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A question I often receive by email is how to tell the difference between youth hostels and backpackers hostels – so I’ve done my best to outline this for you in this article!
Long gone are the days of having to do a shift cleaning the toilet to earn your hostel bunkbed (unless of course you’re volunteering as a cleaner for a free stay!).
Yet youth hostels still exist so here’s how to tell the difference and hopefully, choose the style of hostel that fits you best!
Youth Hostels vs Backpackers Hostels
What is a Youth Hostel?
Whilst traditional youth hostels are still widespread, most commonly associated with associations such as YHA UK and Hostelling International, their concept is slowly starting to adapt to include more boutique city destinations and accommodation for travellers over 18 years old.
Traditionally, a youth hostel was a cheap form of basic accommodation provided to enable school children (strictly under-18) to travel in groups to the countryside and escape their urban life in cities. This was the idea that gave birth to the first hostels opened over 100 years ago by Richard Schirrmann who you can read more about in my brief history of hostels and in this book.
These days, a lot of youth hostels still retain features of traditional hostels such as:
- Separate sex dorms (i.e. no mixed dorms)
- Majority dormitory style rooms (i.e. few private rooms)
- A communal kitchen
- Shared showering and toilet facilities
- Communal spaces for guests
Edit 20/04/2017: Thanks to Dan, a hostel owner who commented on this post, who explained that some youth hostels still require guests to leave the hostel during the daytime (for example between 10am and 5pm). This is a traditional feature of youth hostelling that some hostels still retain in order to keep down the cost of running the hostel and get cleaning done.
Who should stay in a Youth Hostel?
Whilst youth hostels are still a great form of budget accommodation for all ages, they seem to be best suited to school groups, families, and the more mature traveller.
By mature, I mean a traveller who would rather enjoy long hikes in national parks than get absolutely hammered on 10 tequila shots in the red light district of Amsterdam. Of course, you can be both, but given the tendency of many youth hostels (especially in the UK) to be located in rural countryside locations it may prove difficult.
Overall, the atmosphere of youth hostels tends to be calmer and more relaxed so perfect for those who are looking for outdoor adventure.
What is a Backpackers Hostel?
The clue is in the name here, but to make it clear these hostels are most suited to travellers heading to Europe on their gap year with one big backpack and a wish to experience not only the sights, sounds and cultures of European destinations – but to have a lot of fun while they’re doing it!
The social element is what makes a backpackers hostel just that little bit more fun than a youth hostel (no offence to all the youth hostels out there that I love!). The atmosphere is less about relaxing after a long day of hill-walking and more about getting to know other guests over drinking games, cooking workshops and day/night tours of the city.
Who should stay in a Backpackers Hostel?
The answer to this question really depends on which type of hostel you choose to stay in. Which in turn depends on your own travel style and personality.
Smaller, independent backpackers hostels can vary so much in the smallest ways, such as whether they do or don’t accept families, whether there is an age restriction on guests, whether they offer 24 hour reception or have a guest curfew, and so much more.
The only way to truly know whether you should stay in a hostel is to read the description and bio carefully. To understand more about the different hostel options read: Booking Hostels That Are Right For You.
I hope I helped clear up a bit of confusion for those of you who are new to hostel travel and if you have any more questions as always, don’t hesitate to ask!
Lots of love,
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