Hostels should play a large part of your long term travel plan. This is one of the cheapest ways to sleep and see the world. Everyone should experience hostel life at least once!
I've stayed in party hostels in Prague, in stunning, modern hostels in Tokyo, in chill-out, hammock filled hostels in Belize and peaceful hostels deep within the rain-forest in Costa Rica.
Every hostel is unique and you will take away a different experience from each. But they all have something in common, and that's the price.
Depending on where you are in the world, a bed in a dorm can range from £1 per night per person to £40 or more but will still be one of the more affordable options in that city. They range from extremely basic (& dire) to bloody beautiful to high-end and modern. They are built for backpackers so they will help you by making your new journey in a new city that bit easier.
So let's break it down a bit.
HOW DO HOSTELS WORK?
Hostels mostly consist of Dorm Rooms which are filled with a number of bunk beds or single beds. Dorms are separated by how many beds there are in each of them and the price for a bed decreases the more beds there are in the room. So a bed in a 16-bed dorm will be cheaper than a bed in a 4-bed dorm.
There is usually an option of staying in a Mixed Dorm or Female Only/Male Only Dorm and some hostels even have Private Rooms with Private Bathrooms available. So don't worry, with the amount of competition there is now, there will always be somewhere that's right for you!
Your bed will come with clean sheets, a pillow, a shared bathroom, a towel (usually to rent) hopefully an available locker for your valuables and full use of the hostels facilities. Fancier and more equipped hostels may come with your own personal locker, USB port/charger socket, bed light, privacy curtain
--- it's actually heaven when you find a hostel like this after roughing it on the road!
Remember you're always priced per person for a dorm bed --- perfect for solo travellers but as a group or a couple you might be cheaper splitting the costs of a private room so always compare.
WHAT DO HOSTELS HAVE TO OFFER?
Hostels really do have lots of helpful facilities that are made for backpackers and solo travellers --- other types of accommodation just don't have the same social settings and activities. Of course what each hostel has available differs from place to place but you should find most of the following during your trip.
These are usually always fun, comfortable and social. It could be in the form of a large living area with hammocks, bean bags or sofas; a bar (with special deals and sometimes ladies nights) a small library, a rooftop chill out area or even a swimming pool. A common area could include, T'V's, computers, books, board games or even play-stations.
A must if you're working, studying or having to check in on home while on the road! Other than that it's sometimes better to disconnect and become completely nomad for at least some of your trip. Some hostels only offer WiFi in common areas to encourage you to be social.
An essential for long term travel! Some places in the world charge pennies to buy already made fresh street food but others it's a lot cheaper to cook for yourself. Hostel kitchens should come with cooking utensils, plates and cutlery but you must buy the food yourself and label everything that's yours! There is sometimes a 'Free Food' drawer or cupboard that you will find food and snacks travellers have left behind that anyone can use. Kitchens are always a great place to start chatting to people!
Most of the time the person working behind the desk is friendly, helpful, young and sometimes even a backpacker themselves. Hostels offer a lot of information about the city/country you're staying in and know all the cheapest places to eat and things worth doing. Some even offer guided tours and excursions.