Get Packin’: Hostels Offer Affordable Travel
When planning a vacation, what kind of accommodations do you seek out? Every time he sets foot in a new country (which has been nearly 150 of them so far) Hardie Karges makes it his business to stay not in a hotel, motel or bed and breakfast, but in a kind of accommodation many people have never heard of before - a hostel.
Hostels are budget-oriented, sociable accommodations where guests can rent a bed, usually a bunk bed, in a dormitory and share a bathroom, lounge and sometimes a kitchen with their fellow travelers. Costs range from just $20 - $50 per night in the U.S. and Canada and are about half that in Mexico. Rooms can be mixed or single-sex, although private rooms may be available.
"I prefer to get a private room whenever possible, and it still costs less than a hotel or motel room would," says Karges, who over the years has become so familiar with hostels he has become one of the world’s premiere experts on them. He has authored three books so far that serve as hostel guidebooks.
His latest title is "500 Hostels in the USA & Canada & Mexico: Backpackers & Flashpackers." For those not familiar with the terms as they pertain to travel, backpackers are those who are interested in budget travel. Flashpacking has an association of more disposable income while traveling and has been defined simply as backpacking with a bigger budget.
Inside the book, readers will find detailed information about the hostels currently in operation in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, including the kinds of accommodations and amenities available, the location and contact information for each hostel, and the cost at the time of the printing.
"Hostels have come a lot way in recent years. The hostels of today are hip and trendy, and cater to the plugged-in traveler. Most have WiFi, charging stations, lots of coffee pots and plenty of sitting areas," says Karges, who adds that his research has revealed most of the hostels in the United States are in places European visitors frequent, along the East and West Coasts.
"Los Angeles has maybe 10 or 15 of them; New York about the same; and in college towns you’ll usually find two or three," says Karges. "It really is a fledgling industry in the United States."
Affordable Urban Bliss
There are also a number of properties that specifically cater toward LGBT clientele.
"Although the traditional backpacker scene is not especially known for its LGBT orientation, the modern urban flashpacker scene is more so, and hostels are certainly known for tolerance," says Karges. "My own and the book’s orientation are certainly ’gay-friendly’ and on at least three occasions I’ve indicated LGBT festivals in such cities as Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, and Calgary."
London has its London House Gay Hostel while Berlin features its own Gay Hostel, not the most original names, but they fit the bill. For the gay adventurer, blogs like www.thatgaybackpacker.com offer lighthearted insights and tips about the hostel circuit.
Hosteling also has a long-standing tradition overseas. According to Hostelling International, the organization founded in 1932 to coordinate Youth Hostel Associations around the world, the first hostel opened inside a castle in Altena, Germany in 1912. Its proprietor was German schoolteacher Richard Schirrmann, who wanted to give students from the industrial city an opportunity to get a hands-on learning experience and fresh air out in the country.
Today there are more than 5,000 hostels in cities around the world. Karges estimates he has stayed in about 100 of them, and researched hundreds more. One-thousand of the best hostels in Europe are highlighted in his books, "Backpackers & Flashpackers in Western Europe: 500 Hostels in 100 Cities in 25 Countries" and "Backpackers & Flashpackers in Eastern Europe: 500 Hostels in 100 Cities in 25 Countries" published in 2012 and 2013 respectively.
Karges wants to visit every country in the world and he is well on his way to achieving that goal. At present, the 59-year-old had been to 146 countries. That’s 75 percent of the 193 countries recognized by the United Nations.
As for what’s next for Karges, in addition to completing his goal of visiting every country on Earth at least once, he is hoping to open a hostel of his own in the next year or two. "I want it to be in a cool, hip place that doesn’t have many hostels already. Probably at the top of my list is Austin, Tex. I wouldn’t mind living there at all," says Karges.