What does the word HOSTEL means?
It means a place to spend the night. If you would ask anybody about what a hostel
is in the mid-80s, they would know that it is a place that offers boarding, usually in a single bed in a room shared with other people and as a rule – budget friendly. Bathrooms are often shared, as well as common areas and sometimes a kitchen. Dormitory rooms can be mixed or separated by gender, but there are usually some private rooms too, just more expensive.
But due to general progress this description would not apply very well any more. Today hostels that boast with membership in the international network called »International Youth Hostel Federation – shorter Hostelling International« mostly have smaller rooms, with an ever increasing number of rooms with lesser number of beds and their own toilets. Yet, hostels still offer cheaper beds in dormitory rooms. Rooms can also be flexible and can have four beds in the busy days and only two if the facility is not too crowded.
So a question pops to mind – what’s a difference between a hostel and a cheap hotel? The easiest possible answer would be that in hotels the standards set the mood, while in the hostels the mood sets the standards. This means that even if the rooms might be similar, a hostel is a hub for young people who socialize and exchange experience – just that the main social activities take place in the common areas and not in the shared bedrooms.
When people think of hostels, they usually think of young travellers, with a backpack, looking for a place to spend the night. But a hostel is much more! It’s a place for young people, and young at heart, who desire to travel to new lands, meet new people and gain new life experience. Hostels are a great place to start exploring the world and different cultures – and above all, to examine yourself.
Many hostels offer shelter to travellers for longer time periods as well. It’s mostly for season work, when travellers work as light labour force (in reception, kitchen or cleaning) and get free board. Many travellers, especially in their gap year, want to combine travel and part time work. The gap year is the time, when they want to have some more fun before serious life (after gaining their degree) and they also wish to gain some work experience, away from home, to work on their foreign language skills and to broaden the circle of people they know.
In some countries like Great Britain, Ireland, Netherlands, India and Australia certain hostels are run by charity organizations and are mostly known as places that offer long term boarding for students, addicts, poor children and people with lesser opportunities. So the word hostel means a lot more than simply an object that offers cheap board for the night.
A bigger difference still is visible, when we talk about hostels, which are a part of an organized network of youth boarding facilities and hostels, which simply wish to make a quick buck (most often an apartment in one of the larger capitals, with expensive hotels). This phenomenon is very much present, currently, due to the many online booking portals, which only care to gain a percentage of the profit, for the product they offer. It is legal, but might be very unfriendly for travellers, as they don’t know what to expect. Off course, it is possible to find very high quality boards for acceptable price at such portals, but it can also very well be a damp room we’d rather not enter.
That is why the network of Hostelling International places so much care in standards for their tourist products. On the portal www.hihostels.com or at national portals such as www.youth-hostel.si you can only find hostels, which are part of the network in a certain country, or are under direct supervision of Hosteling International if the network in that country still doesn’t exist. And that is what separates the booking system of Hostelling International from other commercial booking systems. Commercial systems offer everything from high priced hotels, to a bed in a twenty bed room with only one toilet seat. Booking at www.hihostels.com only offers hostels, that are up to date with the standards of the Hostelling International.
So why chose a hostel?
Exploring various cultures and places, especially in world capitals and other popular destinations, is the main reason for checking into a hostel. There are also many other hostels, that offer specialised activities, such as climbing, hiking and cycling. These are usually smaller objects, which still hold the original spirit of hostels and ensure access to more remote locations. It is important to stress they aren’t meant just for individual travellers, but also for target groups, such as sport teams, school children or families.
The history of Youth Hostels dates back to 1909, when a German teacher Richard Schirrmann recognized a need for night shelter for groups of school children in order to explore the countryside. It was he, who opened the first hostel in the building of the very school he worked in, in the town of Altena. It was a perfect object to spend a night in, when during the summer break there were no classes and many young people wanting to explore the land. In 1912 it was moved to the nearby castle of Altena, where it still welcomes travellers today, with its excellence and rich history. A few years later, in 1919, Richard Schirrmann founded the first German association of Youth Hostels.
Independent of the German effords, in 1892 in Slovenia a Holiday society “Ferijalno društvo Sava” was founded and offered budget excursions to its members throughout the entire country and sometimes even abroad. Members were making deals with individual farmers, to spend the night in the barn, or in a spare room, if there was any. So it was possible for members of the travelling society of the day in Slovenia, to receive a budget friendly, or even free of charge, board 120 years ago.
The movement started developing all over the world and in 1932 in Amsterdam the international union of hostels was founded, by the name of »International Youth Hostel Federation«, with members from Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Poland, Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Great Britain, Ireland, France and Belgium. They elected Richard Schirrmann their first president.
The international federation with their chair in the small town of Welwyn Garden City in England has 87 members of national organizations. Apart from them the Hostelling International includes also organizations of associated members and in some cases it even has its own hostels in countries, where the national organization hasn’t been established yet.
And in conclusion, the mission which was written down in 1932 in the founding decleration and is still the main goal of Hostelling International:
»To promote the education of all young people of all nations, but especially young people of limited means, by encouraging in them a greater knowledge, love and care of the countryside and an appreciation of the cultural values of towns and cities in all parts of the world, and as ancillary thereto, to provide hostels or other accommodation in which there shall be no distinctions of race, nationality, colour, religion, sex, class or political opinions and thereby to develop a better understanding of their fellow men, both at home and abroad.«