In response to a few readers asking, “What is a hostel?”, I’ve decided to make a travel resource answering what is a hostel. I also want to provide some great tips I’ve used over the years to discover superb hostels around the world.
My Definition of Hostel – A hostel, a favorite of backpackers and budget travelers, is a shared hotel.
What is the Difference Between Hostel and Hotel? – Staying in a hostel means you are paying for a bed, not a room. Basically it is a dorm that you are sharing with strangers from around the world.
While this thought can be intimidating, I’ve had nothing but good experiences and I’ve stayed in hundreds when backpacking throughout Europe, Asia, America, and Africa.
What is a Hostel Like? – Shared living might lead you to the impression that staying in a hostel is dirty.
In my experience, most hostels are clean, but it is important to use websites like Hostelworld to check out the ratings and read the reviews before booking.
Hostels have a lively and energetic atmosphere. Most hostels have a common room where guests gather to discuss their travels, cook meals, and share a few drinks. Staying in a hostel is a fantastic way to meet other backpackers. If you are traveling solo, dorms are the fastest and easiest way to make friends.
There are a few hostel chains, companies that have hostels throughout a continent or the world. A few popular hostel chains are St. Christopher’s, Youth Hostel International, Generator, and Lub ‘ D.
Where Do I Book a Hostel?
The most popular hostel booking site is Hostelworld. They have thousands of hostels, B & B’s, and hotels around the world. Hostelworld’s site is user friendly and has tons of reviews. I always use Hostelworld.
What is a Hostel Room Like?
There are three main types of rooms available in hostels: dorms, dorms with ensuite, and private rooms.
What is a Hostel Dorm?
A hostel dorm, as mentioned previously, is a room shared with other travelers.
I’ve been in hostel dorms with as little as six people and as many as sixteen. The number of people in the dorm ranges from hostel to hostel.
In a typical hostel dorm, there won’t be bathrooms inside the rooms instead the bathroom is often down the hall and is communal.
Not to worry though the bathrooms usually have multiple showers and toilets.
Dorm rooms are also the cheapest option when staying in hostels.
A typical dorm starts around $10. If you are worried about sharing a dorm with the opposite sex, there are a lot of hostels that provide female, male, and mixed dorms.
My experience in hostel dorms – Honestly this is my preferred way to travel. Dorms are a fantastic way to meet other backpackers when traveling solo.
People in the same dorm become fast friends, and usually go out for dinners and drinks together. I’ve met people I have gotten along with so well that I have changed my travel plans to go with them.
What is a Hostel Dorm with an Ensuite?
A dorm with an ensuite is much like the dorm described above except for a few minor details. The biggest difference is that a dorm with an ensuite has a bathroom in the room. Dorms with ensuites are typical smaller and only shared by a few people.
Keep in mind dorms with an ensuite are typical more expensive.
What is a Hostel Private Room?
Private rooms are exactly what they sound like. Private rooms in hostels are much more expensive than dorm rooms, but still significantly cheaper than staying at a hotel.
Hostels also have group private rooms which makes it a fantastic option if you are traveling in a group.
My experience in Private Rooms – Treating yourself every once in a while is important when traveling for months or years. Hostel dorms offer very little privacy, and sometimes it is good to escape people stumbling into the room at all hours of the night. I prefer dorms for the social aspect, but sometimes it is nice to have privacy.
However, they are usually double or triple the cost of a dorm room so if you are looking to make your money last, go for the dorms.
What are Hostels Like in Europe?
What is a Hostel in Asia Like?
Tips for Finding a good Hostel
As I briefly talked about earlier, checking ratings and reviews is important when booking a hostel. Let’s look at an example and I will share tips on how to determine if it is a good hostel or a bust. For this example I will look at The Yellow in Rome.
The Yellow Review
In the middle, we see info about the property and some of the things they offer. Right off the bat I notice “The Yellow was voted the #1 hostel in Rome”. This, of course, grabs my attention. This hostel is already looking like a winner.
On the right, we can see all the reviews by people who have stayed at this hostel. The next thing I look for is how many people have reviewed this hostel.
The fact that The Yellow has 9,693 reviews and still has an 86% rating tells me two things.
1- This hostel is extremely popular. Meaning it will be busy and a great way to meet people.
2- It has almost 10,000 reviews and is still in the high 80’s. Meaning that chances are this hostel is fantastic.
Looking at the number of reviews is key.
Sometimes you have hostels with a 95% but only a couple reviews. This is not enough information to tell you if the hostel is great.
As a general rule I think anything over 75% is acceptable, anything in the 80’s is good, and 90’s is excellent.
An 86% with 9,693 reviews – I would say is superb.
The next three things I look at are atmosphere, location, and security. These are personal preferences as they are the most important things to me. They all have ratings in the high 80’s. This hostel is looking better and better.
Now you might be asking yourself, “What about price?”.
There is a good reason why I didn’t mention the price before.
I want a central location. There is no point paying for a cheap dorm that is miles away from the heart of the city.
Yes, hostels tend to drop in price the farther you go from the city center, but chances are you will spend more money traveling into the city than you would have by staying there.
Also, you are wasting valuable time traveling on buses getting back and forth.
Going deeper into the reviews you can see what people liked and disliked about staying at the hostel.
The Yellow is one of my favorite hostels in the world. Personally I think the rating should be much higher than an 86%.
The Huffington post also has an amusing article on what is a hostel, and what to expect staying in one
I hope this travel resource answers the question, “What is a hostel?” as well as provide you with a couple tips on how to pick a choose a good one while backpacking.
Have you stayed in hostels? What is a hostel that you have enjoyed on your travels?