What is a Hostel? It is the eternal question.
The definition of a hostel can be complex and at the same time quite simple. One part is the definition of the hostel by book. The other one is the ideology.
Questions: „What is a Hostel?“
Answer: a hostel is a budget accommodation with a minimum of 1 dormitory and a common area!
Simple as that. Period!
We decided to dedicate a full article to the topic of what is a hostel. This article is part of our ultimate guide to hostels.
Important also, make sure you check out the Hostel Packing List (including 23 items to pack).
There we are keen to walk you through the different hostel definitions out there. We will walk you through the process to understand what is the meaning of hosteling. We will be starting with the very basic definition of a hostel.
Then we will jump into the details to see what Hosteling actually means – for travelers, for the owners.
Interesting posts you have to read as well:
- Are hostels safe? An overview with 10 safety tips by experts
- Sex in hostels? Tips, tricks and real-life stories1
- Female-only dorms, yes or no? 7 Pros and 4 Cons of female dorms to consider
- Hostels vs Hotels – 11 differences you’ve to know
New article: 18 hostel rules you have to know
In this article to clarify the meaning of hostel we cover:
- What is the meaning of hostel?
- What is a hostel?
- Hostel definitions by owners and managers
- history of hostels
- hostels vs hotels
- names and synonyms for hostels (other languages)
- 7 hostel types
- different room types
- are hostels safe?
- packing list
What is the meaning of Hostel?
Is it a lifestyle, simply a low budget accommodation?
Maybe a place with certain values? We at Hostelgeeks knocked from hostel door to hostel door to get answers. Owners and managers of the 5 Star Hostels gave us their point of view.
Our full guide to hostels covers every single part you need to know about hostels. From booking platforms, facilities, and background information.
Skip: our full article covering the best hostel booking sites.
At first, we have to clarify a bit what is the hostel meaning?
A hostel means simply a shared accommodation. Instead of staying in a private room with a private bathroom, you stay in a dorm room sharing the room with other people.
Same goes for the bathroom.
It means, it is a place where traveler sleep on a budget and share the space.
However, over the time a hostel has became a hotspot for travelers to mingle. Hostels have evolved to be more than a bed to sleep in. There is common areas, a kitchen to share, events and now as well even private rooms.
That being said, a hostel has always been and will always be: A place to meet other people!
Let us start at the very beginning.
WHAT is a hostel?
Traveler usually share the common areas and stay at a dorm, but also private rooms are nowadays common.
We wrote a detailed article about the different hostel room types.
The wikipedia entry about hostels also covers the different meanings of hostels across the
- and South Africa
In total, there are 7 types of hostels.
You will notice that hostels nowadays cover a wide range from a cheap-cheaper-hostel up to Boutique Hostels and finally 5 Star Hostels.
The Hostel Definitions
As you can see, it is quite simple to find out “What is a Hostel”.
However, there is more. In fact, there is plenty of more things to consider. We asked several hostels owners and managers of the 5 Star Hostels about “What is a Hostel?”.
The hostel definitions range from complex, to simple, and ideological.
1. Lollis Homestay in Dresden, Germany
The Lollis Homestay is a genuine backpackers hostel with a social heart. It is one of the best hostels in Dresden, an absolute gem, perfect to visit in between Berlin and Prague.
So, we asked Lolli, the owner of Lollis Homestay on his opinion. Here is what he says:
“A hostel is a place, where backpackers stay. It can be a huge crowded party hostel in any capital of Europe, it can also be cheap place where mainly long term guests sleep or even a private hostal in Ecuador.
Actually, it could be even a hotel, if that’s the only choice at the place you go. I experienced all of them and despite they are very different, they all combine one thing:
It will be the place, no matter of facilities, dorms or private rooms, manned or not, where you will most likely meet other travelers.
Because this is the idea of a hostel: Meet other like minded people.
A good hostel is a hostel, where you will easily find some company.”
2. Backpackers Villa Sonnenhof, Interlaken
The Backpackers Villa Sonnenhof is one of the best hostels in Interlaken, Switzerland. It is well known for being the best hostel in Switzerland.
Read: Our complete guide with all best hostels in Switzerland and things to do in Interlaken
It is popular for being the calm and cosy home for the adventurous traveler.
After a long, Adrenalin-loaded day, the Backpackers Villa Sonnenhof invites the guests to relax and kick-back.
