What is a Hostel? A Comprehensive Guide to Budget Travel Accommodation

By: MapQuest Travel  | 
what is a hostel
Hostels provide budget-friendly lodging, often with dormitory-style rooms and shared facilities. skaman306 / Getty Images

Are you planning an international trip and looking for affordable accommodation options? If so, you might want to consider staying in a hostel. Hostels are a popular choice among travelers, especially those on a tight budget or those who want to meet new people during their travels. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore what hostels are, how they work, and the advantages and disadvantages of staying in a hostel.


Understanding Hostels: What Are They?

A hostel is a type of accommodation that offers basic, shared facilities at a lower cost compared to hotels. While hotels provide private rooms with individual amenities, hostels focus on communal living spaces. In hostels, you'll find large rooms with multiple bunk beds, shared bathrooms, and communal kitchens. This setup allows travelers to save money by sharing accommodations and amenities.

Hostels originated in Europe but have gained popularity worldwide. They cater to a wide range of travelers, from solo backpackers and students to digital nomads and budget-conscious travelers. While hostels are often associated with younger travelers, people of all ages can enjoy the unique experience of staying in a hostel.


How Do Hostels Work?

Hostels operate similarly to hotels but with a few key differences. While it's advisable to make a reservation in advance, many hostels also keep a few beds available for drop-in guests. Unlike hotels, hostels may have curfews in place to ensure the comfort of all guests and the safety of the premises. If you arrive after curfew, you may be locked out for the night.

To keep costs low, hostels offer shared rooms instead of private ones and provide only the most basic amenities. However, some hostels do offer private rooms at a higher price, providing a more hotel-like experience for those who prefer more privacy.


Hostel vs. Hotel: What's the Difference?

The main difference between a hostel and a hotel lies in the type of accommodation they offer. In hotels, guests are guaranteed a private room with their own bathroom. On the other hand, hostels feature shared rooms with bunk beds and communal bathrooms. Hostels are known for their social atmosphere, making them a great option for those who want to meet fellow travelers and engage in a vibrant community. Hotels, on the other hand, prioritize privacy and offer more amenities and services.


Advantages of Staying in a Hostel

Hostels offer several advantages over traditional hotels, making them a popular choice among travelers. Let's explore some of the key benefits of staying in a hostel:

1. Cost-Effective Accommodation

One of the biggest advantages of staying in a hostel is the cost savings. Hostels are significantly cheaper than hotels, especially when it comes to shared dormitory rooms. Depending on the location and room type, you can find hostels for as little as $10 per night. This makes hostels an ideal option for budget-conscious travelers, students, and backpackers looking to stretch their travel budget.


For even more affordable travel options, some hostels offer volunteer programs where you can exchange work for free accommodation. Organizations like International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ) provide opportunities to volunteer abroad while enjoying full room and board for as little as $20 per day.

2. Social Opportunities

If you're looking to meet new people and make friends from around the world, staying in a hostel is a fantastic way to do so. Hostels are known for their social atmosphere, creating an environment where travelers can easily connect with others. Shared common areas, such as lounges, kitchens, and rooftop terraces, provide ample opportunities for interaction and bonding.

By staying in a hostel, you can participate in social activities organized by the hostel, such as group tours, pub crawls, and game nights. These activities foster a sense of community and make it easier to meet like-minded travelers, share experiences, and even embark on adventures together.

3. Unique Experiences and Locations

Hostels come in all shapes and sizes, each with its own unique charm and character. Unlike chain hotels that often offer a standardized experience, hostels can surprise you with their creativity and individuality. Some hostels feature rooftop hangout areas with stunning views, while others boast exotic bars or even slides that lead directly into the ocean.

Moreover, hostels are often located in prime tourist areas, allowing you to easily access popular attractions, city centers, and vibrant neighborhoods. Whether you're looking to explore cultural landmarks or discover hidden gems off the beaten path, staying in a hostel can enhance your travel experience by immersing you in the heart of your destination.

4. Affordability for Large Groups

If you're traveling with a group of friends or family members, booking multiple hotel rooms can quickly become expensive. Hostels offer a cost-effective alternative by providing large bunk rooms that can accommodate groups. Instead of paying for individual hotel rooms, you can book a shared dormitory room and enjoy the company of your travel companions while saving money.

5. Wi-Fi and Breakfast Included

Most hostels provide free Wi-Fi access for guests. While the connection speed may vary depending on the location and number of users, you can usually check your emails, browse the web, and stay connected with loved ones. However, streaming movies and TV shows may be challenging in areas with limited bandwidth or high demand.

Additionally, many hostels offer complimentary breakfast as part of the accommodation package. While the breakfast may not be extravagant, it typically includes items such as croissants, toast, cereal, and coffee or tea. This can be a significant cost-saving, especially if you're on a tight budget or prefer to start your day with a light meal.


