When it's time to take a break from touring the major cities of Europe, one economical option is to head for one of the many Alpine youth facilities and take in some scenic hiking.
If you don't want to hike alone, get free programs at tourist information offices. In Austria most major resorts offer free guided hiking tours.
Innsbruck started offering a free summer hiking program during the 1964 Winter Olympics. This year it has added free guided night hikes every Tuesday.
The hikes are operated daily (rain or shine) during summer. Anyone, including visitors at youth hostels or campgrounds who stay in Innsbruck for at least three nights, can take part.
When you arrange a visit for three nights you are issued a membership in Club Innsbruck. Every day at 8:30 a.m. club members meet in front of Innsbruck's Kongresshaus.
Hiking books and backpacks can be borrowed at no charge. Special buses transport hikers to the trails and return to Innsbruck at the end of the day.
The guides who accompany the hikers speak English and have up to 50 routes to choose from. Their decision on the difficulty of the route to be taken is based on the weather and on the experience of the people who sign up.
You'll only need money for a snack, lunch and cable-car fees, if there are any.
Make reservations for the hike at least one day before you plan to go. This can be done at hotels or at the tourist information office at Burggraben 3.
This summer five youth hostels and three campgrounds will operate in the Innsbruck area. Young travelers can get assistance from the tourist information office at the central rail station. There's also a special youth waiting room with a message board.
The average rate for camping in the Innsbruck area this summer, for two persons using a tent, is 145 schillings (about $12 U.S.).
Students and Club Innsbruck members are eligible for discounts on individual fees when using the cable cars. If you plan to stay a week, compare the value of a seven-day pass, which is available for 290 schillings.
Salzburg is in the process of updating its youth information booklet, "Salzburg for Young People," which is expected to be available soon. You will be able to pick up free copies at the tourist information office in the central rail station in Salzburg. It will include advice and information on budget accommodations, sightseeing and entertainment.
Free copies of the 1987 edition of "Vienna for Young People," a 24-page guide geared for student-style travelers, are available at tourist information offices in Vienna or from the Austrian National Tourist Office, 11601 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 2480, Los Angeles 90025, phone (213) 477-3332.
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This summer 240 youth hostels will offer low-cost lodgings to travelers in the United States. Facilities range from lighthouses along the California coast to a battleship in Massachusetts and a 110-year-old farmhouse on a working cattle farm in Missouri, where young travelers can get meals in exchange for chores.
The average rate for dormitory accommodations will be $4 to $10 a night. There are no age restrictions.
American Youth Hostels produces a handbook that covers the locations and facilities of the hostels. It also includes regional maps and information on hiking and biking, plus attractions and historic sites near the hostels. Copies of the handbook are free for AYH members. Non-members can order them for $7 from American Youth Hostels, Department 950, P.O. Box 37613, Washington, D.C. 20013-7613.
San Francisco has the most popular youth hostels in the United States. The 160-bed Ft. Mason hostel, which offers views of Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge, provides dormitory lodging for $9.50 a night. Frequently, visitors are turned away because there aren't enough beds.
Next Sunday a 15-mile fun ride to help raise funds for a second youth hostel will be held. More than 10,000 cyclists are expected to participate.
The ride begins at 7:30 a.m., and the day will end with a picnic and entertainment at the Fort Mason meadow.
The adult registration fee is $12. You can register by writing to Macy's/AYH Great San Francisco Bike Adventure, American Youth Hostels, 425 Divisadero St., Suite 307 B, San Francisco 94117, or call (415) 863-9382.
If you plan to use the San Francisco youth hostel during a future trip, it's wise to make reservations at least 14 days ahead. Contact the San Francisco International Hostel, Building 240, Box A, Ft. Mason, San Francisco 94123, phone (415) 771-7277.