What is a hostel? What is hostel life like?

Learn what a hostel is and what hostel life is like. Find out how you can work in top hostels around the world in exchange for free accommodation.


Jun 12, 2023


Hostel life

Although the hostel concept has reached nearly every corner of the world, there are still many people who don’t know for certain how to explain what a hostel even is and a prejudice still exists for this style of accommodation.

In the last few decades, the number of people who travel alone has increased dramatically. Naturally, this increase has created a larger demand for cost-efficient individual reservation options. In the past, even if were alone, you usually had to pay for a private room — making it much more expensive to travel on your own.

Hostels were thus created to meet the demand for cost-efficient individual reservation options.

Today, there are hostels that are structurally organized in much better and more efficient ways than many hotels and other forms of accommodation out there. 

What is a hostel?

Hostels are hospitality businesses that have shared rooms and spaces. The meaning of a hostel is that you only pay for your bed, and share the rest of the room's space with other people you don’t know. 

Due to this "co-habitation" set-up, the prices for this type of stay are much more affordable. The "do it by yourself" hostel culture also lends towards creating a vibe very different from that of a traditional hotel.

Normally, hostels offer facilities such as fully-equipped shared kitchens and dining areas, laundry rooms, social gathering spaces, etc. Additionally, because the environment is much more laid-back and collaborative, the hostel itself often hosts parties and organizes tours around the area with guests. Most of the time, these tours are not just to well-known touristic points, but bring you to more off-the-beaten-track places only known to the locals.

The cool thing here is that even if you are traveling alone, you have the opportunity to have a social experience. In a hostel setting, you will always be surrounded by people just like you. The environment is conducive to creating new friendships and the exchange of experiences and many laughs.

Amazing hostel atmosphere and vibe

What is hostel life like?

Living in a hostel is an experience that makes you grow as a person.

You will greatly develop your collaborative spirit. You will not mind sharing your food, drinks, stories, and laughter.

You will see that bonds will be created with great ease and the things you have in common with other travelers will exceed your expectations.

Due to the regular hostel guest turnover, you will meet people from different regions, countries, cultures, and lifestyles, and best of all... each has their own suitcase of experiences and stories to share with you.

You will live in a rhythm in which the day of the week becomes unimportant and where you’ll even forget to look at the clock to see what time it is.

You will have moments just for you, for example relaxing in a hammock after hours, reading a book in the midst of nature, returning from the beach just 30 minutes before starting work, watching the sunset every day, all amongst many other experiences that the rush of a daily 9-5 routine just doesn’t give you.

Why stay in a hostel?

If you are an open-minded type of person who isn’t bothered by sharing spaces with strangers, and who likes to meet and find new people, stories, and experiences, you definitely should choose to stay in a hostel.

The vibe of the place is very different from a conventional hotel. Guests create connections easily and turn into a big family.

In addition to breakfast, hostels typically offer activities that bring all of the guests together. Such activities include walking and bicycle tours, parties at local bars, and trivia and game nights.

Many hostels also provide unique tour services you can use to further explore the place you are visiting. Like hostel activities, many of these tours also end up involving a fun mix of staff, volunteers, and guests... and you realize that you just don’t want to leave the place.

Cozy hostel common area

Who is recommended to stay in a hostel?

If you are in search of traveling with a purpose, and want to get to know a local culture, local places, and other travelers, the hostel environment is certainly for you!

You will form many new friendships and discover who you are as a person.

For those looking for accommodation at an affordable price, whether staying alone or with a group of friends, hostels often fit the budget way more than the other available hotel options

Many hostels also have cost-efficient private rooms that can accommodate anywhere from two to five people.

What is working in a hostel like?

Working in a hostel will not demand grand technical knowledge on your part. However, your skills must include good communication, friendliness, and positive attitude and energy

If you choose to do a work exchange, your specific work routine and schedule will depend on the type of position you've applied for, which should be clarified by your host prior to the start of your work exchange. 

The bulk of your training will be passed along to you by someone from the hostel staff or an experienced fellow volunteer

If you work a reception position, you will be in charge of administrative tasks, such as attending the phone, responding to emails, making reservations, facilitating check-ins and check-outs, and answering questions from the guests.

Different hostels have different needs; most hostels are in need of more than just administrative help and also offer positions for bartenders, party promoters, content writers and social media strategists, photographers and videographers, cleaning crew, and on and on it goes! Just take a look at all of the Worldpackers work-exchange opportunities. There is truly something for everyone!

The hostel work environment is friendly and relaxed, and requires no uniform and no commute. Put on comfortable clothes and shoes, and your best smile!

Peaceful hostel porch looking out over expansive greenery

Positive points about working in a hostel

  • You will get to meet lots of amazing people and create great friendships.
  • By talking with so many different people, you will realize that the world is much bigger than the bubble you are used to living in. You will hear so many incredible life stories.
  • You will be working in a friendly and relaxed environment free from all the pressure of the daily 9-5 grind.
  • You will definitely wake up happier every day.
  • You won’t spend hours in traffic trying to get to work.
  • You will learn about the routine of a hostel and the processes of managing this type of business.
  • Your relationship with your “boss” will be that of friendship, partnership, and cooperation.
  • You will feel fulfilled in helping other people.
  • If you travel outside of your own country, you will be able to practice (and maybe even learn) another language.
  • Because you will be living in a shared environment, you’ll learn to be more organized with your own things, and you'll become more considerate of your neighbor(s).
  • You’ll spend the money that would have been for your stay on experiences instead.

Negative points about working in a hostel

  • You will be sharing the room with other people, so if this part of not having your own privacy makes you uncomfortable, after a period of time it could be a problem for you.
  • You will have to say goodbye to people that you loved meeting, but that stayed as guests for just a short time... and that’s it! You will have to learn to deal with goodbyes.
  • Because you will be living at your place of work, you might have a difficult time disengaging from your work activities, and will continue working even after you’ve already completed your shift. This is a very personal trait. Try to control yourself and find a balance of work and play so this does not happen.
  • If you are used to having space that is just for you, finding your time to be completely alone and in silence while living in a hostel might be a little more complicated. Ultimately, nothing should prevent you from touring the surrounding area, where you can find a quiet corner in the middle of a nearby park or green area just for you.

Concert, Abraham Hostel, Tel Aviv, Israel

All of my experiences living and working in hostels in exchange for accommodation have transformed me and brought me many great reflections and changes in my personal life. 

Hostel work-exchanges are unique experiences that have developed my ability for skillful teamwork and interpersonal relationships and have made a big impact in further inspiring my quest for self-knowledge. 

Now that you know everything about what a hostel is really like, it's time to choose the perfect work exchange and plan your first Worldpackers experience with a hostel!

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