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Backpack & Budget

Follow Others' Lead on Cheap Rooms

September 29, 1996|LUCY IZON

When you're banking on spending less than $20 per night for a bed in a major North American city or foreign country, you could wind up in a castle or land at a dive.

At best, at that price, you can get a bed in a historic hostel in Europe (that's sharing a room), on a ship in Stockholm's harbor or at a castle on the outskirts of Amsterdam. For one reader who recently booked into an independent hostel in New York City, it meant sharing a mixed-sex bunk room with a bathroom from hell.

There are a variety of possibilities for finding accommodations in this price range, including: the more than 5,000 hostels worldwide that are affiliated with the network Hostelling International; independent travelers' hostels, which are increasingly competitive; YMCAs and YWCAs; and student residences--many open their doors to travelers during holiday periods.

Here are some steps you can take to try to ensure you'll find a place you'll be happy with.

1. A good source is guidebooks researched by students, such as the "Let's Go" and Berkeley series. They send students out each year to look at the facilities listed.

2. One of your best sources will be other travelers who have just been there, so be sure to ask those whom you meet and who are traveling in the same style as you for their recommendations. Research among friends before you leave home.

3. Try to arrive at a new destination early in the day. There's the best chance there will be room at the place you want, and if you don't like the facility you'll have time to search out an alternative.

4. Be mobile. If your luggage isn't comfortable to carry, store it at a bus or train station while you conduct your search.

5. If you are calling in advance, ask if the dormitory rooms are single-sex or coed. In general, hostels affiliated with Hostelling International offer separate rooms for men and women. Some also have special rooms that can be rented by a family or a couple.

6. In some cities, such as Paris, there are accommodation services geared to helping young visitors find budget beds. You should be aware, though, that not all facilities calling themselves tourist information services, which have booths at rail and bus stations, are offering unbiased information. They may only be giving out information on the lodgings that are paying them a fee.

7. Touts are people who wait for tourists at ferry landings, rail stations, etc. and try to persuade backpackers to go to a particular hotel or hostel. For each guest they deliver, they are paid a commission. They may offer an incentive such as a free ride. Sometimes they ask travelers where they are going and them give them false information about a hostel being bad or closed in order to redirect them toward a facility that they are being paid by.

8. Always ask to look at the facilities before you pay. Check the washrooms. Check for locker facilities (and remember you may need your own lock). Look to see if the fire exits are unblocked and if there are fire detectors. Also ask other guests what they are being charged.

9. At many hostels, regular sleeping bags are not allowed. Instead blankets are provided to be used with sheet sleeping bags. You can make one by folding a sheet in half and sewing along the bottom and up one side.Some hostels supply sheets, but many will charge you an extra fee for their use.

10. Make sure you've chosen a room away from street noise. You may also find that earplugs and eye shields are helpful if you are sharing a dormitory room.

11. When you are in a shared room, always keep your valuables with you or in a locker. Keep a resealable plastic bag handy to protect the items when you head for the shower room.

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