepy towns, sprawling metropolises and everything in between. Some hostels are huge, providing beds for hundreds; others consist of a single room in a friendly family home. Some are mountain huts that require extensive hiking to get to while others are in urban jungles of towering skyscrapers. And this is what makes the entire experience so appealing to backpackers, you really don’t know what you’re going to get from one hostel to the next.

For travellers, main benefits include the low cost of the accommodation compared to alternatives such as hotels, and the opportunity to interact more with other travellers (often from all over the world). Youth Hostels are usually less formal and less expensive than hotels. They are most frequently used by young travellers. In the past many Youth Hostels imposed age limits, but today it is more common for Youth Hostels to accept guests of all ages. Despite the openness of modern Youth Hostels, the majority of guests are traditionally and overwhelmingly between the ages of 18 and 26.

Youth Hostels provide opportunities for multicultural enlightenment. There is more interaction between guests than in traditional hotels, and many Youth Hostels provide activities to their guests for free or at low cost. There are some potential drawbacks to using Youth Hostels.

There are still Youth Hostels in some countries that have a curfew, daytime lockouts, and/or require occupants to do chores, but as Youth Hostels adapt to meet the changing expectations of guests these are becoming less and less common.

Theft can be a problem since guests may share a common living space, but this can be prevented by locking belongings up. Most hostels offer some sort of system for safely storing your valuables, and many offer private lockers. However, for the greater part travellers are equally concerned for the well-being of their own belongings so that theft of other people’s belongings rarely takes place.

One potential drawback to staying in hostel dormitories is the difficulty of sleeping because of noise, whether from snoring, someone returning to the room late in the evening, or just general noise from one’s living surroundings. For this reason, some Youth Hostel Associations fix times for last admission and lights out.

In 1912 in Altena, Germany, Richard Schirrmann created the first permanent youth hostel. The first hostels were an exponent of the ideology of the German Youth Movement to let (poor) young city people get a fresh breath in the outdoors. The youths were supposed to manage the hostel themselves as much as possible, such as with doing chores (which also kept the costs down).

This first hostel was inside Altena castle, which had recently been reconstructed. The old rooms are now on display; the youth hostel has moved to new rooms, though it is still located inside the castle grounds. These youth hostels now belong to Hostelling International (HI) a nonprofit organisation composed of more than 90 associations representing about 4000 hostels in over 80 countries. Hostelling International was formerly called the International Youth Hostel Federation (IYHF). 

Since the children were supposed to go out and be active, the hostels were usually closed during the day. HI holds a trademark registration of the phrase “youth hostel” but this term is commonly used to describe all types of hostels, whether or not they belong to HI. Independent hostels do not belong to HI and do not have to conform to the accommodation standards set by HI although they are sometimes less expensive. Some hostels cater more to school-aged children (sometimes through school trips) and parents with their children, whereas others are more for travellers intent on learning new cultures. Many hostels employ their long-term residents as desk clerks in exchange for free housing.

However, while the exploration of different cultures and places is emphasised in many hostels, particularly in cities or popular tourist destinations, there are still many hostels providing accommodation for outdoor pursuits such as hillwalking, climbing and bicycle touring. These are often small friendly hostels that retain much of the original vision and often provide valuable access to more remote regions.

Older-style hostels have dormitory style accommodation, newer hostels usually include en-suite accommodation with single-occupancy rooms and both these types of hostel can be found throughout the HI network as well as the independents. 

People from all walks of life and every corner of the world stay in hostels. Many are misled into thinking that this form of accommodation only appeals to the younger generation of travelers. Hostels provide a great way to meet new people and experience new things which is why they appeal to such a diverse range.

Dormitories are often, but not always, separated by sex. There will be between 2 and 10 people sharing a room with bunk beds. Sometimes, particularly during peak seasons, large rooms sleeping as many as 30 people are made available but are not commonplace. As well as this, quite a lot of hostels now offer private rooms. For example a hostel will have smaller dorms (4-6 beds) which can be booked by an entire group so that you have the room to yourself. And, as mentioned in the first answer on this page, many are not unlike hotels offering private single, twin and double rooms with en suite facilities.