Many open all year round. Membership is open to all, although the permitted minimum age of children accompanied by an adult is generally five, or 14 when unaccompanied. (In 70 hostels, which are suitable, children under three may accompany their parent/s.) Children aged between 5 and 15 are given free membership when their parents (or a single parent) are members. There are currently more than 230,000 members of the Youth Hostel Association.
Youth hostels provide separate dormitories (8 to 16 beds) for males and females, and duvets (or blankets), pillows and a short sleeping bag are available if required. Many youth hostels have small dormitories (four to six beds) that can be used by families and some have a self-contained family annexe or special family rooms (with their own kitchen, living room and bathroom), where you can come and go at any time of the day. Family or group accommodation must be booked by telephoning before 10am or after 5pm, or using the website reservation facility (www.yha.org.uk). It isn’t necessary for single people to book, but it’s often advisable, to avoid disappointment.
Most hostels also provide hot showers, central heating, laundry facilities, and small shops selling souvenirs and foodstuffs. Usually, hostels are closed during the day from 10am to 5pm (except for family units) and close for the night at 11pm. Guests must remain quiet until 7am and alcohol isn’t permitted on the premises. You’re usually expected to help with simple chores, such as sweeping the floor and washing up.
Self-catering kitchens are provided at all permanent hostels, many of which also provide a cheap restaurant. Overnight rates in England and Wales vary depending on the hostel, which is graded on a scale from 1 to 9 (9 is London). Prices range from £5 to £10 per night for under 18s (and up to £30 in London) and from £10 to £14 per night for adults (up to £28 in London). Rates are sometimes higher in July and August. Hostels in Scotland are graded from one to three and rates are similar to those in England and Wales.
All guests must be members of their national Youth Hostelling Association or an association affiliated to the International Youth Hostel Federation (IYHF). Individual membership of the YHA costs £7 a year for those under 18, £14 for adults, £28 for families (includes both parents and all children under 18) and £14 for a one-parent family. Life membership costs £210. Membership fees of the SYHA (Scotland) and HINI (Northern Ireland) are slightly lower than for the YHA. Associations organise a wide variety of action and adventure holidays lasting from a few days to a few weeks, during which you can participate in many sports and adventurous pastimes such as abseiling, rock-climbing or parachuting. Local YHA groups organise regular social evenings and weekend activities.
For further information about youth hostels in England and Wales, contact the YHA National Office, Trevelyan House, Dimple Road, Matlock, Derbyshire DE4 3YH (01629-592 600). For information about Scottish youth hostels, contact the Scottish Youth Hostel Association, 7 Glebe Crescent, Stirling FK8 2JA (01786-891 400, www.syha.org.uk). Hostelling International Northern Ireland is at 22 Donegall Road, Belfast BT12 5JN (028-9032 4733, www.hini.org.uk). All YHAs publish handbooks and accommodation guides, and excellent maps (usually free) showing hostel locations, giving opening dates and describing facilities. A YHA Accommodation Guide is available from bookshops and the organisation publishes a quarterly magazine, Go Guide, which is free to members.
If you’re interested in international youth hostelling and staying at some of the 6,000 youth hostels around the world, check the international travel links on the YHA website (www.yha.org.uk) for organised programmes.
This article is an extract from Living and working in Britain. Click here to get a copy now.