So, what is a Hostel?
This is what Backpackers Villa Sonnenhof says:
“A clean, safe, friendly place to stay overnight. You can share a room, called dormitory (dorms), with other travelers that you don’t know. This way traveling gets cheaper and a lot more fun. Usually you find anything from 4-10 bed dorms.
One can expect to find lots of public space to be and socialize, often a self catering kitchen. Young and cool staff that help with things to do.
Some hostels can be particularly cool for the party crowd, others for families or adventure cracks. Have a look what’s on offer and make sure to find the right spot for you!
Be prepared to get talked to, because this is part of the hostel experience.”
3. Sunset Destination Hostel Lisbon
There are many fabulous hostels in Lisbon.
However, there is only 5 Star Hostel in Lisbon. The Sunset Destination Hostel is a special hostel with a big roof top terrace.
Read: the full guide to best hostels in Lisbon
But that’s not it.
The Sunset Destination Hostel also comes with a great swimming pool on its very roof top terrace.
What is a hostel?
Here is the hostel definition of Sunset Destination Hostel:
“Until few years (probably the best secular definition will be of before and after the Internet and of the Low Cost airlines companies), the Hostels were spaces for “backpackers”, the habitual tourists with heavy backpacks and little money in the pocket.
Today, the Hostel is the result of an evolution from the conventional Youth hostels, being fit somewhere between these and Charm Hotel.
The model is mush more flexible, being able to co-exist private rooms (also “ensuite”), as in any conventional Hotel unit, with dormitories.
With the Charm Hotels it has in common the care for tasty decoration and the personalized attention given to the customer, complementary with the hygiene and good services.
The essential in a Hostel is its social spaces.
– Joao, Sunset Destination Hostel
And these are common and made to be used in a way that will raise opportunity to meet other guests.
A stay in a Hostel is out of a Hotel standard, and more than a bed, it is an all experience that is sold.
Although a room is considered low budget exists an increasing requirement from these customers, as for example, free access to the Internet, breakfast included, high standards conditions for hygiene, safety and security.
The customer type is what currently is called FlashPacker (evolution of the Backpacker), a fast-growing segment of travelers who choose a economic lodging, while they spend freely in activities in the chosen destinations.
One mixes of low cost and luxury.”
4. Ani&Haakien Hostel in Rotterdam
Ani&Haakien Hostel is one of the coolest hostels in Rotterdam.
Known for its artsy vibe, Ani&Haakien is a perfect example to show what is a top hostel. Their various common spaces are comfy and inviting.
And they even have a hostel cat, giving it a homely feeling.
We at Hostelgeeks asked the owners of Ani&Haakien: What IS a hostel?
“When people ask us what we do for a living, we tell them we run a Hostel..
Yes a Hostel!
Its a place where travelers share everything with each other! It’s a feeling, a lifestyle, a way of thinking!
Don’t you know? If you’ve been brave enough to leave your life for a while, to discover the world with just a backpack, you know what we are talking about.
For us, most hostels felt like home. Before we even knew where we gonna stay that night, we talked about taking a nice hot shower upon arrival when traveling through the cold Siberia.
Or talking about painting our nails after climbing the Chinese wall…’tonight when we get HOME’ we can kick off our shoes and walk around on our socks.
There is no fun in experiencing something beautiful without sharing it with others.
– Joyce, Ani&Haakien Hostel
There is a big feeling of solidarity.
A huge community of travelers wandering around the world. They meet each other in little homes called hostels.
When you enter a good hostel you feel it immediately. It is the music they play, the smiles and friendly faces you see, the smell of food coming out of the kitchen, the conversations guest have. You know you can get good travel information there.
And finally get rid of that heavy backpack!
Entering your bedroom, you meet your new friends for the next couple of days.
It’s not only about sleeping for a cheap price, it’s more about meeting people.
Sharing stories, learning about other ways of life, learning about yourself, meeting new friends for life.”
Read: 18 hostel rules and hostel etiquette to build lifelong friendships.
5. Swanky Mint Hostel in Zagreb
We just learned from Ani&Haakien: enter a good hostel, and you will feel immediately comfortable.
The Swanky Mint Zagreb is such a place Awarded with the 5 Star Hostel Award, the Swanky Mint managed to combine an outstanding industrial design hostel with the soul of a true hostel.
