Youth hostels are part of the budget travelers’ accommodation scene. They play an important role in setting standards in safety and services provided. Although originally established to benefit young people they offer an experience worth trying out by all travelers, both young and old.
Each country may have its own independent Youth Hostel Association which are loosely affiliated internationally. It is worthwhile becoming a member and so receive a membership card which may allow you a discount of 5 to 10% on accommodation at their hostels, plus other benefits. There is no age limit and mature travelers are encouraged to become a “Senior Member”.
Hostels that belong to this organization display a blue triangular sign depicting a stylized tree and house which makes them easily identified along a street.
Hostelling International has a website (www.hihostels.com) which lists their hostels worldwide and provides an online booking service for most of them.
Youth hostels are but one small part of the budget accommodation scene. There are many more hostels that are not members of a Youth Hostel Association. These are the independent hostels which include backpackers, guest houses, hospedajes and budget hotels.
To find out about ALL hostels go to the excellent website (www.hostelworld.com) which lists thousands of hostels worldwide and allows you to book online. This is useful if you are flying into a foreign city, particularly late at night. You can tell the taxi driver exactly where to go. In some cases the hostel may send a car or minibus to the airport to pick you up (e.g., in Johannesburg).
A word of warning about online booking. Usually there is a 5% deposit which is debited to your credit card. Also, read the fine print of the booking contract. If you can’t make it and don’t notify them 24 hours before your due arrival time then they may debit your card for two nights accommodation.
Online booking is particularly useful for holiday periods such as covering Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Easter when there is a surge of travelers. At other times it is not necessary and it is better to front up at the hostel of your choice. All travelers carry a reputable travel guide book such as “Lonely Planet” or “Let’s Go” which give details of hostels and budget accommodation. However, remember that these guide books quickly become out-of-date with regard to the information on accommodation and they are not all inclusive.
For this reason, to get the latest information on hostels, like this month, rather than several years ago from a guide book, it is necessary to explore the Hostelworld website mentioned above.
Hostelworld provides you with a huge amount of information about each hostel together with ratings and reviews about them given by travelers who have stayed there as recently as last week!
For example, suppose that you are heading for the city of Merida in the Yucatan, Mexico. Hostelworld lists 9 budget accommodation places which includes several hostels (one HI Youth Hostel member), backpackers, guest houses and a budget hotel. Each place is given a percentage rating which is an aggregate of scores for Character, Security, Location, Staff, Fun and Cleanliness. A hostel rating of 80% or more is very good and so it is a popular place. Lower ratings, of say 60% , suggest that the hostel is not popular, which may mean that it is in a poor location and not particularly clean. How to find out for sure?
Read the review comments submitted by travelers who have stayed there. Hostelworld says they have about 700 comments for the Merida listings! No bed bug, surly staff member or dirty bathroom escapes notice! Also, you will find the good comments, like free Internet and having many computers that actually work!
You can check out all the hostel facilities which may include a communal kitchen, Internet access, free salsa lessons, on site snack bar, party nights, discounts on local tours, onward travel booking service etc.
Hostelworld allows you to compare the Youth Hostel Association places with the independent hostels and other budget accommodation. Some Youth Hostels are pretty good and I have stayed in a few of them. It is a competitive world and you make your choice according to what appeals to you.