Questions about hostels and hostelling

Looking for more information about hostels and how they work? Read our overview of hostelling in Europe, covering everything from hostel rules to the history of hostelling.

What is a hostel?

Originally, the word hostel meant a "country inn for youngsters," in German. Today hostels provide affordable, safe, clean lodging for travelers of all ages worldwide. Many hostels are not unlike budget hotels where the only significant difference is the price.

For example, many of the hostels listed with EuropeanHostels offer private rooms with en suite facilities, smaller dorm rooms for groups of 2-8 people, or larger dorms where you share with up to 20 other travelers. Don’t worry. If you’re a communal living kind of person, almost all hostels still offer the traditional shared bedrooms and baths.

As well as the rooms themselves, lots of hostels offer bars and restaurants, self-catering kitchens, Internet cafes and many more added facilities. The great thing about all these low-cost shared rooms means that, while staying at a hostel, you can never predict who you might meet or where they may encourage you to travel next.

What is hostelling?

Hostelling literally means to travel from hostel to hostel (usually with a backpack in tow). The guests in a hostel are often called hostellers. In a broader sense, hostelling describes a philosophy of travel that encourages the spirit of frugality and exploration.
Referred to as "backpacking" in many parts of the world, it's perhaps best described as traveling cheaply with an adventurous spirit. The terms hosteller and backpacker are basically synonymous. Backpackers tend to travel for longer periods than the typical tourist. In many countries, especially Australia and New Zealand, it's customary for students and recent graduates to take trips of up to a year or more!

While hostelling, you see the world from a perspective that the average tourist will never see. You meet local people, learn their customs, eat neighborhood delicacies and often have opportunities to do things you never imagined. Typically, trips are only roughly planned to allow for last-minute changes when something unexpected and exciting presents itself. Basically, backpackers stay longer, see and do more for less money!

Who stays at hostels?

People from all walks of life and every corner of the world stay in hostels. Many are misled into thinking that this form of accommodation only appeals to younger travelers, but at we know of people as old as 80 and as young as 3-years-old who have stayed in hostels. Hostels provide a great way to meet new people and experience new things which is why they appeal to such a diverse range.

What equipment do I need to go hostelling?

Pack lightly! Basically, you will need a very small amount of the same stuff you would normally travel with plus a couple of extra items—and something comfortable and practical to carry it all in. While hostelling, you won't find baggage porters, suitcase racks or hanging closet space. You will likely be traveling on public transportation—some of it very crowded—and walking from place to place. Because hostels are in unique locations, they aren’t always the most convenient places to get to. Traveling light is fundamental if you are going to have an enjoyable time.

Many first-time hostellers don't believe this advice and almost always set out with too much stuff. Our own mothers can tell you that, within the first couple of weeks, most of the extras get sent home. Fashionistas beware. Hostellers don't bring a different item of clothing for each day of the week. Some clothes are often worn more than once before being washed at the local laundromat. In some cases, the hostel may have laundry facilities.

As already mentioned, you will want to bring a few items you might not bring when staying in hotels. The main ones are soap, a towel and a sleep-sheet, which is two sheets sewn together to form a sack. When you go to bed, you get inside the sleep-sheet and the bed always stays clean. 

A good backpack is the single most important piece of equipment for a long term hosteller. For this reason, when buying a backpack, don't skimp. Find a store that will patiently let you try on lots of different packs. They are all sized and shaped differently. Make sure it's comfortable. It’s going to become your new best friend.

And, don’t forget your camera. The memories really will last a lifetime, but you’ll want to have something to show Grandma back home.

How did hostels get started?

Good question! Hostels have probably been around for over a thousand years. The hostel movement as most people know it, however, was started by a German school teacher named Richard Schirrmann back in the summer of 1907. He saw a great need for cities to provide overnight accommodation to young travelers. He began the first hostelling program out of his school. Each night the classrooms were cleared of desks and chairs and thin straw sacks were placed on the floor for the travelers. As was the custom, each hosteller in the morning helped to put the school back together and sweep the straw from the floor. The philosophy as stated by Mr. Schirrmann was this: "Suppose that the thoughtful young people of all countries could be provided with suitable meeting places where they could get to know each other! That could and must be the role of our youth hostels, not only in Germany, but throughout the world, building a bridge of peace from nation to nation!" (From: American Youth Hostels' "First Fifty Years: Young at Any Age")

What do hostels look like?

They come in all shapes and sizes. There are hostels in castles, in teepees and in railroad carriages. They are in sleepy towns, sprawling metropolises and everything in between. Some hostels are huge, providing beds for hundreds; others consist of a single room in a friendly family home. Some are mountain huts that require extensive hiking to get to while others are in urban jungles of towering skyscrapers. And this is what makes the entire experience so appealing to backpackers and travelers. You really don't know what you're going to get from one hostel to the next.

