HI just gets better with age!

Last modified on June 12th, 2014 at 1:14 pm

May 13, 2014

Did you know that Hostelling International (HI) is 82 years old? Surprised right? It’s amazing what a decent eye cream can achieve!

In honour of what would have been our founder Richard Schirrmann’s 150th birthday (May 15th), we are taking you on a nostalgic trip through the years of hostelling; so grab your backpack and camera, make sure you’re wearing comfortable shoes and follow us down the winding path of yesteryear…

© quicklit.com

Jump on the Time Machine with us… © quicklit.com


The founder of the youth hostel movement was Richard Schirrmann, a teacher from Germany. He was a firm believer in learning by direct observation and often took his classes on excursions and hiking trips. The hiking trips could last several days, and Richard and his pupils would find accommodation in farm buildings.

On one of these excursions, on 26 August 1909, the group was caught in a thunderstorm. They finally found shelter in a school building in the Bröl Valley. The headmaster let them use a classroom and a farmer gave them some straw to sleep on and some milk for their evening meal. The storm raged the whole night. While the boys slept, Richard lay awake. It was in this moment that he had the idea of using schools in Germany to provide accommodation during the school holidays.

Richard Schirrmann

Richard Schirrmann

In 1910 Richard wrote an essay setting out his ideas for “Volksschülerherbergen” (hostels for pupils of ordinary state schools), he wrote,  “Two classrooms will suffice, one for boys and one for girls. Some desks can be stacked away thus freeing space to put down 15 beds. Each bed will consist of a tightly stuffed straw sack and pillow, two sheets and a blanket. Each child will be required to keep his own sleeping place clean and tidy.”

This was a very modest start for what was soon to be a worldwide youth hostel movement.


Richard sets up the first youth hostel in his own school in Altena, Westphalia. Soon after this it is replaced by a permanent hostel in Altena Castle. The castle was restored and equipped according to Richard’s design, with two dormitories with massive triple-tier wooden bunk beds, a kitchen, wash-rooms and a shower bath.


Altena Castle ©Erik


The youth hostel movement grew rapidly. In 1919 Richard founded the German Youth Hostel Association.


In 1921 the number of overnight stays reached an impressive 500,000.


By the summer of 1931 there were 12 youth hostel associations in existence in Europe, operating a total of 2,600 hostels, but there was very little contact between the associations. This all changed on 20 October 1932 when the first international conference was held at a hotel in Amsterdam. It was attended by representatives from 11 hostel associations: Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, England and Wales, France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Poland and Switzerland. Together they formed The International Youth Hostel Federation (IYHF) and Richard was appointed president.

Richard at first IYHA meeting


Richard is forced to resign by the German government.


After World War II Richard worked on the rebuilding of the German association.


Richard received the Bundesverdienstkreuz (Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany).


The IYHF operates as HI.


Today we are one of the world’s largest international membership organisations with more than 3.7 million members and offer many benefits in addition to staying in HI hostels. When you want to stay in a hostel, we try to make sure you get the best experience possible. For us it’s not just about having a place to stay, it’s about you experiencing all that hostelling has to offer – whether that’s learning about new cultures, meeting new people or discovering yourself. We try to achieve this by working with our Youth Hostel Associations to ensure that hostelling is open to everyone (of any age), is affordable and that no matter which HI hostel you visit, you’ll get a great night’s sleep in a safe environment.


HI hostels can be found in some of the most inspiring and unusual places in the world. From a jumbo jet in Sweden to a lighthouse in California, our hostels are guaranteed to enhance your travel experience.

Do you have any hostelling stories from way-back-when? Let us know, we would love to hear from you! Leave us a comment in the box below or email us at socialmedia@hihostels.com.

Read more about the hostelling past with our exclusive look back at 1950s hostelling in the UK.

© John Graham Rogers

© John Graham Rogers

4 Comments. Leave new

I have been hostelling for over 30 years, only starting in my late 30’s. Whenever and wherever possible hostels are my first choice of lodging when travelling which I do a lot of. I have met people from every corner of the world and had great experiences. One night in a hostel in Wales where a school group was staying we were all awakened to the blaring of a fire alarm and then sirens screaming towards the hostel only to find out a boy experimented with his mosquito repellant on the smoke detector above his bed. He was not very popular but he did apologize to everyone in the morning.
I also received the alarming news that my brother had been killed back home while I was in another hostel in Borth Wales. It was an older couple I met in the kitchen that night while we made our evening meal together who jumped to the rescue by staying up with me all night and helping me get packed then taking me to the train station at 5 a.m.
Just two years ago I came down with food poisoning in Italy and the hostel warden got me an ambulance and then visited me every day in the hospital. So you can see why I prefer
hostelling over hotels!!
And I am now 67 years old and about to embark on my 3rd consecutive European adventure in 2 weeks and am staying once again in every hostel available to me. I LOVE HOSTELLING INTERNATIONAL.
Alice McKinnon
British Columbia, Canada

I have been visiting HI hostels for over 25 years and have watched the amazing growth especially in North America. My mother stayed in HI hostels in England as a teenager and her stories of her adventures cycling from hostel to hostel were fascinating. I, myself, went on a Europe adventure for 6 weeks and stayed exclusively at HI hostels. Travelling as a single female, I always felt safe at the hostels. I introduced my husband and children to HI hostels about 10 years ago on a Canada tour when we stayed at the HI hostels in Jasper, Vancouver and Victoria, Quebec and Nova Scotia. My husband and I have stayed in Hi hostels in a number of countries and particularly enjoy interacting with the staff, where are they from, what are they working towards, etc. And let’s not forget that HI hostels are located some very spectacular places!

Hi Alice, it’s great to hear about your hostel experiences, we are always so pleased to hear these stories. Your experiences just show us the warmth and personal touches that come from hostel stays. Have the best time on your travels in Europe, let us know how your travels go at our European hostels, we’d love to hear about them :) thank you! Collette

Hi Rosemary, thank you so much for sharing your views with us. We’re always so happy to hear that people love HI hostels! We always strive for all of our hostels to make guests feel welcome and safe and hostels are still the best places to meet people whilst travelling. Thank you, Collette

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