What is a hostel?

Hostel is a place to spend the night. If you would ask anybody what a hostel is in the mid-80s, they would know that it is a place that offers accommodation, usually in a single bed in a room shared with other people and has one rule – it is budget friendly. Bathrooms are often shared, as well as common areas and sometimes a kitchen. Dormitory rooms can be mixed or separated by gender, but there are usually some private rooms too, just more expensive.

But due to general progress this description would not apply very well any more. Today hostels that boast with membership in the international network called Hostelling International mostly have smaller rooms, with an increasing number of rooms with lesser number of beds and their own toilets. Yet, hostels still offer cheaper beds in dormitory rooms. Rooms can also be flexible and can have four beds in the busy days and only two if the facility is not too crowded.

An obvious question pops to mind – what’s a difference between a hostel and a cheap hotel? The easiest possible answer would be that in hotels the standards set the mood, while in the hostels the mood sets the standards. This means that even if the rooms might be similar, a hostel is a hub for young people who socialize and exchange experience – just that the main social activities take place in the common areas and not in the shared bedrooms.

When people think of hostels, they usually think of young travellers, with a backpack, looking for a place to spend the night. But a hostel is much more! It’s a place for young people, and young at heart who desire to travel to new lands, meet new people and gain new life experience. Hostels are a great place to start exploring the world and different cultures – and above all, to examine yourself.

Many hostels offer shelter to travellers for longer time periods as well. It’s mostly for seasonal work, when travellers work as light labour force (in reception, kitchen or cleaning) and get free accommodation. Many travellers, especially in their gap year, want to combine travel and part time work. The gap year is the time, when they want to have some more fun before serious life starts (after gaining their degree) and they also wish to gain some work experience, away from home, to work on their foreign language skills and to broaden the circle of people they know.

In some countries like Great Britain, Ireland, Netherlands, India and Australia certain hostels are run by charity organizations and are mostly known as places that offer long term boarding for students, addicts, poor children and people with lesser opportunities. The word hostel means a lot more than simply an object that offers cheap board for the night.

A bigger difference is still visible when we talk about hostels, which are a part of an organized network of youth boarding facilities, and hostels that simply wish to make a quick buck (most often an apartment in one of the larger capitals, with expensive hotels). This phenomenon is very much present, currently due to the many online booking portals, which only care to gain a percentage of the profit, for the product they offer. It is legal, but might be very unfriendly for travellers, as they don’t know what to expect. Of course, it is possible to find high-quality boards for acceptable price at such portals, but it can also very well be a damp room we’d rather not enter.

That is why the network of Hostelling International places care to maintain its standards for their tourist products. On the portal www.hihostels.com or at national portals such as www.youth-hostel.si you can only find hostels, which are part of the network in a certain country or are under direct supervision of Hostelling International if the network in that country still doesn’t exist. And that is what separates the booking system of Hostelling International from other commercial booking systems. Commercial systems offer everything from high priced hotels to a bed in a room with 20 beds and only one toilet seat. Booking at www.hihostels.com only offers hostels that are up to date with the standards of the Hostelling International.

So why choose a hostel?

Exploring various cultures and places, especially in world capitals and other popular destinations, is the main reason for checking into a hostel. There are also many other hostels that offer specialised activities, such as climbing, hiking and cycling. These are usually smaller objects, which still hold the original spirit of hostels and ensure access to more remote locations. It is important to stress that they aren’t just for individual travellers, but also for target groups, such as sport teams, school children or families.