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Hostels (or youth hostels) provide short term accommodation to travelers, particularly encouraging outdoor activities and cultural exchange for the young.

In a hostel guests rent a bed (sometimes a bunk bed) in a dormitory and share common bathroom, kitchen, and lounge rooms. Private rooms are often available. The main benefit of a hostel is that one gets to meet other travelers from all over the world. Hostels are usually less formal and less expensive than hotels. They are most frequently used by young travelers. In the past many hostels had imposed age limits, but today it's more common for hostels to accept guests of all ages. In certain parts of the world, hostels are commonly called "backpackers," particularly in Australia.

Hostels provide great opportunity for multi-cultural enlightenment. There is more interaction between the guests than in traditional hotels, and many hostels provide activities to their guests for free or at a low cost. There are some potential drawbacks to using hostels, although most are the same as drawbacks that you could find at many hotels. Theft can be a problem since guests share a common living space, but this can be prevented by locking your belongings up. Most hostels offer some sort of system for safely storing your valuables, and many offer private lockers. One potential drawback to staying in hostels is difficulty sleeping because of noise, whether it's from someone snoring or someone returning to the room late in the evening. For this reason, hostels associations fix reasonable times for last admission and lights out, and people who find it necessary use earplugs.

Traditionally hostels kept costs down by getting guests to help with chores, though this became less common. Many hostels employ their long-term residents as desk clerks in exchange for free housing.

Many hostels belong to Hostelling International (HI), a nonprofit organization composed of more than 90 associations representing about 4000 hostels in over 80 countries. Hostelling International was formerly called the International Youth Hostel Federation (IYHF). There are also several other smaller hostel associations and chains. In some areas private hostels provide similar accommodation.


In 1912 in Altena, Germany, Richard Schirrmann created the first permanent youth hostel. It was inside Altena castle which was then recently reconstructed. The old rooms are on display now, as the youth hostel is in new rooms now, but still inside the castle grounds.

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