tell me about staying in hostels or Ymca's

I am a middle aged single female looking for ways to travel cheap. I know some Y’s allow female guests and I see that there are a lot of hostels out there. How safe are they to stay in? what are the accomodations generally like? Would I be way older than everyone else there? Are we talking barraks type sleeping arrangements. One said that it had 2 double beds in a quad room. Is that for people traveling together or are they going to have sleeping in a bed with a stranger (surely not) or assigned roomates? Two of the places I would like to visit ar New Orleans and San Francisco if the actual city makes any difference. Any other suggestions for cheap travel? I don’t mind if the bathrooma are down the hall as long as I am not running the risk of being mugged on the way. I dont’ think that I particulary want to sleep in a room with strangers and they most likely won’t want to sleep through my snoring either but sharing a room isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. And before anyone suggests it, no I don’t have a freind I want to travel with to share expenses, most of my friends are either married and can’t jaunt to NOLA for the weekend, too broke or too annoying to spend close time with.

Well, first off, just to get it out of the way…It’s fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A…

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, I’ve never actually stayed at a Y and the only hostel I’ve ever stayed in was in the Gaslamp district of San Diego. However, as I understand it, hostels have a very strict code of conduct. Violate it and you will be put out on the street. Of course, that won’t do you (the OP) much good if something were to happen to you. You will be somewhat older, but depending on how middle-aged is middle-aged, possibly not too much. Hostels are often used by traveling college students, but I’ve seen people in their 30s and 40s stay in them. The rooms will be gender-specific. There’s a website out there, Hostel International-USA, which can give you far better information than I can.

I stayed in hostels many years ago in Alaska. The one in Anchorage was like a barracks, a large room for men and a large room for women, with a few small rooms with about 4 bunks each. In Fairbanks, it was a house, genders separated in the bedrooms, but the living room was also used for sleeping, and was not gender specific. In Sitka, there was one room, not gender specific.

What you have to deal with:

               * snoring of others
               * lack of showers in some hostels
               * you have to leave in the morning and are not allowed back
                  until the evening, sometimes as late as 9:00 PM  :eek: 

The two advantages:

               * cheap
               * you meet travelers from all over the world

oops, I forgot you also asked about YMCA lodging.

Again, years ago, I stayed in a YMCA in Seattle. It was ok, quiet, relatively comfortable. I have also stayed in the Y in Niagara Falls… about as bare bones as you can get. The advantage of staying at the Y is that you can use the pool, exercise facilities, etc.

But, many Y’s have eliminated their lodging facilities :confused:

I hostel when I travel. I like it because it allows me to travel, which I couldn’t do as much if I had to stay in hotels (so expensive!)

They vary widely from city to city. I like as a place to look them up, and tends to have more honest reviews (though people will sometimes post negative reviews based on some minor bad experience, so read all the reviews and take an average of them). There’s also a book, “Hostels U.S.A,” that has useful and honest reviews. It’s generally a good idea to reserve a bunk in advance.

The accomodations are a lot like a college dorm, or a summer camp bunk. Basic needs fulfilled, but Spartan. Every place I’ve stayed provides bedding and towels, but I understand that it isn’t universal, so make sure you know about the specific hostel before you go. In addition to the dorm rooms, there’s typically spaces where you can eat or watch television, some pay-as-you-go internet machines, and a kitchen where you can cook your own food if you don’t want to pay for restaurants.

There are people of all ages who use them- I see retired travelers, families with children, the whole gamut- but there will also be a lot of college-age people and typically some groups of high schoolers on organized tours. Once, I shared a room with a middle-school girl scout troop. There’s lots of international travellers from all over the world.

Barracks-style is not a bad word to describe it. It varies a lot depending on the hostel- read about the place before you stay there- but a typical hostel will have a very few single rooms for higher rates, some four-bed rooms for moderate rates, and some large (12-20 bunk) rooms for cheap. When you check in, you’ll find a bunk and not much else. Roommates are assigned randomly, and change every night as people check in and out. You can meet interesting people and have fascinating conversations sometimes. Sometimes, everyone ignores each other and just comes into the room to sleep. Usually you can choose between a single-gender room and a mixed-gender room. “Decor” is not a word that would be appropriate for any hostel I’ve ever been in, but the staff often makes an effort and paints things in bright, cheerful colors.

The bathroom is always down the hall, and you’ll probably have to wait your turn for the shower in the morning unless, like me, you’re an early riser. Just like in college, if you are showering when everyone else does, you may or may not get hot water, and you’ll have to wait your turn for the mirror in the women’s room.

They’re pretty safe in general (check reviews for specific hostels- you don’t want the ones that end up being used by local homeless people, which requires managers preventing that) but you might want to put your valuables in a locker instead of under the bed. Because I’m paranoid, I just keep my money/credit cards/theater tickets in a money belt and sleep in it. You might get your bag rifled (though I never have), but you won’t get mugged.

If you can get past your reluctance to share a room with strangers, it can be a lot of fun, and it’s certainly cheap. I brought a first-time hosteller along with me on my last trip, one who also didn’t know how she felt about sharing space, and she seemed to have a good time.

