Many of you ask, “What is a hostel?”
Our answer usually focuses on the present-moment details: what you need to know about hostels to decide whether they work for you: They’re affordable. They’re about sharing. They’re a great way to build community with other travelers.
When you ask, and when we answer, you and we don’t usually reach beyond these basic details and scrape under the skin of the Hostelling International logo, to get at the origins of this thing called “hostelling.”
Well, as it turns out, hostelling has a history worth celebrating.
100 years ago the movement began. Its first impulse was to reconnect children with nature in a rapidly industrialized culture. Its second impulse was to promote international peace. Its current impulse? Our mission statement sums it well: “To help all, especially the young, gain a greater understanding of the world and its people through hostelling.”
We’re celebrating the 100th anniversary milestone in August, along with the 75th anniversary of hostelling in the USA, with an Open House on Sunday August 23. We’ll also have a Travel Writing Workshop (Tuesday August 25), “World Travel 101” educational travel workshop (Thursday August 27), Documentary Screenings of Hostel- and Travel-related Films (Friday August 28), and a Family-Friendly Hike to a hidden beach (Saturday August 29).
Let’s get back to the history with an interesting recap, as shared by our beloved Barbara Wein, the Anniversary Coodinator for Hostelling International-USA (and the former head of our council, the Golden Gate Council based in San Francisco, who spearheaded the creation of Redwood Hostel more than 20 years ago!):
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Celebrating Hostelling’s Proud History
2009 marks two milestone anniversaries: the 75th Anniversary of Hostelling International USA (formerly American Youth Hostels) and the 100th Anniversary of the international hostelling movement. Following is a short history about the early beginnings of these inspirational non-profit organizations.
The idea of “Hostelling” began at the turn of the century in Germany, when Richard Schirrmann, a school teacher, began taking his students on multi-day hiking excursions in the countryside. Emphasizing simplicity with just knapsacks and some provisions, the students were housed in empty school rooms and farm buildings. Schirrmann instilled in them a healthy lifestyle and a new-found appreciation of the natural world. A visionary with great energy, on one such outing in 1909, Richard Schirrmann conceived of the idea to create a system of simple overnight student accommodations using empty classrooms each a day’s walk from the next. In 1912, his town of Altena allowed him to furnish some rooms of their 12th Century castle as inexpensive dormitories. Altena Castle thus became the first permanent “youth hostel” and the start of a growing hostel network. Beginning in Europe, hostelling soon spread around the world, and with an expanded mission, from just dormitories to include common rooms where people of different countries could meet, exchange ideas, and become friends, leading to broader international understanding.
Hostelling spread to the United States through Isabel and Monroe Smith, school teachers and scout leaders, who discovered youth hostels while leading a tour of Europe with their students in 1933. Impressed by the simplicity and idealism of the European hostels, Isabel and Monroe worked tirelessly to open the first American youth hostel in Northfield, Massachusetts in 1934 and to found the American Youth Hostels organization.
The hostelling movement has grown in the United States and around the world. Today, there are more than 4,000 hostels in 80 countries around the globe, which provide more than 35 million overnights annually. Like its early beginnings, the hostelling movement is still based on high ideals of promoting world peace, international understanding, and environmental stewardship.