A shared dorm bed in a Paris hostel (auberge de jeunesse) starts around $19

Hostels are dirt-cheap, basic places to stay, often with shared dorms (but also often with private rooms as well) and shared baths.

If you're really scrimping on every eurocent, or are particularly fond of fraternizing with primarily youthful backpackers, you might want to stay in hostels, where you can get a bunk in a shared dorm for around $19 to $40.

I'm not a fan of hostels. Never did like them, really, not even when I was a backpacking student, but that's just me.

You, though, might enjoy the camaraderie, the chance to rub elbows with other English-speakers, the evenings of contributing an ingredient to the communal spaghetti dinner someone is whipping up in the kitchen while your laundry spins in the back room, a dreadlocked dropout strums a guitar, and everyone sits around and shares travel tips and recently discovered gems not yet in the guidebooks.

Oh, and the massive savings. That's the upside to the hostelling experience. The downsides, though, are enough to keep me away, despite the savings.

Hostel booking sites & resources

partnerHostelz.com (www.hostelz.com)- Listing of 35 hotels in Paris. Also cheap hotels and a handful of B&Bs and apartments.

PartnerHostelWorld (www.hostelworld.com) - Premier independent booking site for hostels around the world, iwth 23 hostels in Paris. It also helpfully includes particularly cheap hotels and a few apartments.partner

PartnerHostelbookers.com (www.hostelbookers.compartner) - Ninteen Paris hostels, a few dozen cheap hotels, and a few apartments.

Hostels.com (www.hostels.com) - One of the biggest repositories of hostelling information and reviews of some 23 Paris hostels, as well as cheap hotels and apartments.

Hostelmania.com (www.hostelmania.com) - Another biggie, with about 20 hostels in Paris.

Federation Unie des Auberges de Jeunesse (www.fuaj.org) - The official hostelling body of France. Useful for rules and links to offial HI hostels (though note that official HI hsotels are usually the least interesting and most restrictive).

Centres d'herbergement pour jeunes - Cheap lodgings for the young (and young-at-heart) that also frequently host events: www.bvjhotel.com, www.cisp.fr, www.ciup.fr, www.fiap.asso.fr, www.ligueparis.org, www.ethic-etapes.fr.

Hostelling International (www.hihostels.com) - The official international hostelling body, giving its stamp of approval to one or two hotels in cities and town around the globe. For Paris, this means four properties —though only one (Jules Ferry) is actually downtown. Still, the site is seful for membership info and hsoteling basics.

How much do hostels cost?

Though per-person cost for a bunk in a shared dorm is typically €20 to €30 ($25 to $40) per night—though it can range as low as €15 and as high as €35 ($19 to $45).

Private rooms typically go for from €55 to €140 ($72 to $180)—or ever-so-slightly less than a hotel.

The downsides to hostels

The following apply to most hostels, whether independent or official:

  • Just imagine sleeping in a room with anywhere from three to thirty other people and all the noises that can emanate from that many snoring (and remarkably flatulent) bodies tossing and turning on squeaky cots.
  • You may only be able to reserve a day in advance, or not at all, so show up early.
  • If you truly came to see the local country and meet its people, that ain't gonna happen if you always hang out with groups of Americans studying abroad, Australians on a gap year before college, and party-hearty German twenty-somethings.

Most of what follows applies primarily to official HI hostels. Private or independent hostels freqeuently do not suffer from many, or even any, of these drawbacks.

  • Traditional, official hostels tend to be far from the center of town, occasionally on the city outskirts, and they fill up with high-schoolers in summer.
  • Traditional hostels impose evening curfews of anywhere from 10pm-midnight.
  • There are often midday lockout periods for cleaning (usually 10am to 2pm or so).
  • There are often limits on how long you can stay, often no more than three days.
What are hostels like?
  • In most hotels, you sleep in bunks in dorm-like shared rooms —depending on the hostel, from 2 or 4 beds per room to as many as 100 beds in a single gymnasium-like space (though, in practice, rarely mroe than 15 or 20).

    Hostels have been trending toward the smaller rooms model in the past few years (4-6 beds per room), but most have a mix of smaller and larger rooms at differing prices.
  • Many are sex-segregated by room or floor.
  • There are lockers for your bags; use them.
  • You always pay a per-person rate —which means it can be a savings for singles, but two or three people traveling together can usually find hotels for the same price or even less. Families can often find hostels with 4-bunk rooms for semi-private housing.
  • Bathrooms are always shared —sometimes each dorm room has its own; usually its a giant bath down the hall shared by all dorms.
  • Breakfast—though uninspiring—is often included free or offered cheaply, and other cheap but lackluster meals are available.
  • To stay in official hostels, you must be a card-carrying member of Hostelling International—or the card will at least get you a discount.

    However, I've found that official HI-affiliated hostels tend to be the most depressingly institutionalized ones: school-marmy, rigid, bland, and boring.

    Private hostels
    tend to be far more interesting, festive, salubrious, and fun.
Do I have to be young to say in a hostel?

Note I keep calling them simply "Hostels." The only ones that are still officially "youth" hostels are in Southern Germany, where the old under-26-only rule is still applied.

Most hostels are now open as cheap digs for anyone of any age, and increasingly budget-minded families, adventurous folks in their forties, and even backpacking grandparents are availing themselves of this cheap-o option.

Sleep sacks
A silk sleep sack for staying i hostels and making rough, cheap sheets more comfortableBuy a sleep sack before you go or make one. Hostels will accept homemade ones out of a basic cotton top sheet (fold it in half the long way, sew across the bottom and 2/3 of the way up the side), as well as the kind I use: the silk sleep sack you can get from some travel and camping outfitters that packs teensy and is dreamily comfortable.

Most hostels provide a blanket, but require that you use your own sleep sack , which is basically a sheet folded in half lengthwise and sewn across the bottom and most of the way up the side—sort of like an ultra-thin sleeping bag.

However, note that you cannot use your own sleeping bag, sleeping bag liner, or anything else with a thick pile to it

This is because Lord knows where you've been and for all the hostel know your bag is infested with bedbugs, which they'd rather you not introduce into their beds.

Should you lack one, some hostels will sell you a sleep sack on the spot.

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Grabbing a bed in a traditional hostel is a bit like staying at summer camp, only without the lanyards. These days, such rooms full of bunk-beds are being replaced with teensy "dorms" of just four to eight beds each.Grabbing a bed in a traditional hostel is a bit like staying at summer camp, only without the lanyards. These days, such rooms full of bunk-beds are being replaced with teensy "dorms" of just four to eight beds each.