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Backpack & Budget : Cheap Sleeps Across the Continent

January 02, 1994|LUCY IZON

Here's an inexpensive way to find out about more than 400 cheap places to sleep in the United States and Canada:

The Hostel Handbook is a 23-page booklet listing hostels that offer lodging for travelers, often in dormitory rooms, for $5-$22 per night. In areas where no suitable hostels exist, the booklet includes locations of inexpensive motels.

The booklet was created by the staff of New York City's Sugar Hill International House Hostel to act as a companion to any guidebook. It doesn't include detailed information on the facilities--just addresses, telephone numbers, nightly rates and affiliations.

This book's advantage, editor Jim Williams points out, is that it can be much more up-to-date than major guidebooks, which are often researched a year before most travelers use them. The Hostel Handbook can include information that has been gathered only days before printing. The first edition was published in May. An updated pre-1994 edition is now available, and the revised 1994 edition will be released at the end of March.

The Hostel Handbook does not include any type of rating scale. Williams, for one, believes that what's right for one traveler isn't necessarily right for another. "One traveler might complain because there is too much of a party atmosphere at a particular hostel, while another traveler might be happy with the arrangement," he said.

The handbook identifies a variety of organizations that offer budget accommodations--some independent, some affiliated with national or international companies, including:

* American Youth Hostels (AYH). Some AYH facilities have curfews and restrictive check-in hours. Non-members of Hostelling International are usually charged $3 extra per night. There is no age limit for guests.

* American Assn. of Independent Hostels (AAIH). A network of independent hostels that sometimes requires guests to provide a passport or student identification of some kind.

* Backpackers Hostels Canada (BHC). A network of independent hostels in Canada.

* Canadian Hostelling Assn. (CHA). The first edition of this handbook listed all CHA hostels in Canada. Future editions will list only hostels in CHA regions that request inclusion in the handbook.

The Hostel Handbook also includes hostels unaffiliated with Hostelling International and (for areas where no hostels exist) Motel 6s. Motel 6 prices vary by location; a typical charge is $24.95 for one person, $6 more for another adult.

With independent hostels, there are no guarantees. I've visited some excellent independent hostels, friendly and clean; but not all are operated like that, so it's wise to ask around. The major disadvantage of independent hostels is that they don't belong to an organization requiring them to maintain certain standards.

Before you settle in, have a good look. Make sure that there are adequate fire exits, and that they are not blocked. If you don't feel safe, move on.

Copies of the Hostel Handbook are available for $2 from the Sugar Hill International House Hostel, 722 St. Nicholas Ave., New York 10031.

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