What Is a Youth Hostel?

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  • Written By: Lakshmi Sandhana
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
  • Last Modified Date: 29 September 2019
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A youth hostel is a place that offers very economical accommodation in comfortable surroundings suited to people traveling on low budgets. These hostels exist all over the world and are boons to many students and backpackers traveling both locally and abroad. While they primarily provide safe accommodation for travelers, they also promote social interaction with other guests in a variety of ways. Though the term is associated with youth, people of all ages can be seen using these hostels.

Richard Schirrmann, a German teacher and visionary, founded the first youth hostel in 1912. He noticed the lack of cheap lodgings for youngsters on a school trip when he was forced to spend the night in village school buildings and barns. His first hostel opened with the aid of numerous donations and a lot of public support. Certain incidents in his life led him to ponder the idea of creating friendly meeting places where people with various backgrounds from different countries could socialize with each other. Later, he created a youth hostel association and retired from teaching to focus his energies on the idea.


His original idea spread like wildfire across the world, eventually resulting in the establishment of a nonprofit organization called Hostelling International, or HI. This organization manages youth hostel associations globally, and there are now over 4,500 youth hostels spread out across 80 countries. While the hostels are managed by the national associations, they are required to meet the standards set by HI, which regularly carries out inspections to ensure quality. The core vision of its founder has been preserved, and for many people, youth hostels are an easy and safe way to meet people from different cultures.

In earlier times, youth hostels were places where travelers pitched in and undertook chores that were considered to be character building. These days, youth hostels are well staffed and provide many facilities similar to hotels without the added costs. They offer very reasonable accommodation, which may be in the form of dormitory beds, single rooms, or double rooms. Dormitories are a cheap option and may contain rows of bunk beds. A person checking into such a hostel can leave his or her belongings in a locker provided, which guarantees safety.

A youth hostel also promotes socialization amongst its guests in the form of communal spaces for all of them to spend time. They may carry a range of books with some being donated by travelers. Usually, there is a notice board that carries details on the attractions and activities available in and around the area. Additionally, students and other travelers are free to post tips or questions related to travel and planning there. For many travelers on budgets, the youth hostel provides a safe avenue to find fellow travelers taking the same routes who are willing to split costs on transport and food.

While many youth hostels are managed by associations and require membership cards that can be easily obtained, non-HI hostels also exist. These hostels may be as diverse as its owners — in some places, owners make it a point to remember every guest by name and introduce them to other guests in communal areas. Some may even employ long-term guests as housekeeping staff or desk clerks, offering them free accommodation in return. These hostels are also sometimes known as backpacker hostels thanks to the huge numbers of backpackers who seek them out.


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