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Going up a rung on the budget ladder we arrive at the youth hostels. These dormitory accommodations are the staple of young North American travelers, and they are generally the most sociable accommodations. Here you can find a travel partner and tap into the travelers' grapevine most easily. The common rooms and kitchens facilitate easy introductions and conversations with fellow travelers.

Two things are needed to stay at a hostel. First is a youth hostel card, which must be purchased before you leave home. It is valid at over 6,000 youth hostels in 70 countries. Second, you need a special sleep sheet, although occasionally you can get away with using a sleeping bag.

Youth hostels are misnamed because travelers of any age can stay there. In the busy season those under 26 are often given priority, and only in winter and fall in Bavaria are those over 25 not allowed (even if the hostel is otherwise empty!). Some hostels have family rooms for parents with small children at a small or no additional cost.

Disadvantages include nighttime curfews (usually between 10:30 p.m. and midnight), daytime closings (which means you must generally leave between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.) and a lack of privacy. Sanitation may be a problem at crowded hostels but in general, it is surprisingly good. Couples may not appreciate the gender-segregated dorms.

The good news is that hostels only charge between 12 and 25 dollars a night, which includes a light breakfast. Facilities vary widely from country to country. In Ireland youth hostels are close to their roots, with homey buildings and morning chores. In parts of Germany, they have evolved into modern youth hotels with automatic doors and wall-to-wall carpeting.

You need to purchase the hostel card before you travel. Contact Hostelling International at for information and prices in your country. Hostel passes are valid for one year. Youth, senior citizen, family and lifetime individual passes are also available.

Some cities also have "sleep-ins" or "backpackers", which are private youth hostels where no card is needed. They are usually without curfews, can have mixed dorms and may offer breakfast at an extra cost. These independent facilities all have their own personalities and usually develop a reputation of one sort or another on the travelers' grapevine; you will no doubt hear about them from others along the way. A consortium of independent hostels had lauched a useful booking site at, with accommodations all across east and western Europe. There are a few listed on this site:

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