Hostels provide budget-oriented, sociable accommodation where guests can rent a bed, usually a bunk bed, in a dormitory and share a bathroom, lounge and sometimes a kitchen. Rooms can be mixed or single-sex, although private rooms may also be available.

Hostels are generally cheaper for both the operator and the occupants; many hostels have long-term residents whom they employ as desk clerks or housekeeping staff in exchange for free accommodation.

There are several differences between hostels and hotels, including:

  • Hostels tend to be budget-oriented; rates are considerably lower, and many hostels have programs to share books, DVDs and other items.
  • For those who prefer an informal environment, hostels do not usually have the same level of formality as hotels.
  • For those who prefer to socialize with their fellow guests, hostels usually have more common areas and opportunities to socialize. The dormitory aspect of hostels also increases the social factor.
  • Hostels are generally self-catering.

There is less privacy in a hostel than in a hotel. Sharing sleeping accommodation in a dormitory is very different from staying in a private room in a hotel or bed and breakfast, and might not be comfortable for those requiring more privacy. Hostels encourage more social interaction between guests due to the shared sleeping areas and communal areas such as lounges, kitchens and internet cafes.

Care should be taken with personal belongings, as guests may share a common living space, so it is advisable to secure guests' belongings. Most hostels offer some sort of system for safely storing valuables, and an increasing number of hostels offer private lockers; there are other things to consider as well when choosing a safe hostel, such as whether they have a guest curfew, uphold fire codes, 24-hour security, and CCTV.

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