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Hostels, campgrounds provide low-cost alternatives

Tents and camping equipment are available for rent at the Outdoor Recreation office located at the campgrounds in Camp Darby. Photos courtesy of AST Livorno MWR Marketing.

By KAREN BRADBURY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 4, 2016

Hostels and camping may not be for everyone, but they are hard to beat for cheap accommodations.

If you are turned off by the idea of a hostel stay, it is likely that you are not familiar with the full range of possibilities offered by this option.

While nightmare scenarios exist, there is an abundance of really good hostels out there, particularly in Scandinavia, where hostelling is very much a family affair. Hostels are often by a lake or beach, offer bicycle rental, children’s playgrounds and even swimming pools. Many have double or family rooms available, though they tend to go quickly.

Inquire beforehand as to whether the cost of bedding and towels is included in the room cost and if not, take your own. Bear in mind many hostels, particularly those near the seaside or other warm weather attractions, are open seasonally.

Several offer memorable settings — for example, a “boatel” in Budapest; an Alpine castle in Bellinzona, Switzerland; or eight miles by boat off the coast of Ireland on Cape Clear.

Disadvantages to the hostelling system include curfews that sometimes cut short a good night out and the need to leave any valuables too large to stash in a locker unsecured. But they can provide the solo traveler with a social outlet and the chance to meet other independent wanderers.

Hostelling International is a “brand name” of more than 90 youth hostel organizations in more than 80 countries. To be recognized as a network member, each hostel must live up to a certain standard.

To use the facilities, you need to be an HI member. You can join via the Internet by going to www.hihostels.com, finding the directory of your country of residence, and following the instructions on how to become a member. The cost of joining is minimal — U.S. residents, for example, pay $28 for a year’s membership.

A camping trip to Madrid? Si! But banish your notions of campfires and the smell of pines beforehand.

 

Most large European cities have at least a few campgrounds within reasonable commuting distance to city centers by public transportation. Facilities are usually minimal, including a shop, bathrooms with showers, perhaps a snack bar and not much else.

You can sleep cheap and avoid a hostel’s roomful of snoring strangers. For a general overview of camping areas throughout Europe, visit www.interhike.com where you can read reviews of any prospective facility beforehand. Numerous guidebooks also are available.

For those who like to camp but don’t enjoy lugging gear around, there is another option. Many campgrounds have sections reserved by companies that provide everything needed to camp in comfort: a tent, a gas stove, bed frames and sometimes electricity. Campers use the campgrounds’ shop, showers and toilets and recreational facilities.

Prices are more than an individual campsite, but generally less than a hotel or bed and breakfast.

One of the best-known companies is Eurocamp, a British firm with tents at campgrounds across western Europe. Sites are spread from the Netherlands to northern Spain and from Brittany, France, to Croatia, with France being the most popular destination. Information is available at www.eurocamp.co.uk.

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