What is a hostel?

‘In my day,’ reminiscences Dad, ‘a hostel only let us scruffy people in if we arrived on foot’. But we’re determined to blow the conditional cobwebs away and convert all you skeptics out there, because hostels sure ain’t what they used to be.


It was German outdoorsy type and schoolteacher Richard Schirrmann who initiated the hostel movement. A firm believer in the benefits of fresh air, he accompanied students living in a coal-mining town on weekend outings to the countryside. It was then that the idea of providing hospitality to inspire younger people to travel and encourage integration across the world, really took off.

Why a hostel?

‘Youth’ and ‘Hostel’ are no longer joined at the hip. In fact, a recent survey of HostelBookers’ customers revealed over 41% were over 30 so it’s not all college football teams and 18th birthday parties.

Hostels are cheap because they utilise shared spaces but it is not compulsory to be sociable and communal. Most hostels offer private rooms with en suite facilities so you can be as independent as you like. Some travelers struggle to pay for 3 meals out a day so the well-equipped kitchens offer a space to store food and cook meals.

Lounge areas or games rooms with TV, a DVD collection and library offer respite after a busy day of sightseeing. Why not spend one night in and save your currency for another evening out on the town. If you do get chatting to other guests, access a treasure trove of tips, advice and shared experiences – all the bits your guidebook missed out – and for all you independent travelers perhaps meet a fun crowd and explore the local nightlife.


The modern traveler expects value for money: dirt, grime and dishonesty are not acceptable even at the cheapest of establishments. Hostels have to get the basics right or run the risk of bad reviews channeled through articles, blogs and forums.

With expectations and competition for budget accommodation at an all time high, properties are always playing a game of one-upmanship. Today, facilities seem to grow on trees and hostels frequently offer access to Wi-Fi, computer kiosks, gaming consoles, free breakfasts, complimentary city tours and stylish decor.

So, when you need to book a low-cost holiday don’t even think of settling for a dingy utilitarian hotel – there are amazing alternatives. Don’t knock the idea ’til you try one of these…

I like…style

Dispel all memories of school trips, hostels now make every effort to be hip and original. Instead, think New York loft apartment, attention to detail and homely comforts. Beautiful dark wood and Scandinavian style furniture make Oops Hostel in Paris a chic choice for the more discerning traveler. The country really leading the way in stylish holiday abodes is Portugal. It has it’s designer finger on the pulse of contemporary decor and you have to check out Lisbon Calling and Lisbon Lounge.

I like…location

Cheap no longer means ‘remote goat’ in the hostel industry. Plenty of properties are right in the heart of cities close to tourist attractions and nightlife. Urbany Hostel in Barcelona boasts a central location in the city. Just 10 minutes from the beach and popular sights it also has great views from the roof terrace. Perhaps try a treehouse in Turkey or for a little slice of desert island heaven, Backpackers International Hostel on Rarotonga in the Cook Islands offers a good value sunset, sea and sand.

I like…romance

Yes, there is such a thing as a romantic hostel. In Marrakesh you need a place to unwind, an oasis to escape the hustle and bustle of souks and somewhere to sip cooling mint tea. The Equity Point Marrakech will exceed all your expectations. It has exquisite furnishings, a beautiful tiled courtyard, fountain and a roof terrace. Alternatively the Kapake Palermo Hostel in Buenos Aires has a posh bar and can even organize tango for the two of you. Go for a private double room with en suite.

I like…eco-friendly

Travelers are becoming increasingly aware of their carbon footprint and the budget end of the market is doing its bit to help save the planet. Set within a huge tropical garden and close to the centre of Chiang Mai is the Imm Eco Hostel. Alternatively  CEL – (Centre Ecologic Ilemena) Hostel Girona in Spain aims to be completely sustainable and experiments with permaculture projects including water systems and agricultural improvements. This hostel even has a swimming pool – a natural one, naturally.

I like…facilities

Shop around for good services. Hostels now commonly offer free towels and bed linen, Wi-Fi and events such as ‘pasta night’ or drinks promotions in the bar. For a spot of pampering, the girls only ‘Sanctuary’ dorm in BASE Auckland offers fluffy pillows, a complimentary glass of champagne and (think of all that room you save in the suitcase!)…straightening irons! Plus Florence has a nice long list of on-site facilities including a gym, swimming pool, Turkish bath and a panoramic terrace bar.

I like…something a bit different

Traveling is all about adventure. So why not ruffle a few feathers and stay at the Jumbo Hostel in Sweden, a converted plane parked at Arlanda airport. Even the captain’s cockpit has been refurbished to fit a luxurious double suite. Carbisdale Castle in Scotland enjoys a prime hilltop location with impressive views over the salmon-packed River Kyle. Did I mention the hostel’s Italian marble sculpture gallery?

If you are looking for something a bit special, have look through the Bed and Breakfast Directory by Pamela Lanier.

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