How do Hostels Work? Ins and Outs of Hostel Life

How do Hostels Work? Ins and Outs of Hostel Life

How exactly do hostels work? This is a great question for anyone that’s new to hostels or simply want to delve into the world of budget travel.

Here we share with you all the aspects of hostel life and what you can expect. This guide is full of reasons to switch hotels for hostels and join millions of travelers in a quest to experience social living.

Honestly, we love hostels so much that we believe staying in an epic hostel should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Before you pack your bags, here are 14 Ideas to Save Money for Long-Term Hostel Travel.

1. What’s a Hostel?

We’re glad you’ve taken the time to query what is a hostel, because no, it is not a stupid question! At the end of the day, hostels often have a bad reputation because of how they were 20+ years ago. Things have changed, and hostels are becoming ever more attractive for every traveller type.

In short; a hostel is a sociable accommodation that offers a cheaper price tag and the option to sleep in both shared and private accommodation. The emphasis at hostels is a shared, community-driven budget accommodation.

Shared dormitories, shared common areas = a hostel.

That is our very simple definition of hostels.

Over time, this simple budget accommodation has developed into a hotspot for travellers to come together and mingle. No longer are hostels just a place to book a bed to sleep in.

From organised events to outdoor swimming pools… hostels might be much more than you’d expect.

Under the hostel umbrella there are many different types, which brings us nicely to our next section…


2. Hostel Types

To clarify the question “what is a hostel” even further, it’s a good idea that we introduce the different hostel types that are out there in the world. Because no, there is no one size fits all!

In fact, we’ve put together a guide to the 10 types of hostels on to cover this in detail.

Here at we have our own unique way of finding the best hostel for you. Our clever ‘suitable for…’ filter tool is recommended for sifting through hostels that suit what you’re looking for.

Common hostel types include:

  • Party Hostels
  • Boutique Hostels (slightly higher price tag)
  • Cheap Hostels
  • Traditional Hostels

Within these categories, it’s possible to go one step further and determine whether a particular hostel is suitable for couples, female solo travellers, families, 50+ travellers, digital nomads, groups and so on.

What about backpackers hostels? There are MANY. It’s quite a broad term to say backpackers hostel, and they can include cheap, party, traditional and boutique.


3. How much do hostels cost?

This depends on many factors and so it’s very difficult to give a definite answer to this question.

As expected, no hostel will charge the same as the next, yet it is possible to get a rough idea of what kind of price a dorm room will cost in any given city by doing some simple research.

Firstly, let us have a quick look at what factors determine the increase/decrease in hostel prices:

  • Hostel destination (country, city)
  • Time of year/season
  • Room type & hostel type
  • How far in advance you book

Always take these things in to consideration and take some time to compare general hostel prices in the destination you plan on going to.

In general, hostels in Asia will be cheaper than hostels in Europe. Yet, don’t always take this for granted! In the same way, South America hostels are a lot cheaper than hostels in North America.

Remember: is a price comparison website. Simply search for hostels in your chosen destination and allow us to compare prices on all major booking platforms for you.


4. What is a hostel room like?

Hostels nowadays typically offer a wide range of room types. But again, it differs depending on each hostel so don’t expect each one to have the same type and amount of rooms.

Let us talk about hostel rooms in a general way.

Shared Dormitories

Shared dorms usually come with bunkbeds, ranging from 4-10 beds per room. Yet in some cases this can reach 20 beds! Other amenities typically included are lockers, charging sockets and linen. Bathrooms are usually shared.

It is possible to also find dorm rooms that only have single beds instead of bunks.

Most hostels offer a choice of mixed, female and male only dorms. However, mixed dorms are the most popular so bear this in mind.

More and more dorm rooms are being created with custom-built bunks (goodbye squeaks & shakes) that include a privacy curtain, personal light & plug sockets and shelves. This new craze is often referred to as Privacy Pods.

We can say with confidence that female travel is 100% suited to hostel life. There are even female-only hostels to discover!


Private Rooms

That’s right, many hostels offer private rooms too!

Private rooms could be designed for single travellers, couples, friends and families. So, the types of beds could include a double bed, one/two single beds or a selection of beds suitable for a family. This means the size of a private room can vary hugely.

A private ensuite is also a possibility, though many private rooms still share their bathroom with others.


5. Hostel Facilities & Inclusions

This is where staying at hostels makes the most sense! Honestly, we’re blown away time and again by the modern facilities popping up in hostels these days.

Again, it will depend on which hostel type you opt for in regard to the kinds of facilities and inclusions you can expect.

For example, choosing a ‘cheap hostel’ may mean you have to pay extra for linen or bring you own. Whereas booking your stay at a ‘boutique hostel’ may mean unlimited access to their outdoor swimming pool. Oh yeah!

Common hostel facilities & inclusions you can expect:

  • Shared kitchen
  • Bed linen (& towel in some cases)
  • Locker (usually required to bring your own lock)
  • Common areas: Rooftop, bar, lounge
  • Free unlimited WiFi
  • Free breakfast & tea/coffee
  • Laundry


Read: How to Find cool Hostels (11 things to look out for)

Not so common facilities & inclusions to look out for for a really top-notch hostel stay include:

  • Swimming pool/sauna/spa
  • Onsite restaurant-cafe
  • Co-Working Spaces
  • Gym

As you can see, the perks of staying at a hostel are tenfold when it comes to access to great amenities at a reasonable price.