I never felt like the rules were a ‘strict code of conduct,’ but they are enforced, so make sure you can live with them. I don’t mind no-alcohol-in-the-hostel rules, for example, because I’d rather drink out anyway, but that’s a dealbreaker rule for some people.

DEFINITELY look for pictures and reviews online when you choose a hostel. Know what their check-in requirements are, what is provided and what you’ll have to bring, what the rules are, and what advantages and disadvantages other travellers have found.

I’ve stayed in hostels, though it was a very long time ago, and have to ditto the remark about meeting travelers from all over. That part of it was fun. But having to go out in a driving rain in Hamburg, in February, was not so great. I’ll be honest; I actually cut my trip short by a few days so I could move up to penzione (cheap hotels) when visiting Italy.

I’ve never seen YMCA lodgings, but the impression I get is that they are a slight cut above hostels, more like a cheap hotel. It seems that you’d get your own room, but the bathroom would be down the hall. And, you don’t have to deal with the lockout.

when I was a grad student and lacked funds, I stayed in YMCAs and College Dorms (in the summer). The cost was cheap, and I was able to get private rooms. The YMCA in New Orleans had individual rooms, with TVs in them.

There are books on places to stay, cheap. see if you can find them.

as i mentionmed, I was able to stay in college dorms when school was out. Contact the school beforehand and find if you can do this, and how much it costs. It’s been years since I did this, and I don’t know who, if anyone, is still doing it. I didn’t have any problem in most places, but in Washington D.C. I was only able to stay because they thought I was going to a conference they were holding there.

9/11 may have changed a lot of things. research first!

FisherQueen has pretty much covered it, but one other thing that ought to be mentioned is that there are basically two different types of hostels out there – ones affiliated with Hostelling International (HI) and independents (sometimes known as “backpackers”). HIs tend to be larger, more institutional, and more oriented toward older travelers and school groups, and you’re generally guaranteed a certain level of cleanliness and professionalism (though not necessarily politeness) from the staff. Independent hostels are all over the map – both the best and the worst hostels generally fall into this category – but as a rule, they tend to be more laid-back, and they attract mainly English-speaking twentysomethings traveling on their own or in small groups.

Every HI hostel that I’ve ever seen has had single-sex dorms, but some indies don’t, so if this is a concern for you, make sure you ask.

And to answer the questions in your OP, yes, you will have to share a room (but not a bed!) with strangers, and no, you’re unlikely to be the oldest person there – I’ve met folks in their sixties and seventies in hostels. And there’s almost no chance you’ll get mugged on the way to the bathroom, although you should keep anything really valuable on your person or in a locker.

Just to mention another option, you might consider camping, though if you don’t have the equipment it may not be worth the startup cost.

On the other hand, camping hardly seems like a very good way to visit San Francisco.

I don’t know about that, seems to me there’ll be camping-a-plenty there already!

I’m looking forward to staying at a hostel in Chicago this coming weekend - first time ever! I’m not quite middle-aged (35) but still not the age of your typical college student.

I’ve hosteled in Europe.
The best I can say is that it varies enormously. Getting something like a Lonely Planet and staying where they recommend will usually avoid most problems.

More problems can be avoided by calling ahead to book in advance, and checking off the following:
Single/double/twin rooms available?
Women-only dorms and bathrooms available?
Breakfast included?
Dinner available/self-catering facilities?
Lockers available? If so, coin operated or do you have to bring your own lock?
Is there a safe?
Is it near public transport links?
Internet access?
Rules on smoking and alcohol consumption?
Is there an onsite bar?
Is there a grocery shop/supermarket/corner store nearby?
Nearest ATM?
Once you know what you’re getting for your money you can gauge whether it’s value for money.

I’ve stayed in a hostel in Krakow that was made from Nissan huts and I’ve stayed in a converted communist-era apartment block in Prague that has been turned into a hostel, with each apartment made into 2 twin bedrooms and a bathroom.

I’ve stayed in a DJH in Munich which had a strict separation of the sexes, no alcohol or smoking and an early breakfast, but also I’ve stayed in the YoHo in Salzburg, which although it has single sex dorms and coin-operated showers, also had a bar, and twice daily “Drink-a-long Sound of Music”- whereby they screened the film and you played a drinking game.

There was the slightly scary hostel in Rome where 50 people were crammed into 2 dorms (triple layer bunkbeds!), and the Pink Palace in Corfu where $20 a night got you 2 all you can eat meals, a bed in an A/C double bedroom with ensuite bathroom, and access to as much debauchery as you could handle. The Pink Palace is sort of the 18-30 hostel, much booze and sex, but lots of nice people to meet too.

In my experience, single travellers usually found a group of like-minded people (usually of the same gender or a mixed group) going to their next destination and hooked up with them for the journey. If it went well, they’d continue to hang out together for the duration, if not, the single person would find another group and move on with them.

Age isn’t an issue. I was 19 when when I went the first time, and we had memorable dinners and outings with everyone from a 32 year old mobile phone salesman from LA to a retired Isreali Army officer turned watercolourist. Backpackers are interesting people, age isn’t really a barrier to meeting people.