Hostels are a way of providing inexpensive beds, from $16 (€12, £10) to about $44 (€33, £28) a night, to those of any age that wish to live simply and communally with fellow travellers from around the world. Hostelling is not for everyone, for to live in a simple and communal manner means a loss of privacy and less services in exchange for the camaraderie and spirit of international hostelling.
Hostels provide a vital item- cheap beds for those on a budget. Hostels provide a place to sleep, inexpensive food, and the ability to meet like-minded people from around the world in a relaxed atmosphere. Almost all hostels have lockers so you can lock-up your backpack and valuables while you sleep and while you’re out exploring a new foreign city, not to mention to do some shopping, partying, and meeting even more new people.
Hostels are divided into two categories: those hostels in the Hostelling International (a.k.a., H.I.) network, and those independent hostels that are not in H.I.
Hostelling International (H.I.): Formally known as the International Youth Hostel Federation (IYHF), this “official” organisation is a union of local hostel associations in over 80 countries. They have over 4,500 hostels worldwide.
To stay there, you can get a stamp on your “guest card” for the first six nights as a guest in an H.I. hostel, and after six nights you become a full member with a membership card. Membership has benefits besides a modest discount for staying in a H.I. hostel that include some travel-related discounts. But still it is a large organisation and it has some heavy-handed rules and regulations. Some hostel staff are very strict.
Sure, the hostels created by this organization do guarantee a good level of cleanliness and acceptable comfort, but a hostel is a hostel and they are mostly very plain and without much charm.
All H.I. hostels are open to hostellers of all ages, from babies to 80 year olds. Granted, most are between 18 and 28, but don’t expect all young people. Many H.I hostels have rooms for couples and families with children. In dorm rooms for solo and other group travellers, the sexes are segregated.
Independent Hostels (meaning non-H.I. hostels) tend to be more laidback, easy going, and casual. There are fewer rules, often friendlier staff, more socializing among hostellers, and no children. In fact while some independent hostels are well-organised and “mature”, many major European cities have student-run hostels that are very popular among the more adventurous and cost-conscious student traveller.
Many independent hostels do not accept hostellers over 40, although this is changing especially as more older travellers find they enjoy hostels better than the isolation of hotels, and frankly, some over-40 year olds are cool people. Also, females should keep in mind that the dorms in some independent hostels are not separated by sex. Check beforehand.
In any major city in Europe there are many budget hostels to be found. Some are criminally cheap, others cost more but they may be nicer, be at a more convenient location, be located in a historic or interesting building, or provide more ‘free’ services.
With so many hostels available in major cities, it can be difficult to sift through the choices. To do this, there are two prime options for the backpack traveller to consider:
If you are travelling during peak season, or visiting a smallish town during a major festival, book as early as possible, even months ahead as locating a bed can become thorny.
The quality of hostels varies. But no worries, it’s not complicated.
With all that in mind, city centre hostels can sometimes be slightly more expensive than other hostels a little further away. But if you will want to visit the city centre often, keep in mind you will have to walk for to and from your hostel just to get to the areas you want to visit, or you may need to pay to take a city bus.
Independent (non-H.I.) hostels rarely have curfews, especially as the vast majority of their guests are university-aged students and other, solo travellers, and student groups.
Staying in hostels can be something of a necessity for budget travellers, but if you’ve done your research and made the right choices, it should be fun. In fact, you may find that staying at a hostel can be a great experience.