What is the atmosphere in a hostel like?

There are as many different atmospheres as there are hostels. Each one has a different scene. Part of the adventure of hostelling is experiencing the variety. Sometimes you will find yourself in bed by 9 pm and up at 6 am with the chickens gathering eggs. In others, you may party until all hours in a world-class cosmopolitan city and sleep until three the next afternoon. Remember, to find the one that’s right for you, be sure to check EuropeanHostel’s user ratings and reviews on our site.

What is a typical dormitory like?

Dormitories are often, but not always, separated by sex. There will be between 2 and 10 people sharing a room with bunk beds. Sometimes, particularly during peak seasons, large rooms sleeping as many as 30 people are made available but are not commonplace. Many hostels now offer private rooms. For example, a hostel will have smaller dorms (4-6 beds) which can be booked by an entire group so that your group has the room exclusively. And, some are not unlike hotels in that they offer private single, twin and double and even triple rooms with en suite bathroom facilities.

Are hostels and/or dormitories noisy?

In all hostels, although the custom is to remain as quiet as possible at night, you should expect a small amount of noise from your fellow hostel occupants. A lot depends on the location of the hostel. If you are visiting a major city you should expect noise in the form of traffic, street cleaning trucks, and people—all the usual stuff. Many hostels in the country, however, are so quiet you can hear your heart beat. As always, if you are concerned about such things it's best to ask other travelers that have been there and to read EuropeanHostel’s user reviews.

How do you choose which hostel to stay in?

A hostel’s location, layout, rules, staff and clientele—as well as whether or not the hostel is official or independent—all contribute to its distinct personality. Each hostel has its own vibe. In a big city, you might party 'til all hours of the night, while you might rise early to churn butter in a rural setting. Based on EuropeanHostel’s user reviews and recommendations, you can find a hostel to match the environment that's right for you. If it's a party you're after, just make sure to hit the hostels noted for their nightlife; if you're looking for peace and quiet, seek out the hostels with less of a dorm-like atmosphere.


Do hostels have a lot of rules?

This depends on where you stay and what you think a lot of rules are. Almost all hostels ask guests to respect the rights of other guests staying there and, as such, there are basic hostel customs that are a largely unwritten etiquette. As for rules, you should ask each hostel upon check-in what is expected of the guests but most hostels will let you know whether you ask or not.

Do hostels have age restrictions?

While most hostels do not impose an age restriction, this is not always the case, particularly in establishments which have a bar on the premises. Again, it is recommended that you check the hostel’s details to find out whether or not there is an age restriction. Hostels that do restrict guests with a minimum or maximum age limit should clearly display this information. Normally it is 18-35 years old.

Do I need to be a member to stay in a hostel?

No, you don’t. Some hostels do offer discounts for various card-holding members, but membership is not required to stay at a hostel.

Do all hostels have curfews?

Many hostels no longer have curfews. A curfew is a time by which all hostellers must be inside the hostel and usually in bed. If you find yourself staying at a hostel with a curfew, however, and you return after the stated time, you will find yourself sleeping outside.

What is a lockout?

A lockout is a time during the day when the hostel is closed. Usually this occurs so the hostel can be properly cleaned. In small home hostels this is the only time the owners can leave their home to get out and do errands. Most urban hostels, however, do not have lockouts.

What is a minimum and maximum stay?

Maximum stay: A few hostels impose a maximum number of nights that a guest can stay in the hostel. This discourages guests from using the hostel as long-term housing and encourages travelers to move on to new pastures.
Minimum stay: Sometimes, during big weekends, like rugby tournaments in Dublin, for example, or holidays, hostels require a two-night minimum stay.

Do you have to be below a certain age to stay at a hostel?

It is recommended that you check the hostel's details to find out whether or not there is an age restriction.

What documents do you need to stay in a hostel?

Likely, you will need identification of some sort. Common forms identification used to stay in hostels include passports, photo driver's licenses and state or country identity cards as well as student identification cards with photos.

Will I have to do any chores in the hostel?

Most hostels do not require guests to do any formal chores, but ask that individuals simply be conscientious and follow the rules of conduct. Be sure to always clean up after yourself.

Can I stay in hostels in my own country?

Yes, but you should have proof that you, like the other guests, are traveling. Hostels will generally not let you stay if you are a local resident of the area. The logic behind this rule is that if hostels allowed local residents to stay it would not have space to provide accommodation for budget travelers visiting the area. Some hostels require guests be an international traveler and have a passport. If you plan to travel in your home country and stay in hostels you might want to invest in a passport to prove that you are indeed an international traveler.