Read: best hostels in Zagreb, Croatia – compared
We at Hostelgeeks asked Swanky Mint Hostel: WHAT IS A HOSTEL?
Here is what they say:
“In our opinion and in our hostel philosophy, we like to think that sleeping is just a human need.
We all have to have a good and clean bed.
But we also know that our guests need adventure, experience and local, social vibe when they travel.
That is why we always emphasize the letter S in a word HOSTEL.
It simply means Social and makes a huuuuge difference between hostel and a hotel, as can be confirmed by TripAd analysis.”
6. Maverick City Lodge in Budapest
Let’s move over to beautiful Budapest, Hungary The city is known for its party nightlife, and so many Hostels.
We at Hostelgeeks awarded the Maverick City Lodge Budapest with the 5 Star Hostel Award.
Read: the guide to the best hostels in Budapest, Hungary.
It brings together the worlds of a cosy, comfy, yet social and active vibe. The Maverick City Lodge is located in Budapest, but certainly not a party hostel.
It appeals to the different, modern travelers as well as families. So, what do they think is a good way to describe a hostel?
“Our definition of a hostel: By the book it is an accommodation where you can rent not just rooms but beds too.
By the ideology it is a place where travelers unite, have a good time and with the help of the hostel operator, they also get to know more about the city, country which they visit.
Just like a very large family.
Sandor, Maverick City Lodge
By me as a hostel owner it is a great experience to meet people from all around the world with different background and age and provide them a good stay in Budapest.”
7. The Spot Cosy Hostel in Cluj, Romania
The Spot Cosy Hostel – the name says it all! The Spot Cosy Hostel is a handmade backpacker hostel in Cluj, Romania. Their interior is really great, everything is handmade.
Upcycling deluxe while hammocks are found all over the place. We asked the artists about their point of view.
“A Hostel? This is You, waking up in a bed, on a lazy, warm morning.
This is You enjoying the sweet tickle between your face’s skin and the pillow below it.
This is You smiling and smelling the breeze of home.
This is You, forgetting the word ‘guest’ in a place that feels like the most natural spot on the face of the Earth at that point in space and time.
This is Us, behind the curtains, making sure that the tea sip you’re tasting at our place gets the best possible surrounding.
This is Us, the decorators of your Soul’s experience.
The hosts of your well-deserved pause.
The characters that make your journey feel just right.
This is Our Place. Yours and Ours. The Hostel.
With all the stories behind it, with its birth and its reason to be. That can’t be separated from our reason to be. This is a lifestyle.
Behind walls and pieces of furniture, behind sheets and gardens there is the vibrant life itself. That gathers all of us together.”
8. Happynest Hostel in Chiang Rai, Thailand
The Happynest Inspiring Hostel is an outstanding accommodation, one of the best hostels in Chiang Rai.
This accommodation understands the value of a hostel. An open-space design concept, combined with design details, cosy common spaces, and a welcoming ambient.
Happynest Hostel keeps it simple:
“A home away from home. A place to socialize with strangers, get to know local culture and sleep tight at night.”
9. Ecomama and Cocomama in Amsterdam
The most remarkable is that they managed to create a unique style for both Hostels, yet matching.
A hostel is your travel mama’s house.
Anika, Cocomama Hostel
Cocomama Amsterdam is the first boutique Hostel in Amsterdam.
It comes with a large garden, a boutique design, and only groups of max 4 people are allowed here.
This ensures a cosy, social vibe.
Each room comes with a theme e.g. the “Royal Room”, the “Big Brothel Dorm”, and they even have a “Cheese Dorm”.
What about Ecomama? Ecomama Amsterdam is the green sister of Cocomama.
The hostels design is based on upcycled furniture and design elements. A green inspiring design. The rooms have names like “boys are smelly” and “Luxury with an attitude-Travelers”.
Here, bigger groups are more than welcome, and the common areas a spacious.
Here is a definition of a Hostel by the owners of Ecomama and Cocomama:
“a hostel is your best starting place for a new adventure.
a hostel is your home base while traveling.
a hostel is a meeting point for new friends you haven’t met yet.
a hostel is your travel mama’s house.”
10. Oxotel Hostel-Resort in Chiang Mai
The Oxotel is well known as one of the best hostels in Chiang Mai and Thailand.
The WOW-Effect is included.
Whether you enjoy your comfy room, the bohemian café or even the green garden – wow is a common word here.
