Hostels aren’t what they used to be

Say the word “hostel” and most travelers picture Spartan accommodations filled with 20- and 30-something backpackers hanging out of bunk beds. But the times they are a changin’, according to Aisling White, spokesperson for Hostelworld.com, a site with information on more than 25,000 hostels in more than 180 countries.
“Contrary to popular belief, hostels are no longer just for the young or the 20-something backpacker,” While said. “They are for people of all ages. Families are booking hostels because they combine a sense of adventure with comfort and safety. Older travelers stay in hostels because they offer prime city and resort locations at a fraction of hotel prices.”
While 18- to 30-year-olds will always account for the vast majority of those who book through Hostelworld.com, she added, the number of older users have grown steadily since 2000. The 30-plus group accounts for about 20 percent of the bookings, and the 40-plus group accounts for 7 percent.
“This renaissance in hostelling has been driven in part by the economy and those seeking more affordable accommodation choices,” White said, “but it is also attributable to the improved standards of hostels, their fantastic locations and the realization that hostels aren’t what they used to be. The spirit of adventure, the desire of travelers to have more immersive experiences and the maturing of the industry are equally drivers of this movement.”
Here’s what else White had to say about hostels in an email interview (some answers have been edited):

How are hostels different today than they were years ago?
Hostels have come a long way from the sparsely furnished dormitories of yester year. They’ve gone from bleak to chic…and exist in unusual locations such as jumbo jets, tree houses, prisons and castles. They also offer private rooms, en suite bathrooms, swimming pools, saunas, Jacuzzis, bars and restaurants. Many hostels offer …meals, bicycle use, tours and free WiFi.

Why the change? How are today’s travelers different?
Hostels have come of age to adapt to the modern day traveler. They realize that many travelers now come equipped with their own laptop, along with iPhones, mobile phones, digital cameras and MP3 players. As a result, their standards have improved significantly.

Can you give a range of prices that one might find?
The price of staying in a hostel varies significantly across the world. For example the Agora Hostel featured in the list of “History Hostels” offers rates starting at $7.27 per person per night. For hostels in the U.S., private rooms can cost anywhere from $30 per person per night, whereas dorm rooms can cost from $15 per night.

In general, how far ahead should you book?
This depends on the season. Always book ahead as far in advance as possible, especially during high season (i.e. summer in Europe or Oktoberfest in Munich).

Is there a time limit to hostel stays?
Each hostel has guidelines, but often there is no time limit and some hostels even welcome long-term stays.

I see that Hostelworld.com also features hotels. Why?
Hostelworld.com offers hotels (nothing over three stars), guesthouses and apartments due to customer demand for other types of budget accommodations and the fact that there are a limited number of hostels.

What are the most popular hostels?
Every year Hostelworld.com recognizes the best in the hostel industry with the annual Hoscar awards ceremony. Winners are chosen from the 25,000 properties by customers who booked online. They rate hostels on character, security, location, staff, fun and cleanliness. The top 10 winners for 2010 were:
Travellers House, Rossio Hostel, Lisbon Lounge Hostel and Goodnight Backpackers Hostel, all in Lisbon, Portugal; The Riverhouse Backpackers in Cardiff, Wales; Greg&Tom Hostel and Flamingo Hostel, both in Krakow; Sitting on the City Walls Courtyard House in Beijing; Academy Hostel in Florence; and
Mambo Tango Backpackers in Barcelona.

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