Should I purchase a Hostel International (HI) membership?

The Hostelling International Membership card is only worth the cost if you plan on staying in many of their official listed hostels. Independent hostels don't require a membership card and even the HI affiliated hostels allow you to buy 'welcome stamps' that extend temporary membership privileges for each night of your stay.

Keep in mind, too, that Hostelling International does not offer one universal card. A national membership card can be bought from one of the 60 country affiliates and they are accepted worldwide. In the United States, the HI-USA cards can be purchased via the Internet for at any HI-affiliated hostel and council office. However, many of the European HI affiliates also offer membership cards for less than the cost of the HI-USA card.

Can any other card besides the HI membership be used?

In some cases, you may be able to take advantage of the discount issued by Hostels Europe for 200 independent hostels.


Are hostels clean?

By and large, hostels are fairly clean places. With the number of people coming through them they pretty much have to be. Now this doesn't mean the floors are waxed and the silverware is polished, but the basics have been done. Cleaning is a constant process at most hostels. The hostel custom, however, is that all guests clean up after themselves. You will make things a lot more pleasant for other guests if you simply wash your own dishes, pick up your dirty socks and trash and generally leave things like you found them.

What facilities does a typically hostel offer?

A bed.
Ranging from a bunk bed to a cot, some hostels have rooms with 2 to 10 beds, while others offer dormitories that pack in 20 or more. Sleeping arrangements are usually single-sex, though co-ed rooms are sometimes available. Many hostels also offer private "family rooms" for couples or groups. Sheets, a sleep-sheet (two sheets sewn together like a sleeping bag), pillows and blankets may be available (usually for a small fee). As this differs from hostel to hostel, it's smart to travel with a sleeping bag, sleep-sheet, sarong (which becomes a convenient sheet) or combination of all three.

Self-catering kitchens are another way that hostels can save you money. They are usually equipped with basic cooking utensils including pots, pans, and dishes. Hostel kitchens also serve another really popular purpose however. They are a great meeting place where you can sit around and talk with fellow guests for hours on end comparing travel notes and telling stories. If a proper kitchen is not available, refrigerators and storage areas are often set-aside for your stash of baguettes and cheese. Hostels sometimes provide breakfast with the price of a night's lodging or offer meals at an additional price.

Communal areas.
These can include cooking and dining areas or even a lounge replete with cable television or a bar. The more social hostels tend to have more congenial communal spaces.

The front desk staff (often locals or experienced travelers) can provide any number of services, from free maps and directories to help with travel arrangements. However, talking to fellow guests or checking postings on bulletin boards can often provide the best travel advice.

Day Trips and Activities.
Many of the larger hostels offer outdoor or sightseeing day-trips and activities at cut-rate prices. Toilet, sink and shower are a given and, on occasion, you might even encounter a bathtub. Bathrooms are usually sex-segregated and range the gamut from communal to private, clean to skuzzy. The only amenity you can count on is toilet paper - all towels, shampoos, hair dryers, toiletries, etc. are courtesy of you, the traveler.

Safe storage space.
Usually hostels offer lockers to stow your backpacks, clothes, toiletries and other non-valuable items. Depending on the hostel, guests may even leave these items in the dorm rooms. Safeguard your valuables (passport, money, credit cards, plane tickets, cameras, etc.) by keeping them with you or placing them in the safekeeping facilities. Maybe it seems obvious, but never put your valuables under a mattress or in your backpack -- even for the duration of a shower or a phone-call.

A Kitchen.
Many, but not all, hostels offer kitchen facilities where guests can prepare meals.

Where do I store my belongings?

Backpacks containing non-valuable items such as clothes and toiletries are usually left in the dormitory. Valuables such as cameras, passports and money should always be safeguarded. All hostels will have a safe storage area and many larger city hostels will have in-room lockers for your backpack. Theft is relatively uncommon in hostels but it would be nice to keep it that way. Either keep valuables with you or place them in the hostel's safekeeping facilities. If you do have something stolen, report it to the management.

Do hostel prices include breakfast?

If a hostel offers breakfast in its price, it will be listed as “food and drink” under the individual hostel’s amenities. For reasons we can’t really explain, cities like London tend to always offer breakfast to hostellers while those in Rome tend not to.

Are there private rooms in hostels?

Yes, some hostels offer private or "family rooms." You can also reserve and pay for all beds in a 2, 3 or 4-bed room and have the room to yourself.

What do I do in case of an emergency?

In case of an emergency, or if you lose your passport, it’s important to contact your country’s embassy as soon as possible.