Originally called youth hostels, they originated in 1912 in Germany as a way of getting young urbanites out of the cities and into the countryside during the summer months. Now, nearly a hundred years later, hostels can be found almost everywhere. They offer shared accommodation but instead of renting a room, the guest will rent a bed in a dorm room. Many hostels also offer private rooms. Hostels usually have a common kitchen so that guests can prepare their own food and thus cut down on expenses. Hostels are also supposed to be places to socialize, where travelers can share their stories with one another, and learn about each other’s different cultural backgrounds. To facilitate this, the better hostels (such as ours) will have lounges or other common areas where their guests can gather round in.
Another good descricption by Jim Williams can be found at www.hostelhandbook.com/whatare.htm