6. Events & Activities

Alongside awesome amenities, the hostel events board has to be one of the top reasons for staying in this type of accommodation.

Many, if not most hostels these days offer daily/weekly events to bring people together in fun and sociable ways.

Some of the common events & activities include free walking tours, hostel parties & pub crawls, dinner evenings, movie nights and many classes such as yoga, language, cooking and dance.

And guess what? They are nearly always for FREE!

Of course, many hostels do not organise any events at all, so if you prefer a quiet stay that’s always possible. Just make sure you check this before booking.

Fun: How to Make Friends in Hostels - 9 Simple Tips


7. Hostel Safety

Are hostels safe? A question we hear frequently and our answer is alway the same: absolutely!

If you’re staying in a shared dorm, make use of the security lockers at least for your most valuable things. Either that or keep them on you at all times. Really, it just requires some common sense on your part and you shouldn’t have any problems.

Check out our guide Are Hostels Safe? 11 Safety Tips for Hostel Travel for a deeper look on this subject.

8. Hostel Travel Tips

First off, you’ll enjoy having a look at our 17 tips for Sleeping and Staying in Hostels. These tips come from first-hand experience and are designed to make your hostel stay less challenging.

A few more tips when it comes to staying in hostels:

  1. Book in advance for cheaper rates
  2. Check the hostel ‘food bin’ for handy staples (salt, rice, pasta etc)
  3. Consider hostel work for accommodation
  4. Cook your own food & save money
  5. Always check reviews!


9. Best Website for Booking Hostels

Is it too obvious to say! Well, we’re going to say it anyway…. is the best gateway for booking hostels.

Though hold on a minute!

Let’s be clear here. We are a price comparison website, not a hostel booking website.

This means that you can use to compare hostel prices on big booking channels. Once you’ve found the cheapest price, we will relocate you to that website to book the hostel.

For example, you may find Hostelworld offers the cheaper price for your favourite hostel in Barcelona. Simply click the Hostelworld icon and we will redirect you right away.

FYI: It’s also possible to find the hostel’s website on their listing page.

Read Why choose for Finding Hostels? For further information about this.

Also: When to Book Hostels? Guidance for spontaneous souls & pre-planners.

10. Top 10 Check List before Booking

Alright dear readers, we’ve given you an overview of what a hostel is and what you can typically expect during your stay.

Just for a bit of fun, here is a top 10 list of things that the hostel should include before confirming your booking. We’ve chosen these top 10 because we deem them a MUST to really get the best out of your hostel experience. That is, to have the most fun, save the most money and meet the best people.

So, make sure the hostel…

  1. Offers a FREE breakfast
  2. Organises FREE & regular events
  3. Has a kitchen
  4. Includes privacy curtains on bunkbeds
  5. Has no curfew
  6. Has great reviews & high rating
  7. Is in a central & safe location
  8. Includes bed linen & lockers
  9. Offers plenty of common rooms
  10. Employs superb hostel staff!



Just to make sure all bases are covered, let's look at more frequently asked questions about hostels.

How do hostels make money?

The main way hostels make money is through travellers booking their stay with them. Hostels typically advertise room availability on their website, as well as on booking channels such as, Hostelworld and of course,

What is a youth hostel?

A youth hostel is typically designed for travellers aged 18-35 years. Back in the day most hostels were known as youth hostels because only younger people stayed in them. These days things have changed and they have become popular with older travellers, families and couples.

It’s always a good idea to check if there is an age limit at your chosen hostel before you book.

What is a student hostel?

Student hostels are slightly different to regular hostels as they are designed with student’s needs in mind. For example, you wouldn’t expect a student hostel to be a crazy party place. Students may use a hostel for cheaper living rent, staying long term and closer to their school/university.

What are the best and worst things about hostel life?

Have a read of our guide to why hostel life is better than real life for the best things about staying in a hostel.

Some potential cons of staying in a hostel if you’re not used to it could include:

  • Lack of privacy (in shared dorms especially)
  • Shared bathrooms far away from room
  • Risk of theft (always use a locker!)
  • Not enough storage space

What should I pack for staying at a hostel?

Great question! We’ve put together a packing guide for hostel backpackers especially to help with this query.

How do I find hostels near me?

That’s easy; head to the homepage, type in your location and hit enter. Our site will take you directly to all of the hostels in your area so you can quickly find your favourite one.

Final words on 'How do Hostels Work'

Having said all of that, hostels only work the way they are intended to when open-minded travellers choose to stay and bring their own energy to the place. Yes, we’re talking about you!

Remember; hostels are not hotels. They are specifically designed to be a social place that will make anyone quickly feel at home and part of the family. So, don’t forget to say “hi”, relax and make the most of a unique accommodation type that allows you to travel in a safe, fun and affordable way.

Happy hostelling!

Travel Cheaper, Travel Longer

Smart Hostel Price Comparison

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