Youth Hostelling

Leonard Lea Frazer

Although originally intended for young people travelling on foot, today’s “Youth Hostels” are open to travellers of all ages and can be a low-budget travel alternative.

I often look back on the exciting time I enjoyed during my first visit to Europe in the early 1970s. Back then, the majority of Youth Hostels were housed in existing buildings and adapted to suit YHA standards at that time. There were usually separate men’s and women’s dormitories, kitchen area for hostellers to prepare their meals, dining room, a communal living room for reading and letter writing, laundry room, storage space for bicycles and hostel office for registration and access to a telephone.

The small hostels relied on their guests to volunteer to do any chores that were brought to their attention, such as, dishwashing, sweeping or washing the floors.

House-parents at each hostel were employed to help with registration, collect overnight fees, enforce regulations laid down by the Hostel Association of the country in which you were a visitor.

The objects of the International Youth Hostel Federation were “to help all, but especially young people, to a greater knowledge, care and love of the countryside, particularly by providing hostels or other simple accommodation for them on their travels and thus to promote their health, rest and education.”

In 1972, I was young, ready for adventure and full of travel advice – where to stay and which sights to visit – extended to me by my parents and close friends.

Armed with a passport, plane ticket, a three-month Eurorail pass, $700 pocket money and a Canadian Youth Hostel Association membership card, I was ready. Soon I was in England, and later, continental Europe, having the time of my life.

Along with several maps, I carried a copy of the book “Youth Hosteller’s Guide to Europe.” That hard-covered text offered information on 22 countries and described local sights and the location of each hostel.

On the back cover the following was written: “Not so much a holiday! With this book as a guide your holiday can become an adventure. You will be led away from the well-worn tourist routes and if you choose to stay in Youth Hostels your adventure will be complete.”

This I found to be true.

During my three-month vacation I experienced a variety of accommodations, but enjoyed my Youth Hostel experience the most. Youth Hostels provided the perfect meeting place, a destination to have my mail forwarded to, and most of all, a very affordable place to stay overnight. And, although I was travelling “solo” in Europe, there was never a shortage of companions. I would meet someone or a group at a hostel and end up travelling with them on the next leg of my journey.

The idea of hostelling was sparked in 1909 when Richard Schirrmann took German children on mountain treks to escape the industrial smokestacks of Duisberg, Germany where he worked as a teacher. The youths would enjoy the outdoors and stay overnight at country schools. As the use of these buildings grew, the need for permanent structures increased. The German Youth Hostel Association was established and soon the movement reached other European countries and eventually, the world.

On my first trip to Europe I stayed at the following hostels: In England, “Milford Hill House” nearby the Salisbury Cathedral, which has the tallest spiral in England; “The City Mill” hostel in Winchester, close by the famous “Winchester Cathedral”, which has the longest naïve; and the “Dover Central Hostel” near Dover Castle.

On mainland Europe – in Hamburg, Germany, the home of the famous “Hofbrähaus” I stayed at the very large, Hamburg Hostel. Also in Germany, the hostels in Hameln (The Pied Piper of Hameln), and at the Elm Hostel. In Austria I stayed at the Salzburg Hostel in the town where “The Sound of Music” was filmed. In Italy I toured the Coliseum, Michelangelo’s art, and the ruins of Pompeii and stayed at the hostels in Florence, Rome, Salerno and Napoli.

Today’s youth hostels are open to travellers of all ages, using all modes of transportation. A hostelling holiday is an inexpensive way for a family or individual to visit a country. Most hostels still offer dormitory accommodation or private rooms, cafeteria-style dining facilities and a communal activity room.  European youth hostels come in the shape of cottages, castles, historic mansions, old farmhouses, and even renovated watermills.

When I traveled in Europe I used hostels I stayed at as my home base and was able to absorb the cultures of nine European countries in three months. On arrival at a hostel I would receive a stamp in my Youth Hostel membership passport book. Each stamp was like a tiny souvenir of that particular hostel and place.

There are other equally inexpensive places to stay in Europe that provide more privacy. However, the traditional hostel-style accommodation provides a greater social environment with plenty of other travellers to meet and talk to.

With about 500 different youth hostels in Germany today, they offer comfortable accommodations and state-of-the-art facilities. From humble beginnings to the present day facilities which include, for example, at the Berlin Youth Hostel International, 24-hour reception, electrical adaptors, BBQ, bicycle hire and parking, board games, free breakfast, cable TV, card phone, common room, telephone/fax facilities, free city maps, free parking and WiFi, games room, hair dryers, hot showers, housekeeping, internet access, laundry facilities, linen included, security lockers, luggage storage, meals available, meeting room, outdoor terrace, pool table, restaurant, safe deposit box, tours/travel desk and vending machines.

Hostelling International is the brand name of more that 90 Youth Hostel Associations around the world, with a total of over 4,000 hostels in 90 countries.

Closer to home, check out the “Back Packers Hostels Canada” website.

You, too, can experience Richard Schirrmann’s dream of escape by incorporating hostels into your next vacation.

In this picture, taken in 1959, Richard Schirrmann (right), Youth Hostel Association founder, talks with a former student in West Germany. L.L. Frazer photo
In this picture, taken in 1959, Richard Schirrmann (right), Youth Hostel Association founder, talks with a former student in West Germany. L.L. Frazer photo
 
Llangollen Youth Hostel and Activity Centre, North Wales. L.L. Frazer photo
Llangollen Youth Hostel and Activity Centre, North Wales. L.L. Frazer photo

English cyclists, Robert Parsey and Steven Gapper prepare to leave the Llangollen Youth Hostel in Wales. L.L. Frazer photo
English cyclists, Robert Parsey and Steven Gapper prepare to leave the Llangollen Youth Hostel in Wales. L.L. Frazer photo
 
This young German couple enjoy their Scandinavian tour. L.L. Frazer photo
This young German couple enjoy their Scandinavian tour. L.L. Frazer photo