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Hostel Territory: The Down Low On No Frills Travel

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Shared rooms, shared bathrooms, shared kitchen, and a ton of backpackers. Why, it's a hostel!

Here's the great irony of booking a great hotel: How often are you actually spending time there? Some hotels, truly, give you no reason to leave the grounds, what with restaurants, bars, spas, shops, pools, entertainment complexes, casinos, and gyms, all de rigueur. However, an equally sizeable population has that "I wanna go places! I wanna meet people!" take. This are the folks with a guide book in one hand, a camera in the other, and a really good pair of shoes. They get to their base of operations, drop the bags, and are out the door to see the sights. When they finally come back, they are so tired all they want to do is go to bed. And it's the same thing the next day and the next. Consequently, when it comes to hotels, all they need are four walls, a ceiling, and a bed. And a safe place to keep the luggage.

And here's where hostels come in. Yes, they are downmarket; yes, are usually for the younger set; and yes, they aren't the most lavishly appointed. But let's face it: Travel can get mighty expensive mighty fast. Food, tickets to go places (museums, shows), shopping. There are lots of ways to save money on, and for, a trip. Accommodations is just one.

That being said, hostels, like hotels, come in all shapes and sizes, and can be surprisingly respectable. The days of hostels being close cousins to flophouses is over. Way over. And in some cases hostels are in the best places in town.

The Chelsea International Hostel in New York is, like almost every hostel in the world, spartan. The rooms are very small. There are rather unglamorous lockers for your valuables. Get past the minimalism and close quarters, however, and you'll find a whole slew of room options, including private ones. WiFi is free, the daily breakfast is free, and the pizza is free every Wednesday night. Moreover, being on West 20 St. between 8th and 7th Avenues in Manhattan puts it one one of the toniest neighborhoods in the Big Apple. And the fanciest room goes for $68.41. In New York, that's called a "steal."

While hostels have the rep as being a backpacker depot, the Chelsea bucks that trend. While a few intrepid souls really do hike to New York, most of the hotel's guests are students and other like travelers who know how to pinch pennies.

And then there is Europe. More than in the United States, backpacking through Europe has now become something of a travel rite of passage. The hostels have responded in kind; not only have they proliferated, they have really gone high-class. Voted "Number One Hostel" in the Netherlands by, the King Kong Hotel in Rotterdam could pass for a budget hotel. Every room has a private rainshower bathroom and a toilet, and each is designed by local artists. Choices include the "Lover's Loft" that includes a queen-sized bed and city views and is so striking that Cosmopolitan Magazine used it as a set for a fashion spread. Then there is the "Full House" that is when you are traveling in a herd (up to four people). The WiFi is free, lockers are provided, and you would have a hard time remembering this is a hostel. Such is the cred, that on surveys, the King Kong actually makes it onto ratings reserved for hotels.

Asia, too, is on the bandwagon. Hong Kong, an address practically synonymous with high-prices, has hostels such as the Day Hostel, whose per-person rates start at $9.69 (!!!) means you can use your hard-earned dollars to enjoy one of of the world's most colorful cities, rather than have it all sucked up into a hotel that you may, really, not spend a lot of time in. It means that even people of very modest incomes can still venture out and become part of the global community.

We are now in an age of have more options than ever before when it comes to accommodations. Budget hotels, hostels, Airbnb, even the YMCA offer rooms and beds -- comfortable ones -- at rates conventional hotels simply cannot touch (and wouldn't even try), to say nothing of luxury hotels. It is ridiculous not to take advantage of the innumerable choices we now have available, some of which have been around for years.

This ultimately comes down to what travel is to you. Where do you want your money to go, because it's going to go somewhere. But ask yourself: How often where at come exotic locale and you could not do X-activity because you just didn't have the cash because you blew it on the hotel?