“In our opinion, the hostel is like the accommodation where guests can share and exchange the cultural experience.
By Oxotel, we have a lot of space for the social common areas where guests can share their experience to each others and I hope they feel like home while they’re staying with us.
The “X” in Oxotel feels like the people from over around the world (North, South, East, West) could meet each others here and some will get a good relationship back on their mind”
11. Sputnik Hostel and Personal Space in Moscow
The Sputnik Hostel and Personal Space was a gorgeous, small Hostel in the heart of Moscow.
Read: Best hostels in Moscow
From outside it looks shy, but from the inside you will be blown away by its beautiful interior design.
We asked as well the Russian team behind Sputnik Hostel and Personal Space. The hostel had to close by now unfortunately. Nevertheless, here’s what they said:
“Hostels are so much better than hotels and much more interesting than regular apartments.
You have locals to ask for anything and foreigns to make bunch of new friends.
– Kristina from Sputnik Hostel
At the same time you can think about a hostel as a hotel and be on your own or you can be the heart of the hostel, all up to you!
But just imagine, what can be more exciting than having a cup of mate with tango dancers from Argentina, at the same time discussing The Great Wall of China with Chinese school workers and enjoying a real Dutch cheese from Amsterdam backpackers.
Hostel is a lifestyle and our own personal world, which we are so happy to share!”
12. Yim Huai Khwang Hostel, Bangkok
The Yim Huai Khwang Hostel is one of the top hostels in Bangkok. We wrote a big guide on the top hostels in Bangkok, Thailand.
“Yim” is thai and it means smile. Now, this is a great starting point, right?!
We asked them what hosteling means.
“In our opinion, a hostel is a place where like-minded travelers sharing smiles, laugh, stories and friendship.”
13. STAY Hostel in Rhodes, Greece
STAY Hostel is located on the beautiful island of Rhodes in Greece. This hostel has it all, from a roof top massage studio to a designer lounge, a cinema, in-house bar and a beach nearby. All that in a design-led way, perfect for the solo-travelers, couples, groups and even families.
So, we reached out and asked Gesine, the owner of STAY Hostel how she thinks a hostel is best defined.
Here is her answer:
“Here at STAY Rhodes we believe a hostel really stands out when you feel like home.
Being away from home and coming to a place that gives you the comfort and warm feeling of a home away from home is our key to success.
They say that the difference between a hotel and a hostel is the letter “S”, which stands for social….
We agree, that this is a big part of it, but not only.
We believe in offering the comfort of a hotel and taking it a step further. Defining from scratch what are the services and facilities of a hotel and which of these make a traveller feel comfortable.
In addition to that, what are the needs of a traveller, that he doesn’t find addressed in a hotel. Top this off with a homely atmosphere of the staff and great socialising activities and get the mix of a hostel, that guests will remember.”
Read: best hostels in Greece
Finally: Is there only 1 answer?
The answer is: no.
There is not the one and only definition of what is a hostel.
However, as stated before, a hostel has always been and will always be a place where people get together and share.
This is the main core of a hostel. It does not matter if there are only dorm-room types, if there is festivities and so on. A hostel is a place to share!
Other than for hotels, there
is was no standard for hostels. The only fix standard for hostels is the 5 Star standard, unique to Hostelgeeks.com
It is one of the reasons why we at Hostelgeeks started the 5 Star Hostel award.
You can find all official 5 Star Hostels with us.
History of Hostels
Understanding hostels? Understanding its history helps here.
The history of hostels stars in 1912 in Altena Castle Germany.
The teacher Richard Schirrmann created the first permanent so-called Jugendherberge or as we know it “Youth Hostel.”
It was Schirrmanns idea to create a space where young pupils can spent the night out in the nature and get together. In a cheap way, close to nature.
This is the very basic you’ve to know. Now, you see, from the beginning it was supposed to be:
- close to nature
Hostel vs Hotel
By now you should have seen that hostels are certainly not hotels. There is a big difference.
Here a few differences, but keep in mind this is very generally speaking:
- Hostels are more traditionally budget-oriented. However, nowadays you can find cheaper hotel rooms than private hostel rooms. It all depends on the season and destination.
- Hostels have programs like book exchange, social events, movie nights
- hostels are more informal, while hotels are more formal
- hostels have social areas usually set up for people to mingle. Hotel are more private. Even the lounge is more for dining in private and having a drink.
