Most people have heard of youth hostels, but what are they really? Put simply, they offer basic and affordable accommodation –usually a choice of a private room or a bed in a dormitory – and often provide a hot meal as part of the price.
While similar to a hotel, hostels are much more informal and many provide communal lounges and kitchens to allow guests to socialise.
The youth hostel movement began in 1909, when German schoolteacher Richard Schirmann began using school rooms as cheap accommodation for students so they could appreciate the countryside during the holidays. This led to the founding of the International Youth Hostel Federation in 1932, and today the members of Hostelling International, based in Welwyn Garden City in England, operate some 4,500 youth hostels in 80 countries around the world.
Modern hostels are beloved by backpackers and anybody travelling on a budget, as they offer an affordable roof over your head and the chance to make friends. They can be found everywhere from inner cities to the most remote locations, and while they primarily cater to a younger crowd, people of all ages can make themselves at home. Many are situated along national trails, so they are also popular with long-distance hikers.
As well as providing services for travellers, part of the mission of youth hostels is to facilitate youth work and education. It’s for this reason that they are also often used by school parties (apart from being budget-friendly!) – many hostels have special programmes for schools and offer access to educational facilities either on-site or nearby.
Hostelling International member organisations, such as the Youth Hostels Association (YHA) in England and Wales, also work to offer disadvantaged young people experiences they may not otherwise have access to. Examples of this include YHA’s Breaks for Kids scheme, which provides charitable funding for youth groups and school trips for children from low-income households.
The number of hostels around the world is always growing, so the next time you’re arranging a holiday, consider doing it differently this time – you’ll save cash and could make new friends that will last a lifetime!