Consult a guide and vacation on the cheap

Strategies

July 18, 1999|By Betsy Wade | Betsy Wade,New York Times News Service

Gone are the days when the family piled into the car and drove off willy-nilly, selecting roadside motels or cabins as they appeared. The tourist cabins on the blue highways are big resorts now, and in summer almost everything requires a reservation.

There are still economical ways to find housing on the road, although these, too, require planning ahead: in college dormitories vacated by their school-year inhabitants; hostels, either linked to an association or free-standing; and Y's or other youth-oriented organizations with downtown buildings.

At all these places what you get is more likely to be a single bed or bunk than a private room, and a private bathroom is a rarity. But sometimes early calls can produce the one or two family rooms in a hostel. Some universities that run subsidiary businesses in conferences will have nicer quarters.

Guides to places to stay on campuses and other no-frill lodgings are in accord with the places they depict: economically printed, devoid of glorious color pictures of tea on the veranda. The commercially sold guides may simply re-sort and print public-domain material that is otherwise available free. But the convenience of a single guide may make the cost worth it.

The low-rent route

Here is a glance at guides to alternative housing on the road in the United States and for travelers taking the low-rent route overseas.

One of the least known guides in the United States is the British Universities Accommodation Consortium, which annually prepares free brochures on facilities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. This year's guide lists 62 universities, with grids showing what is available at what times of year, and the fees. As an example, bed-and-breakfast accommodations at Kings College in London, available from July 9 to Sept. 16, start at about $41 a night.

Some of the phrases on the chart may be a bit obscure, for example, "self-catering holiday flat," which means a vacation apartment where you may prepare your own meals. Prices are given in pounds. The guide is available free on request to B.U.A.C., Box 1756, University Park, Nottingham, England NG7 2RD; telephone 44-115-950-4571. The guide is also on the Internet at www.buac.co.uk.

Another free publication is "Y's Way Accommodation and Reservation Guide," published by the YMCA. This slim pamphlet, with an introduction in five languages, focuses on places to stay in New York, such as the Vanderbilt YMCA and the West Side YMCA, where singles with shared bath, with access to health facilities, cost $54 to $59 a night, depending on the season. Affiliated places in other cities and overseas are included. In the back is a form to request a reservation, which must be prepaid. Y's Way: 224 E. 47th St., New York, N.Y. 10017; 212-308-2899, fax 212-308-3161.

Guides to hostels

Hostelling International-American Youth Hostels publishes "Passport to North America," which also has an introduction in four languages in addition to English. This 432-page annual guide to 220 hostels is free to members, or can be ordered by nonmembers for $3 a copy. Part of the publishing expense is met by the ads for guidebooks and car-rental and bus companies.

The hostels are organized by state, one listing to a page, with small black-and-white pictures and schematic maps. The book includes a list picking out 25 U.S. "sustainable living center" hostels that have been adapted to reduce waste and conserve water and that seek out nontoxic products.

Membership in the hosteling group is free for anyone under 18 and costs $25 a year for people 18 to 54, $15 for those over 54. For people going overseas, the organization sells two guides, one to Europe and the Mediterranean and the other to Africa, America, Asia and Australia. These are $13.95 each.

The organization is also distributing a free map of its 142 hostels in the United States, with addresses and telephone numbers. Hos-telling International-American Youth Hostels, 733 15th St., N.W., Suite 840, Washington, D.C. 20005; 202-783-6171, fax 202-783-6171.

"Hostels U.S.A." by Evan Halper and Paul Karr, a directory to all American hostels, whether affiliated or not, has just been published in its second edition by Globe Pequot Press. This 440-page book, in a tall narrow format slightly larger than the HI-AYH book, uses stars and icons to grade 300 places in the United States and parts of Canada.

Although AYH affiliates do not usually permit alcohol, this is not the case with independent hostels. So one of the useful icons in this book is the "party index," giving one to five New Year's hats for places that range from "downright quiet" to "rage all night." The Fort Lauderdale International Hostel, as an example, rates only two stars, or "barely adequate," and gets five hats on the party line. This book costs $14.95 in bookstores.

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