What is a hostel?

Whenever I say I own a hostel (ostello in Italian) it inevitably involves a lot of explaining to people who either don’t know what a hostel is or who only view them in a less than positive light.  Unfortunately, the reputation and stigmas of hostels as grungy backpacker dives still remains and that’s because these kind of hostels do still exist!  For the last 18 years, my husband Steve and I have worked hard to change people’s conceptions (misconceptions) by creating the type of hostel that people who wouldn’t normally stay at hostels would stay in. The most important quality that separates the hostel from a hotel, B&B or vacation rental is that a hostel is a budget friendly option which focuses strongly on a social aspect that is shared by guests and in the best of places often includes and involves the owners or staff.

Hostels have come a very long way over the years – and dare I say it – are even starting to become a bit trendy. They come in all shapes, sizes and personalities – for example, there are backpacker hostels, design or luxury hostels, camping hostels, surf hostels, party hostels, family-friendly hostels and most are a combination of a few of these types.

The reception at the original Beehive in 1999. Left to right – our first staff member, Brian Birkenstein, me (Linda) and Steve.

In my opinion, shared by many others, a hostel cannot truly be considered a hostel unless it has at least one dormitory room. These are rooms with 4, 6, 8 or more beds where guests – both male and female – share a sleeping space usually in bunkbeds.  More and more hostels (including our own) now also offer female only dorms and private rooms with shared bathrooms and/or with private bathrooms.

The sitting and kitchenette area at The Beehive’s Sweets rooms – some of our rooms with private bathroom.

Small, independent hostels like ours are constantly changing and evolving which is also the beauty of owning your own business.  For example, we started out with just dorm beds and then as the market demanded, we expanded to include private rooms. Our private rooms initially didn’t really require desks, but now that more and more people travel with laptops and more people are digital nomads and working while traveling, desks are a necessity in the private rooms. The list goes on and on.

The cafe at The Beehive where we have breakfast daily, weekly dinners, cooking classes and special pop up food events. Steve taking a look and making sure everyone is well-fed! 

Food is a very popular part of the social aspect of hostel life whether it’s being able to cook your own or with others or for the hostel to provide a cafe or events where food is evolved. While food can cause divisions in normal life, food in hostels often brings people together and for guests to get to know each other while cooking and/or eating together. In a place like Italy, where we have such a rich culinary history and tradition, many hostels here offer reasonably priced cooking classes on learning how to make pasta or other dishes. At The Beehive, we’re vegetarian and believe in organic and fair trade practices so our cafe reflects this ethos.

A Beehive guest meditating in our courtyard garden after her yoga practice.


Storytellers Rome – a monthly oral storytelling event in English that we created and that has become one of our more popular events not only with guests, but with the local community.

More and more hostels have made their activities open to the public so that there is more of an interaction between residents and visitors on a social level. Other hostel activities can include game nights, open mic, music performances, yoga – the sky is the limit for many hostels and for larger hostels, the more activities the better.  Party hostels in particular have a reputation and the pressure to offer many socially focused events with an emphasis on alcohol (the easier to break through inhibitions) such as pub crawls, beer pong, etc., while smaller hostels often have fewer, but more personal, small group events.

Hostel colleagues and I have often commented how we are not just in the business of accommodation or even just travel and tourism. Involvement of owners and staff with our guests often goes way beyond just handing over the keys to a room. We are maintenance, housekeeping, tech support, psychologists, nurses, travel planners, and much much more.  In the best of experiences, we become friends with many of the wonderful guests who pass through our doors.  Hostels are truly more personal and more special than staying at other types of accommodation.  Give us a try!

For a list of hostel colleagues we recommend in other parts of Europe, please contact me at linda@the-beehive.com

Two of our favourite hostel ambassadors have blogs with loads of information on hosteling, travel tips and reviews of various hostels:  Kash Bhattacharya, the Budget Traveller also with his excellent book Luxury Hostels of Europe and Katie Dawes, The Hostel Girl also with her in-depth and insightful book on hosteling, The Hostel Guide.



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