What Is a Hostel?

If you are thinking of being abroad for a vacation, internship, studying, teaching, or volunteering, you’ll have to think about your accommodations. There are various options available, but a popular choice is to stay in a hostel during your trip, especially if you’re on a tight budget or with a group.

Hostels are great for solo travelers or when you’re with tons of other guests. However, you might be wondering what it is, how it works, and everything else. Let’s focus on what you should expect when you stay in a hostel to see if it’s a suitable choice!

What Is a Hostel?

Hostels or dorm rooms offer shared and basic accommodations for budget travelers. They’re lower-priced, and you’ll get a large room with a bunk bed or two. Most of the time, there are private or shared bathrooms (but shared bathroom facilities are the norm here). Likewise, you’ll find communal kitchens.

Though some hostels will have private rooms, they are often more expensive. Still, they can be budget-friendly, depending on your needs. Generally, you’ll see bunk beds.

While hostels originated in Europe, they are highly popular and available worldwide. It might be great to save money if you can deal with not having your own room or a private bathroom. The hostel experience is something everyone should try at least once!

Suggested Reading:  Hostels vs. Hostels – Pro’s and Con’s

How Do Most Hostels Work?

Hostels are often like hotels, but there are some differences. As with a hotel, you should make reservations beforehand. However, hostels usually keep a couple of beds open for those who have to drop in.

Many hostels impose curfews, so if you arrive after they’ve locked the doors, you’re stuck outside for the evening. This is a common courtesy to the other guests and the staff. Hostels can keep their prices low by using shared rooms instead of private, individual ones and only offering the basic amenities/necessities.

Hostel Vs. Hotel with Private Rooms: What’s the Difference?

The main difference between a hotel room and a hostel is that a hotel offers a guaranteed private room and bathroom. Hostels require you to share those spaces. The communal bathroom might have shower stalls, and the communal kitchen is where you’ll cook your own meals instead of ordering them from the hotel restaurant.

Generally, hostels are more social by nature, and hotels give you privacy from other travelers.

Find a Hostel:

Simply look on Hostelworld.com and you’ll find hostels worldwide.

What Are the Advantages of Staying in a Hostel/Dorm Room?

A dorm room/hostel is an excellent choice for various reasons. If you’re volunteering abroad through an organization and are part of a large group, you might all wish to hang out together. It’s possible to choose a large space, and it’s budget-friendly. Likewise, you may want to meet new friends, and a hostel will help you do that. Here are some other perks of staying in a hostel:

Social Activities

Most people enjoy meeting new people, so a hostel is a great choice for them. They’re known for the social life because the shared rooms break down all the barriers naturally. You’ll find new friends, such as world travelers and backpackers. People from all countries stay in hostels, so you can strike up a conversation and enjoy yourself more.


Depending on the room type and where you go, you can often book a hostel for about $10 a night. Whether you’re focused on a tight budget or volunteering abroad, hostels give you a sleeping place for a fraction of the cost of a hotel room.


Sometimes, hostels are off the beaten course, but they’re generally close to the major city center. Others are in exotic locations. For example, one hostel found in Panama is right on the ocean and has a slide that will shoot you into the water!

Excellent for Large Groups

It’s often very expensive to book multiple hotel rooms for a large group. However, you can rent a big bunk room in the hostel, which is fun, affordable, and convenient!

Free WiFi

Most hostels cater to a traveler’s need for the internet. Though you’re there to have fun and disengage from impersonal social networking, the owners know you still need to look things up and keep in touch with family and friends.

Just note that the WiFi connection might be spotty in remote areas. If the hostel has many travelers staying at once, it might also be a little slow. It might be enough to browse the internet and check your email, but you probably won’t be streaming TV or movies.


Hotel chains are often similar in all aspects. The rooms look the same, you know you’ll have towels and toiletries in the bathroom, and it will seem impersonal at every turn. However, every hostel is unique. Some will have a hostel bar or a rooftop hangout area. If you want a fun and local experience completely different from a hotel, a hostel is the right choice for you!

Free Breakfast

Generally, hostels serve a free breakfast, though it’s often light. However, if you’re on a tight budget, this is a huge bonus, and you’ll likely use it every morning!

Safe Hostels

What Are the Disadvantages of a Hostel?

It’s important to note that you will be sharing a room with many other travelers. Therefore, you’ll likely experience a few drawbacks. Here are some things to focus on before you jump right in:


Many people are sleeping in the same room, so it can definitely get smelly at times. Plus, hostels are cheaper and often in remote areas. Therefore, people might not use their normal personal hygiene routine like they do at home. The one rule here is to use the hostel facilities as quickly as possible, which might mean a swipe at the important bits in the shower.

Generally, long-term travelers and backpackers stay in hostels. They’ve been out in nature all day, so they could be ripe. You definitely don’t experience that in a private room at a hotel!


There will be tons of noise. Nearly all hostels feature communal sleeping areas, so if you get stuck with a person who talks in their sleep or snores, you’re plain out of luck. We recommend that you bring earplugs just in case. You’ll be able to use them if you happen to share a room with someone noisy!