- Hotels are usually higher quality – so at least the cliché. Compare it with the 5 Star Hostels and you will learn this is not the case anymore.
Here is a fun guide to Hostels from A to Z – all you need to know.
Names and Synonyms for hostels (other languages)
We had a look, and the meaning of hostels differs from countries. Here are a few names and synonyms for hostels:
- छात्रालयछ ात्रावास
- youth hostel
Types of Hostels
Over the time, and since 1912 a lot of different types of hostels were developed.
In fact, since 2010, hostels have experience a significant change in their business. They became more modern, started to use technology and to compete with hotels.
In the beginning, hotels were laughing about the hostel business. But, the hosteler kept learning form the professional part of hotels.
Today, we have 7 types of hostels. These are:
- Cheap Hostels
- Homely Hostels
- Boutique Hostels
- Party Hostels
- 5 Star Hostels
You see, nowadays hostels cater to a wide range of travelers and tourists. You can find anything from a cheap cheap stay to a pure luxury experience.
Read: 7 different types of hostels
Check out our guide to the 15 most luxurious hostels in the world.
Room Types at Hostels
We see three major room types at hostels.
To give you a full overview, we list them here:
- Female Only Dorm
- Male Only Dorm
- Dorms with Bunk beds
- Dorms with Single beds
- pod-styled dorms
- capsule beds
- Triple Bunk Beds
- Private Rooms
- Double Room
- Twin Room
- Single Room
- Family Room
Read: all different room types at hostels
Are hostels safe?
Generally speaking, hostels are safe. But, there are a few rules to follow to stay safe. Here is our big guide on hostel safety.
You should always remember that hostels are about people sharing. This means there are more than you.
While we believe there are more good people than bad, it still leaves a chance you will encounter a bad person, meaning someone who admires your smartphone a bit too much.
Now, we don’t want to scare you. Hostels are safe, as long as you follow the rules and pick safe hostel in the first place.
Hostelgeeks is such a resource to find secure and safe hostels in quality.
The rules to stay safe in hostels are:
- Stay at a quality hostel with a secure hostel location. The first rule to stay safe at hostels is choosing a quality hostel – all 5 Star Hostels are safe!
- Trust your gut and use your head
- Use the lockers (even in private rooms)
- Ask staff for security advice. Is there something to know about the city, scams, areas to skip?
- If in doubt, travel in a group
- Drink responsibly (and in a group you are familiar with if possible)
- Don’t open the hostel door for strangers
- Don’t bring shady friends to the house
- Watch your belongings you care about
- Copy your Passport and email it to you. Remember: Your passport is crucial!
- Hide some backup money in a different pocket. Put some money away, just in case you lose your wallet.
- Arrive to the hostel the first time before dark
- For Female Traveler: if in doubt, many hostels offer female-only dorms as well. There are even complete hostels only for female traveler.
Here is our big guide on hostel safety.
Hostel Packing List
Staying in hostels means you have to pack appropriately. There are a few things that are absolute essentials to pack such as a padlock.
Here is our ultimate hostel packing list. It features 23 items you need to pack.
Over to you
I would love to hear your opinion. What is the hostel meaning for you?
Do you think we missed some essential part of hostel life and what’s a hostel?
This article is part of our big guide to hostels.
We would love to have it as essential, as informative, as pinpointed down as possible. Therefore, if you have any questions or any comments, we would love to hear from you.
Your question helps us to see what we may have missed, so you are not just getting an answer to your own question, but also help other travelers and young people to understand more about this topic.
Just leave your comment in the comment section below.
Summary “What is a Hostel?”
You see, a Hostel has different angles to look at.
Besides the fact that a hostel is a budget accommodation, it is also an easy way to find fellow travelers.
Whether it is for having a drink together, share travel tips, or whatever you fancy. A Hostel comes in handy when traveling around and looking for fellow travelers.
And then there is the ideological part of your questions “What is a Hostel”. It is a space to share, a community, a a travel style, and even lifestyle. It is the home and the 2nd home. After all: A hostel is a shared accommodation.
Share the space, laughs, stories, and smiles.
Do you want to learn more about Hostels?
In our full guide to European Hostels we cover everything you need to know.
We even created a post for a packing list when staying at Hostels, including free download. Last but not least, make sure you read our fun guide on how to be the worst hostel guest in history.
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