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The Ys and Wherefores of a Stay in the Original Budget Hotels for Women


I'm a budget traveler from way back, which is why, when I landed in Vancouver five years ago, I was pleased to find a room at the downtown YWCA for about $35. It was a clean, spartan single with a narrow bed and desk, a window overlooking Burrard Inlet, and a bath I shared with the room next door. There was 24-hour security, a full health club, an indoor swimming pool and a cafeteria in the basement, where a traveler could get a hot breakfast for under $3. My stay there was so satisfactory that I started looking for YWCA residence hotels wherever I went, eventually trying them out in cities as far afield as Hong Kong and New Delhi.

To me, it seems a marvelous thing that such places exist, serving almost the same function as they did when the Young Women's Christian Assn. was founded 150 years ago during the early days of the Industrial Revolution. At the time, women from the countryside were streaming into the city to claim jobs in factories. To New York, Boston and Chicago these fresh-faced Sister Carries came, prompting philanthropists and missionaries to take them under their wings by opening residence hotels where the new arrivals found wholesome, safe, cheap places to live. So from the very beginning, the YWCA was in the business of housing (as was the YMCA, which was founded in London in 1844 and started accepting women just after World War II).

I have always had a close personal attachment to the Ys, participating in activities there as a child and vacationing every summer with my family at the YMCA of the Rockies, a family camp more like an alpine resort just outside Estes Park, Colo. (The YWCA also maintains family camps, such as Camp Kokokahi on the Hawaiian island of Oahu and Camp Westwind on the Pacific Coast of Oregon, which runs a special mother-child summer camp program.)

Then, too, I like the mandate of both organizations, but particularly that of the World YWCA, with 25 million members in more than 100 countries, which works to empower women through social programs and cross-cultural dialogue.

Not all the 374 YWCA's in the U.S. have residence hotels, because many devote their facilities to housing the battered, abused and homeless. Most that do accept travelers also accommodate women in transition or crisis. "Women only" is generally the rule at YWCA residence hotels, and bath facilities vary (with private baths available at some). In the South End of Boston there's the 200-room Berkeley Residence YWCA ($48 to $74, including breakfast); in Honolulu, the YWCA Fernhurst ($25 to $30, plus a $20 linen fee, including breakfast and dinner on weekdays); and in Seattle, the downtown YWCA near Pike Place Market ($33 to $50).

In many ways, though, YWCA residence hotels abroad are an even more attractive option than the domestic ones because some accept men as well as women and are as nice as commercial hotels. For example, the beautiful Garden View International House YWCA on Hong Kong Island, has TVs, phones, refrigerators, private baths and wraparound picture windows offering sterling views of downtown ($67 to $78). The YWCA Fort Canning Lodge in the heart of Singapore has 212 rooms ($59 to $66 special promotional rate, available indefinitely), and at the new Vancouver YWCA Residence Hotel there are 155 rooms ($33 to $70). Australia's YWCA accommodations network encompasses nine budget-priced hotels and lodges--including the recently renovated YWCA on the Park Hotel in Sydney ($16 to $82)--all available for booking at a central YWCA Web site or via e-mail. (In fact, by the end of next year it will be possible to book accommodations at YWCA residence hotels worldwide at a Web site currently being designed by the Australians.)

In other countries the digs are not so upscale. Still, YWCA residence hotels offer women travelers safe, inexpensive and reasonably comfortable places to stay. I reconfirmed this last year at the YWCA International Guest House near Connaught Circus in New Delhi ($21 to $28), which is smaller and more intimate than the YWCA Hotel two blocks away, with comfortable institutionally decorated rooms. The YWCA of Guangzhou, China, has accommodations for 34 people ($8 to $20) and a fitness center with a pool and a Ping-Pong table. Cairo has a YWCA hostel ($15 to $18), as do three major cities in Pakistan (Lahore, Karachi and Rawalpindi); and in East Jerusalem the YWCA hotel is run by Christian Palestinian women.

YWCA's like these don't only cater to travelers, but make it possible for young women in traditional societies to work and get an education by offering them reliable housing in the big city--an idea I support, at home or away.

* The World YWCA is at 16 Ancienne Route, CH-1218 Grand Saconnex, Geneva, Switzerland, telephone 011-41-22-929-6040, Internet A World YWCA Directory can be ordered for $5. The YWCA Travel Accommodation group in Australia can be reached at 011-61-3-9329-5188, Internet Camp Kokokahi on Oahu, tel. (808) 247-2124; Camp Westwind, operated by the YWCA of Greater Portland, Ore., tel. (503) 294-7472; Berkeley Residence YWCA Boston, tel. (617) 482-8850; Fernhurst YWCA in Honolulu, tel. (808) 941-2231; YWCA Seattle, tel. (206) 461-4888.

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