Any seasoned backpacker knows what a youth hostel is, and has certainly stayed in his fair share of grungy dungeons and budget paradises. But the first-time traveler and the novice backpacker might need some pointers on where to stay, where to book, how to meet people, and what to expect at youth hostels.
Youth Hostels 101
- What is a Youth Hostel?
Youth Hostels are basically shared budget hotels for backpackers, transients and nomads. A Hostel will rent you a bed in a dormitory and you will share a common bathroom, kitchen, and lounge. Dorms are often mixed or single-sex, and it is easy to find rooms with as few as 4 beds – sometimes you can even get a private room, which can be necessary after weeks on the road.
- Where did Youth Hostels come from?
Check out this brief history of the Youth Hostel, according to Wikipedia:
These first Youth Hostels were an exponent of the ideology of the German Youth Movement to let poor, city youngsters breathe fresh air outdoors. The youths were supposed to manage the hostel themselves as much as possible and do chores to keep the costs down and build character as well as being physically active outdoors….
The idea rapidly spread overseas and eventually resulted in Hostelling International (HI), a non-profit organisation composed of more than 90 different Youth Hostel associations representing over 4500 Youth Hostels in over 80 countries.
- Why should I stay at a youth hostel?
There are loads of good reasons to stay in youth hostels while you are traveling. The most obvious reason is the that they are cheap! You’re not renting a whole hotel room, you’re basically just renting the bed, which makes the price significantly cheaper.
Furthermore, you’ll be sharing a room with a bunch of other wide-eyed young travelers from around the world. Hostels provide a great environment for socializing, with shared rooms, common areas, and sometimes bars on site. This way, it is easy to meet interesting, fun, and cute travelers to share an adventure or two with.
In this way, hostels are great for solo travelers as well as groups of friends on the road. Also, if you stay at a hostel, you’ll most likely be supporting a small business and the local economy.
- What should I expect at a youth hostel?
Each hostel is different from the next. Some are like budget resorts with beaches, bungalows and bars, while others are like bland dungeons with bare walls and prison showers. The latter form is rarer these days, as hostels become more popular with mainstream youth travelers. But don’t worry- it’s all part of the adventure of traveling via youth hostel!
Expect to be a little dirty, a little no frills, and a little awkward – you’ll love it. expect to meet cool friendly people from all over the world and expect to come home with some great stories.
Youth hostels are a great way to travel, but they aren’t for everyone – but everyone should give them a try.
- How Much do Youth Hostels cost?
Hostel prices obviously vary, depending on location and timing. Prices generally go up in the high season, so keep that in mind when you’re planning your trip. Prices are generally less than 20 Euros for a night, and sometimes you can get rooms with meals included for just a few dollars a day!
- Are youth hostels safe?
Theft can be a problem in youth hostels, because there are often so many people sharing a room with belongings strewn about and backpacks left unattended all day. Most hostels offer lockers which solves the problem of theft – it’s a good idea to bring your own lock.
Personal safety can be an issue, especially for people traveling alone, and those uncomfortable sharing rooms with strangers. Just be careful and use good judgment. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing a room, book a private room or head to a hotel. We at Student Traveler and the Youth Hostel Blog have traveled the world staying in Hostels, and we haven’t had any real problems with personal safety. The general vibe of the hostel is one of respect, reciprocity, and general human kindness. The hostel is, in essence, a team effort, so everyone is happy to help, and no one really want to see anyone get hurt.
- How do I book a stay at a youth hostel?
In the high season you should definitely book ahead, as many hostels are popular and fill up quickly. The best way to book is online, and just a few days in advance is usually ok. I like to book my stays from the road a week in advance, so I can make itinerary changes as I go.
Here is a list (by no means complete) of great hostel booking websites to use:
Hostelworld.com is the flagship website and was the first online hostel booking website out there on the internet. It has over 12,000 properties, predominantly hostels but also offering guesthouses, budget hotels, apartments and campsites.
Hostels.com is the largest and most up to date hostel website on the internet listing purely hostels (not hotels, etc.) worldwide with both online bookings and the option to book direct by phone. It has over 10,000 hostels listed.
Hostels of Europe
HostelsofEurope.com lists all the independent hostels in Europe that can be booked online.
Hostel Bookers is another great option. A couple of things make this website stick out from the rest – simplicity of use and no booking fees. Whenr you arrive at the website you’re only one click away from finding youth hostels, and the fact that there’s no registration or membership required also saves you time. With thousands of youth hostels and budget hotels in 1,500 destinations worldwide, a travel news and event section, and guides to most destinations, Hostel Bookers is a pretty decent backpacker and student travel resources. The website is efficient and informative, and you can search hostels by price or customer ratings. Hostel Bookers also run a free group booking service for groups of 10 or more people.
Boots ‘n All
Bootsnall.com– Two points for a cool logo. And three more for an exhaustive list of youth hostels and easy interface for reservations. Even though these points I’ve just handed out are made of Monopoly money, Bootsnall really does have more than 6000 hostels in 50-plus nations around the world. You can peruse the list of European youth hostels by city or country, check out all the different youth hostel features (does it have Internet, a washer & dryer?) and even find maps to individual youth hostels. There is also a link for relatively unbiased youth hostel reviews (i.e. not “sponsored”), but it’s rather disorganized. Once there, use your browser’s “search” or “find” feature to zoom in on comments for your favorite city.
Hostels1.com allows y ou to make very secure, guaranteed reservations on this site, or so they say. I, for one, happen to believe them. This site is all about North and South America, so those seeking youth hostels in Helsinki, or in the Bohemian town of Cesky Krumlov are not welcome here (don’t worry we have other sites for you!). A very solid place for your New World youth hostel needs.
At HostelsClub.com, t he Prez and VP of the Hostelsclub appear to be one sexy virtual pair: a tank-topped dude with mini-dreads and a lady friend decked out in a newsies’ cap. I asked them what makes their site so swell, and this is what they told me: You can book European Youth hostels from pretty much anywhere, and shortcut straight to top destinations. If you’re cool enough to be invited to join the Hostelsclub, you can check out the online magazine, city guides and see how a hostel fares on its stoplight system (green ones are the best, avoid hostels that have a red light… unless you’re in Amsterdam that is.)
We hope we answered at least a few of your youth hostel question in this FAQ. if you still have youth hostel questions, feel free to drop us a line and we’ll do our best to find the answer.
for more information about youth hostels, check out these pages at Student Traveler: