Picks and Pans Main: Etc.

updated 06/22/1981 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/22/1981 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Hostel tours for the young at heart

Ever since 1910, when a German schoolteacher converted a 12th-century castle in Westphalia into dormitories for students hiking in the surrounding countryside, European youth hostels have been havens for budget-minded knapsackers. In the United States, to which the hosteling movement spread in 1934 with the opening of a facility in Northfield, Mass., there are now about 250 hostels—at which, unlike some abroad, the young-at-heart of all ages are welcome. Visitors log 400,000 overnights a year in U.S. hostels at $2.50 to $7.50 a night for American Youth Hostels members and slightly more for nonmembers. AYH annual dues are $ 14 for adults, $7 for those under 18 or over 60, and $21 for families. Members are also entitled to use some 5,000 hostels in 50 foreign countries.

Hostels are obviously not for travelers partial to porters and room service. These low-cost refuges typically offer clean, Spartan dormitory rooms with bunk beds, community bathrooms and kitchen facilities. Sleeping quarters are usually segregated by sex; liquor is forbidden; smoking is allowed only in designated areas. The maximum stay at any hostel is three nights per visit, and in the San Francisco area the visits must be at least two weeks apart. Lights go out at 11 p.m., checkout time is 9:30 a.m., and most hostels are closed during the day. Before leaving each morning, all hostelers are expected to perform a simple chore, like sweeping the floor. It is hosteling custom to leave a place better than it was found.

Another custom is that travel between hostels should be under one's own power, whether by foot, bicycle, skis or canoe. But rule benders who hitch rides or commit other offenses of transport are rarely turned away. Regions where hostels are within hiking or biking distance of each other, however, are listed in the AYH 1981 handbook, a complete guide to U.S. hosteling from Nome, Alaska to Miami Beach. (Ten states, mainly in the South, have no hostels.) The handbook is free to members. Nonmembers can obtain a copy by sending $1.75, plus 75 cents for postage and handling, to American Youth Hostels Inc., 1332 I St., N.W., Eighth Floor, Washington, DC. 20005. Below are some of the most attractive hostel-hopping tours:

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