Many hostels have a curfew in place for safety. They want to make sure that you don’t interrupt another traveler’s sleep by leaving or coming home at all hours. If you wish to stay out late and still access your room, it’s probably best to choose a hotel.

Though leaving early is permitted, you will have to follow the rules of the hostel. This might mean keeping the main lights off, locking the door behind you, and more. Make sure you have everything you’ll need and use the lockers available to travelers.

Fewer Amenities

Hostels are much cheaper than hotels because they have fewer overhead costs. You won’t have a large hostel staff to do your bidding, and you’ll definitely be without the amenities a hotel might offer. For example, you might have to pay for towels or be limited to one per stay.

Lack of Privacy

Expect to sleep in a space with many other people. Though you’ll have separate beds, you won’t have the same privacy as you would in a hotel. In fact, there will be common rooms, and you might have to wait your turn for the bathroom.

Are Party Hostels Safe?

As a general rule, hostels are safe, especially if you choose an official one. Typically, there’s a sense of community in hostels, and everyone works hard to protect themselves and others.

However, solo travelers might want to consider single-gender dorms. For example, if you’re a woman traveling alone, you may choose female-only dorms because you know everyone inside will be the same sex as you. This will prevent a fear of being attacked in the night.

It’s wise to avoid bringing valuables with you, but it might be necessary. Therefore, you may wish to rent a locker to store the items. Some hostels will provide you with one for free.

I created a HUGE article about being safe in hostels, and if you follow my advice, you should have a great experience.

How Much Money Does It Cost to Stay in a Hostel?

Prices can vary significantly, but you should expect the hostel to cost $10 to $40 per night. For a few extra dollars, you might get additional amenities, such as more towels, the right to choose your room, high-quality bedding, and more.

Hostels also offer different perks and amenities based on the location. Therefore, you should look into that when booking one for your stay!

What Is It Like Staying in a Hostel?

Many people wonder what it’s like to stay in a hostel, and the answer is: It depends on many factors. There are tons of hostels out there, and they might vary in their offerings.

Generally, hostels offer a communal sleeping room with made-up beds. You’ll also get a free breakfast and can enjoy the common areas. Many people will talk about their trips, offer tips, and get to know each other before heading to bed.

You’ll also have hostel rules to follow, which vary by property. For example, you might have to be inside the building by curfew or be stuck outside. Likewise, the owners might say you can only cook at certain times.

What Do Hostel Rooms Look Like?

Hostel dorms vary significantly, but the room will typically be large. You might see metal or wooden bunks. Every bed will have clean sheets, and there’s a fabric partition in most of them to shield you from view while you change. In most cases, beds are the only furniture available in the rooms, which helps to get more space for people to sleep each night.

Tips for Staying in a Hostel

You might be a first-time traveler or have never stayed in shared housing before. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your time here:

  • Take Flip-Flops – You’ll probably use the shower at least once during your stay, and it’s crucial to bring flip-flops. Though many hostels clean frequently, you never know what’s lurking at the bottom of the shower stall. Likewise, you can wear these shoes when you’re in the common room and other local areas.
  • Get to Know Others – There are tons of amazing travelers you’ll find in a hostel. In fact, the accommodations promote mingling and meeting new friends. Take the time to talk to everyone and enjoy the opportunity for socializing you’ll get here.
  • Be Cautious of Independent Hostels – Most hostels are part of Hostelling International, but some are independently operated and owned. Independent hostels can be more affordable, but they’re often unregulated for cleanliness and other things. That’s not always true, but it might be wise to check Hostelling International and read reviews before choosing a potential location.
  • Know What’s Available – Many hostels provide the bedding and some toiletries, but that’s not always the case. Breakfast and WiFi might not be included in your booking fee, so make sure you know what’s covered and what isn’t.
  • Book in Advance – Many people think that hostels are where to go when you forget to book accommodation elsewhere. However, it’s still better to book in advance. Though hostels often have a few beds empty in case, you don’t want to be left without a place to sleep!

Suggested Reading:  Best Countries for Solo Travel

Make sure to read our hostel round-ups if you are planning a trip!

Conclusion – The General Takeaway

Hostels are a more cost-effective option when you’re traveling, studying abroad, or volunteering. In fact, they’re great for those on a budget, but it’s also possible to form new friendships with others in a hostel.

If you’re already traveling with a group, you’ll feel immersed in the communal feeling when you stay at a place encouraging socialization and interaction. Plus, you don’t have to stick with who you know; branch out and talk to interesting people from all over the world.

Those who love traveling and like to go with the flow are often the heart of the party. Hostel life can be ideal for them. However, if you are focused on luxurious accommodations, privacy, and flexibility, a hostel might not be suitable for you.

You’ve learned about what a hostel offers, how it differs from a hotel, and what you can experience when you choose one. Branch out, give up some of your own space, and find your first hostel to enjoy!