Travel Tips

What is a Hostel? [More Fun + Budget Traveling]

Updated on:  
July 25, 2021
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Miriam Jaffe
Miriam Jaffe
Contributor
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If you’re new to the solo travel lifestyle, you might have heard people talking about hostels and their experiences staying in them, either from digital nomads who work or volunteer overseas to those reddit posts about how cheap hostels are. While the word looks very similar to a hotel (plus one letter), the experience of a hostel is so much more than what you’d expect if you stayed in hotels (which is a totally valid choice, by the way).

No two hostels indeed are the same, but the idea of a hostel is one that we’re going to try and define in this post. Read on if you’re curious about what a hostel is, or if you just want to see if our definition matches your own!

How is a hostel different from a hotel?

The purpose of a hostel and a hotel are the same in that they both provide a place for you to stay while you travel. One of the biggest differences is that while a hotel mainly provides you with a bed and your own room, a hostel will not only provide you with a place to lay your head but also allows you to meet fellow travelers while doing so.

Hostel vs. Hotel: What's the Difference When Planning Group Trips?

Hostels are a community experience that starts from the moment you check into your shared dorm accommodation, all the way to the common areas and the planned events, both in and out of the hostel. While you can book a private room in a hostel to have a more hotel-like experience while you sleep, you still get to take advantage of the communal aspects of hostel staying if you go that route. You could stay in a hotel and rarely encounter other guests. At a hostel, that’s unlikely to happen. 

Another big difference between a hotel and a hostel is the price point. Hostels are almost always going to be a cheaper option to a hotel, even if you opt for a private room (there are some luxury hostels though that run a higher nightly rate so always do some comparison research first). This does mean, though, that sometimes you won’t be provided with the same amenities you might find at a hotel. For example, towels are not always included in your nightly room rate at a hostel, whereas you can expect to have that provided for you in a hotel.

The cost to rent a towel is never exorbitant, but it is something to potentially expect to budget for (although research in advance as some hostels do provide towels). There’s no room service in hostels, but some nicer aspects of hotels, like pools, or rooftop terraces, can be found in many hostels.


Typical hostel bunkbeds
Photo by Nicate Lee on Unsplash

What’s it like staying in a hostel?

Staying in a hostel can be a wonderful experience! Hostels are no longer places that are exclusive to backpackers and gap year travelers, so you’ll meet all kinds of people when you stay in one, and you won’t stand out if that kind of traveling isn’t your style. Of course, there are some high-end hostels, and some targeting the backpacking lifestyle, but there are hostels for every person in between. Every hostel is a unique experience, but there are some universal aspects about staying in hostels. 

If you decide to stay in a hostel while traveling, prepare to meet people from all walks of life, both in your dormitory, but also just around the hostel. If you’re a shy person, though, don’t worry! You can make as much out of your hostel stay as you want, and there’s no pressure to make new friends or hang out with the person bunking above you (although by all means, go for it)!

The greatest appeal of staying in a hostel over a hotel is the communal experience of a hostel. Not only do you stay in a shared space, but you’ll have access to communal rooms where you can eat meals with fellow guests (or organize travel outings with them), events that the hostel puts on for people staying there which can include game nights, walking tours, or pub crawls, and hostel staff’s knowledge of the local area (which can sometimes include hostel specific discounts to various places or events).

A hostel stay might be noisier than one in a hotel, especially given the shared accommodation, but you’re guaranteed to make connections in a hostel that you wouldn’t make staying in a hotel. You can get as much out of staying in a hostel as you’d like - whether that’s making a travel buddy for a day, forging connections for future adventures, staying up all night partying in the hostel’s bar, or just having a place to lay your head for the night at a reasonable cost. 

Even with the universal things about staying in hostels, it’s important to do your research about specific hostels before you book. Sites like HostelWorld are great for reading reviews from fellow travelers about what their stays were like, and what the hostel itself was like. This is a pretty reliable way to confirm if the hostel’s ambiance is what you’re looking for and if the vibe matches the kind of hostel where you’d like to stay. 

Communal working spaces in hostels
Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash

Are hostels safe?

Absolutely! Security and safety precautions will vary from hostel to hostel (another good reason to check out reviews before committing), but having 24/7 security and safeguards for entering hostels are super common. Some hostels will give you keycard access to your room, meaning that only those with keycard access to that room can enter, similarly to a hotel. That keycard access can also sometimes extend to entry into the hostel itself, although this can depend on where the hostel is located.

One safety concern you might have is in relation to your valuables in your shared room. This is definitely where hotel safety can outrank hostel safety, as you are in a room with strangers (even if you befriend some of them). Many hostels have lockers in the dormitory spaces that you can lock (be sure to bring your own lock as they aren’t always provided), but you still have to place some trust in your dorm mates.

Be sure to always leave your valuables locked up if you aren’t actively using your locker, even if only as a precaution. If a hostel doesn’t have lockers, keep valuables on you at all times to avoid anything happening to them. 

Dos and Don'ts in a hostel

If you haven’t stayed in a hostel before, and are wondering what to do (or not do) while there, don’t worry, we’re here to help! Check out our handy post that outlines exactly the dos and don’ts of staying in a hostel for all the tips. 

Friends planning do and don'ts for a hostel while making connection in front of a canyon.r canyon.
Photo by Felix Rostig on Unsplash

So, are hostels worth it?

If you’ve never stayed in a hostel before, we hope that this blog post has been of some help to showcase what that experience might be like. Hostels are a great place to stay when you want to save money, but also if you want to have more than just a place to stay during your travels. Even if you’re not the partying type or searching for a party vibe hostel, you can still make connections with other travelers, gain useful insights about the places you’re staying (or for future travels), and sometimes even just stay in a funky place you might not have stayed in without trying a hostel.

If you’re still deciding on where to travel (or even if you already know), make sure you check out Pilot for itinerary planning, budgeting tips, recommendations on places to stay, and more! Also, if you're completely lost or overwhelmed at your choices of destinations to go, check out our very own travel newsletter: FlightDeck! It's got crazy travel stories, breaking travel news, and other travel-related content made by fellow travelers themselves!

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