People often think that because I'm cheap, I don't really enjoy life. In fact, it's just the opposite. Because I don't need to spend a lot of money to enjoy life, I don't need to spend a lot of time getting a lot of money. But, you do need to know how to get the most enjoyment with the fewest bucks, and that's what this section is about.

Youth Hostels: Not So Young, Not So Hostile (So Much Anymore)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Like more than 100,000 college kids and other young Americans each year, when I was in my teens and early 20's I used to travel in the U.S. and abroad and stay at youth hostels. At that time, they were an inexpensive place to sleep for the night, cook a warm meal, and do a load of laundry. In fact, at that point in my life an overnight at a youth hostel was luxury accommodations compared to the type of roadside camping that was typically my bed for the night when traveling.

While most people have heard of "hostels" or "youth hostels," what they don't realize is that these facilities are open to people of all ages, and they offer not just an inexpensive but an incredibly genuine travel opportunity. Today many hostels even have special rooms for families, and an increasing number provide business-traveler-friendly amenities like Internet access.

Having spent part of my career working for the youth hostel movement and being a diehard proponent of "real travel," I am, admittedly, biased when it comes to hostels. But then again, this is my website.

I've always believed that if most Americans spent a single night at a hostel, they would eagerly go back again and again. The problem is, most folks are scared of the whole idea of being around people they don't know, let alone (at some hostels) sleeping in the same dorm room with them and (at some hostels) sharing the same bathroom. But, it's like so many things that seem scary and undesirable on the surface; after you've tried it, you think it's one of the best things you've ever done.

Hostels are like that. While Holiday Inns used to promote themselves as promising "no surprises" (Don't you hope to have some surprises when you travel?), hostels are all about the life-changing, spontaneous experience of travel. I've always felt, too, that if hostels weren't so inexpensive, ironically they'd be more popular. If these same facilities charged top dollar and were promoted as "centers for meeting other galactic travelers and your inner-self," the hostel movement would probably be light years ahead of where it is today.

Regardless, hostels are still one of the great undiscovered resources for travelers of all ages. In big cities like New York, Washington, Chicago and LA, you'll pay $25-$30 for an overnight stay, and in smaller cities and rural areas you can expect to pay about half that. There are over 100 hostels in the U.S. and more than 4,000 hostels in 60 other countries round the globe. And one of the other great things about hostels is that many are in unique, sometimes historic buildings, like lighthouses, castles, and former mansions.

You have to be a member to stay at hostels, but membership is free for those under 18, and only $28/year for adults ($18 for those over 55). You can check out the details on hostels in the U.S. and overseas at www.hiusa.org and become a member there as well. Also, it's worth noting that facilities NOT approved by the organization Hostelling International are free to call themselves "hostels"/"youth hostels," but unless they are affiliated with Hostelling International there's no guarantee of cleanliness, safety, rates and other uniform standards - BEWARE!

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posted by Jeff Yeager at 11:04 AM 5 comments

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