hi group! my friend and i are planning a trip to europe (london, amsterdam, paris, madrid, barcelona, venice, rome, athens) and we're 23 but we feel bad because her mom is worried about hostels. of course we can do regardless of her opinion since we are adults, but the ol' guilt trip has made us feel bad--- any words of encouragement from personal experience and/or websites encouraging and speaking the truth about how hostels are NOT something to fear? we would really appreciate it THANKS!!!
While there can be problems at any Hostel, in my experience the "chain" Hostels such as HI tend to be a bit safer as they have fairly consistent standards between all their properties. As a result, they don't seem to attract as much of the "party crowd" and at times even families and school groups stay there.
I've found that some properties (HI and others) have rooms separated by gender while others are co-ed. I've stayed in both types of rooms and never saw any problems (although I've heard a few stories!).
As HI Hostels are part of a chain, a membership is normally required. Some properties may allow non-members to stay there, however members get priority as well as slightly cheaper rates. Check www.hihostels.com/dba/continent-EU.en.htm for details. Memberships are not expensive, so not usually a huge problem for most travellers.
As there are two of you travelling together, you could (for example) try to reserve double rooms whenever possible, rather than Dorm rooms (which will have 4/6/8 or more beds). The doubles have a higher cost and they tend to book up quickly, but it's one possibility to have a bit more privacy.
I'm sure the group here will be able to provide suggestions on Hostels in each of the cities you mentioned. I tend to use a combination of budget Hotels (which are often not much more than a Hostel room) and Hostels.
I should point out that I'm of the opposite gender and older, so probably not as vulnerable to "safety" problems. Be sure to pack along a good quality small Padlock for Hostel Lockers. You'll need at least one small Padlock for your Backpack as well.
You have to have a dream so you can get up in the morning.
I never had any problems with hostels. I have stayed at ones in the US, Fiji, and Amsterdam and had a great time at all. I would look for ones with good (80+%) ratings on hostelworld.com, that is how I found all the ones I stayed at. They are perfectly safe. I prefer to have all-female rooms, if not just for the protection factor but also guys usually snore way more than girls do and I hate snoring! LOL I would also try to stay at a hostel which has lockers for each person in the rooms so you can lock up your belongings when you go out for the day.