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STAYING AT AMERICAN YOUTH HOSTELS

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Ross Richmond III and Jerry Conway don't pal around together. But both are adventurous types who enjoy traveling and meeting new people.

The two Memphis men share one other common trait: Neither likes to stay at hotels and motels that charge a standard rate.As an alternative, Conway, 42, a free-lance accountant, and Richmond, 25, who is employed by E.R. Richmond Realty Co., became card-carrying members of American Youth Hostels (AYH).

AYH-licensed hostels provide guests, known as "hostelers," inexpensive overnight accommodations in a dormitory-like setting with separate bathrooms for men and women.

Hostels are geared to travelers on limited budgets and they're ideal for large groups of people or singles like Richmond and Conway who say the lower rates most hotels offer to two or more guests are of no use to them because they travel alone.

For as little as $5 to $20 per night, AYH members are provided clean, comfortable and safe accommodations in a facility that allows them to meet other hostelers and exchange information.

AYH memberships are $25 for adults (aged 18-54), $10 for youths (17 and under), $35 for a family membership and $15 for senior citizens. Lifetime memberships may be purchased for $250.

There are abut 200 AYH hostels in the United States and more than 5,000 youth hostels internationally. AYH, an affiliate of the International Youth Hostel Federation, has 39 regional offices across the country and lists more than 100,000 members, said Jeffrey Yeager, its executive director in Washington.

How does a hostel work?

You could say that the "S" in hostel stands for simplicity and self-service because guests take care of themselves.

Hostel beds usually come with pillows and blankets, but guests are required to provide personal items, such as bed linens, towels and food.

"It's also not uncommon for guests to be asked to help out with small chores like sweeping, vacuuming or dusting," said Conway, who has been an AYH member five years.

Some hostels extend kitchen privileges to guests and access to dining areas. The maximum stay at a hostel is usually three consecutive nights, according to Conway.

AYH hostels have a nightly curfew and the doors are usually locked after 11 each night for security reasons. During the day, most hostels are closed, requiring guests to check in each evening around 5 p.m. and check out in the morning.

But no two hostels are ever the same, nor do they have the same rules.

"I'm completely sold on them," said Conway, a cycling enthusiast who has stayed in hostels throughout the United States and in Ireland. "But they are not for everyone, especially if you like your privacy when you're sleeping and don't like waiting in lines to use bathrooms or interacting with other people.

"The main draw," he said, "is the common bond of camaraderie that you share with other hostelers."