Don't be fooled by the term "youth" hostel.
In truth, very few International Youth Hostel Federation-sanctioned facilities impose age restrictions. To get that message across, many countries, including the United States, have adopted a new logo with the name "Hostelling International" on it.
You will, however, find that most hostel guests are in their teens and 20s, and at times you could be sharing the facilities with school groups. Some hostels still impose curfews, but that is less likely to be the case in big cities. In some countries, guests may be asked to perform a small chore.
What you should expect, should you decide to travel in this style, is to share a dormitory room with other members of the same sex. However, as old hostels get renovated and new ones constructed, those shared rooms are getting smaller. The trend is toward four-bedded rooms, which can also be used by families.
The IYHF, based in Welwyn Garden City, England, now has 4,920 hostels in 60 countries. On any given night they provide 343,798 beds for budget travelers.
Travelers are encouraged to purchase memberships before leaving their own country. Part of the fee goes toward supporting the traveler's own national system. Memberships are valid for 12 months from the date of issue. If you don't have a membership, you can pay a small fee (about $3 per night) for an introductory guest card.
Among recent IYHF developments that may not have made it into guidebooks yet:
* Australia opened the new Queensberry Hill Hostel in Melbourne, which provides accommodations ranging from three-star en-suite rooms to four-bedded dormitory rooms. New Australian youth hostels also have opened recently at Ross River, Northern Territory; Airlie Beach, Queensland; Launceston, Tasmania; and Margaret River and Rottnest Island, Western Australia.
* The 164-bed Vienna Wilhelminengerg Castle Youth Guesthouse, which is set beside a vineyard in the Vienna Woods, joined the Austrian youth hostel network.
* Denmark's network has grown to 105 locations, including three hostels in the Faroe Islands and two in Greenland. All have family rooms and many are suitable for disabled guests.
* In London, the new Rotherhithe Youth Hostel is open. Each room has en-suite washroom facilities, and there are three rooms for wheelchair users.
* In Helsinki, the new 254-bed Euro-hostel opened. It is centrally located near one of the main passenger harbors.
* In France, a hostel opened at Les Deux Alpes, a well-known ski resort near Grenoble.
* Three new hostels opened in Greece: one in Heraklion, Crete, and two on Santorini--in the capital of Fira and in the village of Perissa.
* The new Karei Deshe Youth Hostel opened on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee in Israel.
* In Portugal, two new hostels were opened: a 60-bed facility in Sintra, near Lisbon, and a 50-bed hostel at Alcoutim, in the Algarve. The newly renovated Lisbon Youth Hostel is expected to reopen sometime this fall.
* The Colombo Hostel in Sri Lanka has been completely renovated.
* The most important addition to the network of 10 youth hostels in Thailand was the brand-new Bangkok hostel, which opened in May, 1991.
For more information on IYHF facilities and memberships, contact American Youth Hostels, Los Angeles Council, 1434 2nd St., Santa Monica 90401, (310) 393-3413.