Guide to Work, Study, Travel and Living Abroad  FacebookTwitterGoogle+  
As seen in the Transitions Abroad Webzine June 2008 Issue
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Hostels Abroad
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Lodging Comfort on a Budget

Safe, Reliable, Budget Travel with Hostelling International

Hallstatt includes a great hostel

Hallstatt, an Austrian town.

My diary after an extensive motoring tour  my husband and I undertook in Britain reads as follows:

  • Statistics: We drove 3000 miles. Gas costs were $4.50 per gallon. We stayed 11 nights in Hostels, 8 nights in campsites and 1 night in a B&B.
  • Campsites averaged $21 per night for the basic tent pitch without electricity,
  • 1 night at a farm B&B cost $90 per night for both of us including breakfast.
  • Hostels averaged $35 per night for both of us or $17.50 each, including breakfast!

Camping is obviously the cheapest way to go when traveling on a budget, but definitely not the most comfortable, especially in Britain's notorious weather conditions. B&Bs are wonderful and a great way to meet the English people, but about three times the price of Hostelling International. The incredible HI network, which provides low-cost accommodation in over 4,000 hostels in 75 countries around the globe, includes 300 hostels in Britain alone.

The wonderful thing about hostels is that no two are ever the same. Hostels are often situated in the loveliest of settings amidst spectacular scenic beauty: some in National Parks, others along beautiful coastlines, or in the heart of historic cities. Buildings vary from Victorian mansions, castles, and thatched cottages to modern state-of-the-art constructions.

Since beginning my hostelling travels forty years ago, I have noted how hostels have changed over the decades. However, the essence remains—the guest is accommodated at budget prices in a clean, comfortable accommodation in the company of like-minded travelers of every nationality with whom one is able to share travel experiences and information. Indeed, one of the prime joys of hostelling is the exchange of ideas and information with fellow-travelers. Even if traveling alone, one need never feel lonely when staying in a hostel. Hostel managers and friendly staff are always on hand to advise guests on local travel, timetables, and places of interest.

The type of accommodation varies from hostel to hostel. Private rooms, double rooms, or family rooms are usually available and need to be booked in advance. Often the rooms have their own en-suite shower and toilet. The single traveler may be accommodated in a same-sex dormitory for four, six or more guests, which is slightly cheaper than a private room. The general trend today is towards smaller dormitories, rather than the large 20-bed type of a bygone era.

Bathroom facilities are shared and immaculately maintained. The days of doing chores in the morning before leaving your hostel are also long gone. Hostel overnight fees have increased over the years, but at the same time, full-time hostel staffs are now employed to do all the chores around the hostel.

Standards are strictly maintained throughout the HI network, so one is always assured of a clean, comfortable bed and warm shower at the end of the day. Crisply laundered sheets, pillows, duvets and blankets are always included in the overnight fee. HI offers a range of full meals as optional extras and these are invariably hearty, wholesome fare at a fraction of the price of local restaurants. Breakfast is usually included in the overnight fee.

Many hostels have well equipped self-catering kitchens for guests, including refrigerators. There is often a garden, sitting room, TV lounge, laundry and sometimes a games room. Internet facilities are provided at many of the larger hostels.

Security is strictly maintained, sometimes with key-card access for guests and lockers for valuables. HI adheres to the IYHF Environmental Charter, observing strict criteria for the protection of the environment.

Opening hours of hostels vary from place to place, but are generally between 8 a.m. to 10 a. m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Larger hostels are open 24 hours a day. Details of the hours of each individual hostel are to be found in the HI Guide Book published and updated annually by the International Youth Hostel Federation.

Hostels are rated according to a star system, with accommodation assessed on quality, facilities, cleanliness, decor, furnishing, food and service by staff. The ratings vary from one star, which indicates an acceptable quality, up to five stars, which is the mark of an exceptional hostel.

A Hostelling International card not only opens the door to the world's largest budget accommodation network but also entitles the holder to discounted land, air, and sea travel. Certain museums, exhibitions, zoos, art galleries, restaurants, pubs and shops also offer HI member discounts. For example, all English Heritage sites allow a 25% discount on standard admissions. Eurolines and National Express offer discounts on journeys to HI members. SeaFrance offers a 15% discount on selected services on the Dover-Calais ferry crossing.  In Europe, Hertz car hire offers HI Members excellent discounts.

You can find the full list of discounts at the back of the HI Guide Book for Europe—an essential handbook, listing invaluable information for all European hostels, including addresses, phone numbers and details of how to reach each hostel, facilities and prices. The Guide Book is obtainable online at www.hihostels.com.

Booking Hostel Stays

The one essential travel tip I would offer to any traveler abroad is to join the Hostelling International organization before leaving home. To join the HI organization, contact your nearest HI branch in your home country. This may be located at the Hostelling International website. Membership fees vary from country to country. In some countries, free travel insurance is included in the annual membership fee.

It is highly recommended that one reserves hostel accommodation in advance, especially if traveling during summer or if you require family or private rooms. The IBN (International Booking Network) offers secure booking facilities online for most hostels up to 6 months in advance by credit card, whereby you have immediate confirmation of your reservation. In most cases, reservations can be made through the YHA central reservation number or online; however, some hostels must be booked directly by telephone, fax, or email.

Larger city hostels are open throughout the year, but in smaller towns may be closed during certain months. These details are also listed in the Guide Book or on the website. The maximum stay in any one hostel is often limited and varies from country to country.

Overnight fees in hostels generally average $30 per person per night in Europe, depending on the type of hostel. Smaller hostels are often cheaper.  In some cases, this includes breakfast, while in others, there is an additional charge for breakfast.

