What is a Hostel?

Written by: Chris Richardson

In simple terms, a hostel is cheap or budget accommodation that offers dorm room-style lodging. But ask any traveller “what is a hostel“, and you’ll get a far more exciting and passionate answer. And here is why.

A hostel, a youth hostel, a backpackers hostel or just a backpackers as they can often be referred to, is more than just a cheap place to stay. Hostels are the hub for any would-be traveller or backpacker undertaking a summer adventure or long-term trip abroad.

A hostel is your home on the road.

While no two hostels are the same, they all have a common purpose and offer similar services.

What Do Hostels Offer

A hostel will usually offer the following at its core:

Other more boutique hostels or what you’d call party hostels have a bar onsite and a courtyard or rooftop terrace seating to further relax and even a pool. A lot can be determined by where you find yourself in the world and the price you pay per night. A hostel in Europe will be different to one in Asia.

You’ll also have the usual free wifi, security lockers and a billion pamphlets on things to do in the area and an array of location-specific things too. The staff are also a wealth of knowledge for finding places and things the locals love.

What Do Hostels Provide

While a cheap place to stay and a bed is the key to a hostel, it’s not really about what they offer that makes a hostel. It’s the community around it and what they provide to the person staying there that makes being in one such a joy, and that is priceless.

Events & Activities

Hostels provide a meeting place for like-minded people to mingle, chat and have fun. They run group events or activities. The focus here is on ensuring everyone feels welcomed and a part of the hostel family. Some of the activities or services hostels provide are:

  • Movie Nights
  • Group or “Family” Meals
  • Karaoke
  • Tours
  • Free Breakfasts
  • Board Games
  • Pub Crawls
  • Yoga

A Friendly Atmosphere

The most enjoyable part of staying in a hostel is the chance to chat with and get to know a whole bunch of other people interested in the same thing as you, travel. I still have friends I talk to that I first met in a hostel.

The people staying in a hostel are what gives the hostel its appeal. And while you can not guarantee every hostel will have a good mix of guests, more often than not, you can find enough people to get to know to make the stay a memorable one.


Travelling in a foreign country can be daunting for some. Especially first-time travellers, solo travellers and those of a more anxious nature.

Knowing you have a safe place to sleep where you can lock up your belongings and be around others with common interests is very important. I know my first week abroad in Europe was made all the more relaxed thanks to the hostel I was in.

Who Can Stay In A Hostel

Anybody can stay in a hostel. Some hostels will have age limits or cater to a specific age bracket or type of traveller (think party hostels). You can check any specific stay requirements before booking a hostel online.

The rise of boutique or luxury focussed hostels has opened the door to more people than just your average backpacker. Families, digital nomads, solo travellers, students, backpackers and long-term travellers now all share or have fallen in love with the atmosphere and experience a hostel offers.

How Much Do Hostels Cost

The cost of a hostel can vary greatly. Based on what part of the world you are in. The type of hostel you stay in and the time of year you visit. Looking at Europe, you’ll pay on average $20 – $40 USD for a quality hostel.

But during the peak summer season, it can easily be more, especially if you book late or opt for a private room.

This cost is still far less than you’d pay for a Hotel or Airbnb, and you get all the value ads mentioned above.

A free breakfast alone can save you $5-10 daily, and almost all hostels offer it.

Booking A Hostel

There have been many booking sites over the years. And there are many more comparison sites, all trying to find you the best deal.

In my mind, it’s best to use the biggest one around, and that is HostelWorld and skip a lot of the upselling on other sites. HostelWorld has been around for as long as I can remember. And so have a massive database of hostels and associated reviews.

I’ve used them countless times and never had a problem.

You can also book directly with a hostel either on their website if they offer it or via the phone. But I find having all my bookings in one place so I can trace my history and previous stays convenient.

Picking A Hostel

When picking a hostel to stay in, always read the online reviews of the booking site you use. Other backpackers and travellers will leave feedback after staying there, which can be helpful to your decision.

They might mention some of the following:

  • Is the hostel well located to public transport
  • Is the hostel in a safe area
  • Were the directions given easy to follow to find the hostel
  • Was it clean
  • Where the staff friendly
  • Did the hostel live up to expectations
  • Where there any problems or issues with the hostel

You want to know where you plan to stay has been enjoyed and liked by others before you book. And while you might still end up not having a good experience, as long as you do your due diligence beforehand. You’ll reduce the risk of landing in a less than stellar hostel.

Where Can You Find Hostels

You will find hostels located all around the world. But they are far more common across Europe, South East Asia and South/Central America, along with Australia and New Zealand. Pretty much most places except the US and Canada.

The majority of hostels are found across major cities and tourist paths. Such as on the east coast of Australia, where backpackers will travel from far north Queensland down to Sydney and Melbourne along the coast.

What Is A Hostel To You

Travelling and Hostels go hand in hand. There’s something about the vibe and feel of staying in a hostel you just can’t get in a fancy hotel. You feel closer to the city you are in. More connected in a way. I think this is partly due to the efforts some hostels make to fit into their neighbourhoods and the city they are in.

I just know that the first big trip I took backpacking around Europe for the summer would not have been what it was without everything I got out of staying in hostels.

If you are on the fence about booking a hostel to stay in while you travel, don’t be. They are an amazingly cheap accommodation option and are full of people all looking to get the most out of their travels as you are.