Disadvantages of Staying in a Hostel

While hostels have many advantages, it's important to consider the potential drawbacks before making a decision. Here are some disadvantages of staying in a hostel:

1. Limited Privacy

One of the main challenges of staying in a hostel is the lack of privacy. In shared dormitory rooms, you'll be sleeping in close proximity to other travelers, sometimes in bunk beds. This means you may have limited personal space and must be comfortable with sharing your room with strangers. While some hostels offer private rooms, these are often more expensive and may not be available at all locations.


2. Noise and Interruptions

In a shared room, noise can be a common issue. Your roommates may come and go at different hours, causing disruptions to your sleep. Some may be noisy or have different sleep schedules, which can affect the quality of your rest. To mitigate this, consider packing earplugs or a sleep mask to help you sleep through any disturbances.

3. Communal Bathrooms

Many hostels have shared bathrooms, which can be a challenge during peak times. Depending on the hostel's capacity, you may have to wait in line to use the facilities or share them with a large number of people. Cleanliness can also be a concern, so it's important to read reviews and choose hostels with positive feedback regarding bathroom hygiene.

4. Lack of Personal Amenities

Compared to hotels, hostels generally offer fewer amenities and services. While some hostels may provide towels, hair dryers, and toiletries, others may require you to bring your own or charge an additional fee for their use. It's essential to check the hostel's amenities in advance to ensure you have everything you need during your stay.

5. Potential for Party Atmosphere

While hostels vary in their atmosphere, some can be vibrant party destinations. If you prefer a quieter and more peaceful environment, it's important to research the hostel's reputation and read reviews to determine if it aligns with your preferences. If you're not interested in late-night partying, it's best to choose a hostel that caters to a more relaxed and quiet ambiance.


Are Hostels Safe?

Safety is a common concern for travelers considering hostels. In general, hostels prioritize the security and well-being of their guests. Many hostels have locked entrances, requiring a key or access card for entry. This helps ensure that only guests have access to the premises.

Additionally, some hostels offer lockers or safes where you can store your valuables. It's recommended to bring your own padlock or purchase one at the hostel to secure your belongings. However, it's always important to exercise caution and use common sense when staying in any accommodation, including hostels. Keep your personal belongings secure and be aware of your surroundings.


How Much Does It Cost to Stay in a Hostel?

The cost of staying in a hostel can vary depending on the location, season, room type, and additional services offered. On average, you can expect to pay between $10 and $40 per night for a bed in a shared dormitory room. Private rooms in hostels typically cost more and can range from $30 to $100 or more per night, depending on the level of comfort and amenities provided.

It's important to note that prices may fluctuate during peak travel seasons or popular events, so it's advisable to book in advance to secure the best rates. Additionally, some hostels require a deposit or reservation fee upon booking, which is typically refundable if cancellation policies are followed.


Tips for Staying in a Hostel

If you're new to staying in hostels or want to make the most of your experience, here are some helpful tips:

1. Pack Essential Items

Consider packing a few essential items to enhance your hostel experience. These may include earplugs, a sleep mask, a travel towel, a padlock for securing your belongings, and flip-flops for shared bathrooms. Having these items on hand can help ensure a more comfortable and convenient stay.


2. Research and Read Reviews

Before booking a hostel, take the time to research and read reviews from previous guests. Websites like Hostelworld, Booking.com, and TripAdvisor provide valuable insights into the quality, cleanliness, and overall experience of each hostel. Pay attention to reviews mentioning factors that are important to you, such as noise levels, cleanliness, and security.

3. Be Respectful of Others

Hostels are communal spaces, so it's important to be considerate and respectful of other guests. Keep noise levels to a minimum, especially during quiet hours or when entering and leaving shared rooms. Clean up after yourself in common areas and be mindful of others' personal space and belongings.

4. Embrace Social Opportunities

Take advantage of the social opportunities that hostels offer. Engage with fellow travelers in common areas, join organized activities or group tours, and strike up conversations with people from different backgrounds. Hostels provide a unique chance to make new friends, exchange travel tips, and create lasting memories.

5. Keep Your Belongings Secure

While hostels strive to provide a safe environment, it's essential to keep your belongings secure. Use lockers or safes provided by the hostel to store valuable items, such as passports, electronics, and cash. Keep an eye on your belongings and be cautious when sharing personal information with strangers.

6. Respect Curfews and House Rules

Some hostels have curfews or specific house rules in place to ensure the comfort and safety of all guests. Familiarize yourself with these rules and abide by them during your stay. This may include adhering to check-in and check-out times, respecting quiet hours, and following any specific guidelines set by the hostel.

7. Explore Local Recommendations

Take advantage of the knowledge of hostel staff. They are often well-versed in local attractions, restaurants, and hidden gems. Don't hesitate to ask for their recommendations and insider tips to make the most of your stay in the area.



Hostels provide an affordable and social accommodation option for travelers of all ages. With their shared rooms, communal facilities, and vibrant atmosphere, hostels offer a unique experience that can enhance your journey and create lifelong memories. By considering the advantages and disadvantages, researching and reading reviews, and following these tips, you can make the most of your hostel stay and enjoy a budget-friendly and enriching travel experience. So go ahead, embrace the backpacker spirit, and embark on an adventure in the world of hostels.

This article was created using AI technology.