A small number of hostels have full facilities for disabled guests, with most offering limited facilities. It is best to check the specific hostel on the IH website to ascertain exactly what types of facilities are provided for wheelchair users.

Some hostels organize excursions and sight-seeing trips. Tours involving walking, trekking and cycling may also be offered, with bicycles and mountain bikes available for hire. Detailed maps of the locality are provided. There is usually safe parking for guests' cars close to the hostel.

Some of My Favorite Hostels

Windermere Hostel, on the outskirts of Windermere village in the Lake District of Cumbria, is the ideal base from which to explore the Lake District. Perched on a hilltop, this hostel has an unsurpassed view over Lake Windermere with cows and sheep grazing in the rolling green meadows in the foreground. A more idyllic scene cannot be imagined. Sitting on the terrace of Windermere Hostel, one can fully appreciate the inspiration the Lake District was for Wordsworth, Shelley, and their Romantic contemporaries.

Our comfortable twin-bedded room overlooked the tranquil surrounding forest.. The self-catering kitchen was well-equipped and dinner was enjoyed on the terrace in the company of our fellow-hostellers.

Situated within walking distance of picturesque Troutbeck village, Windermere hostel has an interesting history. Once a stately private mansion built of wood, it burned to the ground and the disillusioned owner rebuilt it in its present functional concrete form, vowing never again to use wood in construction of his home.

Windermere Hostel
The view from Windermere Hostel, in the English Lake District.

The hostel operates a shuttle bus transfer from the Windermere station and to surrounding areas. Take the shuttle bus to nearby Ambleside, where you will see the impressive Ambleside Hostel right on the shores of the lake at Waterhead pier, the starting point for the Windermere Lake Cruises. This hostel must have once been a 5-star hotel, now the fortunate property of Hostelling International.

Sherwood Forest Hostel is situated on the fringes of Robin Hood's forest in Nottinghamshire, near the quaint town of Edwinstowe. Cozy wood-paneled family rooms with private shower and toilet facilities and names carved in green on each door, such as "Friar Tuck" and "Little John" make for another hostel stop with a difference.

The self-catering facilities are excellent, as are the meals provided by the efficient and friendly staff. The dining room overlooks the leafy forest outside. The TV room is pleasant and homely. Many walks and other excursions into the surrounding historic forest are organized by the hostel.

Sherwood Forest Hostel, U.K.
Sherwood Forest Hostel, U.K.

Castle Hedingham Hostel is situated in Essex, in the historic village of Halstead, southeast of Cambridge. Halstead is a timeless English village, straight out of the pages of a Victorian novel. Castle Hedingham Hostel itself is a National Monument and is situated on the corner of the quaint, narrow Castle Lane beneath the towering ruins of mediaeval Castle Hedingham. Enjoy your evening meal in "The Bell" tavern, just down the road from the Hostel, where the locals are super-friendly and the food (and Australian wine) outstanding.

Sherwood Forest Hostel, U.K.
Castle Hedingham Hostel, U.K.

In Prague, the Hotel Extol Inn is affiliated to HI and provides discounted hotel accommodation to HI members.  In the heart of the Czech capital, it can be very difficult to find clean, comfortable budget accommodation – so the Extol Inn is a true oasis for the budget traveler.  Situated near a tram route with easy access to all the main sights of the city, with shared, spotlessly clean bathroom facilities, this is indeed luxury budget accommodation.  The buffet breakfast which is included in the price of approximately $38 per person is superb.  Guests may make use of the sauna and the secure parking area at an extra charge. 

Another favorite hostel of mine is the Obertraun Jutel, located in an idyllic setting in Austria beneath the Dachstein mountains, ice caves and the Halstatt Salt Mine.  This is indeed a true gem and well worth staying a couple of extra nights in the ultramodern and comfortable hostel, with its friendly staff, located in the heart of many unique attractions.

Hostel at Jutel Obertraun, Austria

Hostel at Obertraun, Austria.

Every year, more than 4 million travelers see the world through Hostelling International. Any young-at-heart traveler, irrespective of age, may use hostels. In fact, today it is as common to find young families, the middle-aged or elderly as it is to find the young backpacker in a hostel. If you are a committed travel addict, you can hardly afford not to be a member of Hostelling International!


For More Info

Hostelling International: www.hihostels.com

US Website: www.hiusa.org; Hostels@hiusa.org.

Customer service: (+44) 870 7708868
International inquiries: (+44) 1629 592700
Fax: (+44) 870 7706127
Customerservices@yha.org.uk

Pearl Harris, whose ancestors hail from Britain, was born in 1945 in South Africa where she spent most of her life before emigrating to the Czech Republic in 2002. Pearl is a travel addict and has no intention of ever giving up this habit. She has traveled widely in Europe, Africa, the U.S.A. and the U.K.  Besides travel, her passions are writing, photography, reading and animals.

Pearl is a Diagnostic Radiographer, with a B.A. in English and Linguistics, post-graduate Diploma in Translation and TEFL certificate. Now residing permanently in the Czech Republic, she freelances as an EFL teacher, proofreader and travel writer. Her articles have appeared on www.TimeTravel-Britain.com , Diversions (published in South Africa) and Lifestyles and Bridge magazines (published in Prague).

Pearl’s first book, From Africa to Buková, has recently been published and is available from: www.createspace.com or Amazon.com. 

Tanya Linnegar, Linnegar Photography: linnegarphotography.4ormat.com has authored an article on Coffee Bay in South Africa for Transitions Abroad.

From Africa to Bukova