Backpackers in Europe - What Is A Hostel - Who Stays At Hostels

What Is A Hostel? Who Stays At Hostels? What is a Hotel for Backpackers Called?

Staying at a hostel for the first time can be intimidating. You don't know what to expect and who you are sharing a room with. For North Americans, hostels aren't even as popular as they are with our friends in the UK or Australia. So, what is a hostel?

What Is A Hostel?

The best definition that I have been able to come up with is that a hostel is an economically-priced inn that offers shared accommodations. Typically, a hostel features a large room with separate beds (usually in the form of bunk beds), a shared bathroom, and a communal kitchen. It is most common to find hostels with dormitory rooms that accommodate between 4-12 guests per room. Sometimes people ask, what is a hotel for backpackers called? This would be a hostel.

As an American, I know that staying in hostels in the United States is not common at all but they have been growing in bigger cities especially after the global COVID-19 pandemic. Hostels are really popular abroad and I encourage everybody to try staying at one. Yes, sleeping in a bunk bed in proximity of strangers is going to be weird at first. However, once you overcome your apprehension, these are going to be some of the best memories in your life. 

Who Stays At Hostels?

There are different types of people who you usually find at hostels and hostels tend to cater to these different groups. The types of people/groups you’ll encounter are:

  • Backpackers
    • You’ll often find travelers that take a gap year after their studies or people in-between jobs. Coordinating trips with friends can be tough and Millennials and Gen Z know how to seize the opportunity and travel around solo. This can be traditional Budget Backpackers or Flash Packers.

Generation Nomad bag in Sicily

[pictured: a Generation Nomad traveler in Sicily]

  • Tour Groups (Contiki, G Adventures, Intrepid Travel, Topdeck etc.)
    • These tour groups have organized trips geared to the 18 to 39 year-old demographic. They usually are very social and fast paced. Often, they’ll have their own dormitory rooms for their groups but you will meet them in the common areas of hostels.

Contiki Tour Group in New Zealand

[pictured: a Contiki Tour Group in New Zealand]

  • Digital Nomads
    • This group has grown so much since the pandemic. So many folks are working remotely while traveling abroad. Many countries are even offering Digital Nomad specific visas for this demographic. For those who are unfamiliar with this term, a digital nomad is somebody who uses technology to complete remote work so they can see the world while still getting paid.

Swiss Francs for a Digital Nomad

[pictured: a Digital Nomad working remotely in Switzerland]

  • The Learners / Backpacker Volunteers
    • You may also find somebody staying at a hostel for a short internship or maybe even work and reside at the hostel itself to build their foreign language or management skills. As well, you may encounter hostels that offer specific classes to their guests such as surfing, yoga, photography, language classes, cooking etc. You may also hear them called Backpacker Volunteers.

Yoga class at a hostel in Colombia

[pictured: a yoga class at a hostel in Palomino, Colombia]

  • Trekkers and Campers
    • There are large treks like the Camino de Santiago in Spain, the Kumano Kodo in Japan, the Cammino delle Dolomiti in Italy, or the Inca Trail in Peru where a lot of trekkers lodge at hostels along their route. You may come across these hostels being called special names such as ‘albergues’ for pilgrims in Northern Spain or ‘refugios’ for high altitude hostels in Northern Italy.

Finishing the camino de santiago at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela[pictured: the ending point of the Camino de Santiago]

There are so many benefits of staying at hostel. The biggest is that hostels are budget-friendly. You get to see the world without a huge dent in the bank account. Hostels have communal kitchens that can save you even more money so you can cook your own food. Another is that it is so easy to meet new people and make new friends while staying at one. Just think about it, you’re literally sharing a bedroom with others; of course, somebody is going to say hi.

There are so many different types of hostels depending on the vibe you are looking for. I suggest visiting and reading the ratings/reviews/house rules before booking. Sometimes you’ll want a hostel that organizes events and activities such as city tours, beer pong, movie nights, and cooking classes. Other times you’ll want a more low-key hostel with reliable Wi-Fi and somewhere to do work quietly. Often hostels even offer private accommodation as well if you ever need a break from sharing your space. In my opinion, it is always good to switch it up and try something new.

Essential Tips For Hostel Stays

Pack Smart:
Hostel living involves sharing limited space with fellow travellers. This means means packing smart so your belongings aren't all over a shared bedroom. Opt for compact, lightweight backpacks suitable for dormitory stays. They should easily store in lockers or under bunk beds. Essential items include a padlock, earplugs, and a sleep mask. Refer to our complete Hostel Packing Guide for detailed insights.

Respect House Rules:
Each hostel boasts its own set of rules. These encompass quiet hours, no-smoking policies, and cleanliness standards. Familiarize yourself with the hostel's regulations upon check-in and uphold them throughout your stay.

Unwritten Hostel Dormitory Norms:

  1. Observe "Quiet Hours" as "Lights Out Hours."
  2. Pack your belongings at reasonable times.
  3. Maintain privacy during intimate moments.
  4. Avoid cooking in the bedroom.
  5. Keep personal items contained.
  6. Refrain from loud conversations that may disturb roommates.
  7. Prepare for a swift return to bed.
  8. Avoid snoozing alarms.
  9. Greet your roommates.
  10. Foster friendliness and avoid political discussions.

Further Insight into Norms #7 and #10:

Preparing promptly for bedtime involves arranging essentials in advance to minimize disruptions to sleeping roommates. Establishing a routine of setting out toiletries, water bottles, and sleep masks before dinner ensures readiness upon retiring for the night.

Maintaining a friendly atmosphere entails refraining from engaging in political discourse while residing in hostels. While travelers often relish cultural exchanges, contentious topics like politics are best avoided to preserve harmony.

Embrace Social Opportunities:
Hostel life offers unparalleled chances to connect with other global travelers. Utilize communal spaces like lounges, kitchens, and group activities to initiate conversations, exchange travel tips, and cultivate new friendships. Remember, the majority of hostel occupants are solo travelers, making them great for new friendships.

Stay Open-Minded:
Hostel experiences offer glimpses into diverse global cultures, with guests hailing from different backgrounds and viewpoints. Approach each encounter with receptivity and curiosity. Seize the opportunity to gain insights from others and broaden your cultural horizons.




I’m Mark, the Founder of Generation Nomad, Avid Travel Backpacker & Digital Nomad. I am passionate about helping others discover the world through my experiences. I solo backpacked for months at a time, lived abroad, and even speak two foreign languages. Besides collaborating on the best lightweight travel accessories for Travel Backpackers, I also love sharing my travel photography.
Favorite Trips: Spain, Egypt & Vietnam 
Favorite Cuisines: Italian, Peruvian & Japanese
Quote: “Be a circle and just roll with it” 
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