Save money with hostel membership – and more

Published 8 December 2019

Rowardennan hostel, near Loch Lomond and on the West Highland Way

Doing a long distance walk can be expensive. One of the ways you can reduce your costs is to stay in cheaper accommodation like hostels and bunkbarns. They’re an especially useful option when you’re a solo walker, as single rooms are rare in B&Bs and hotels. For that reason, every guide in our ‘Planning Your Own Walk‘ section includes details of all the hostels and bunkbarns we know of.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, bunkbarns and hostels offer cheaper, more affordable accommodation. Although there are two terms for them, there’s not that much difference between them. Bunkbarns tend to have fewer facilities than hostels. For simplicity, we’ll just call them all hostels from now on.

Many offer private rooms with two beds in them, however the cheapest options come in the form of dorms – larger rooms with bunkbeds in them that are shared. Exactly how many beds will be in each room depends on the hostel. Most newer ones have smaller rooms with space for four or six people. Older hostels may feature rooms with far more bunk beds. I once stayed in a dorm with 14 beds in it (I was the only resident that night), and I know of an independent hostel where the male dorm can fit 20 people. But most tend to be smaller.

Whilst there are many independent operators, there are three larger charities who operate many hostels – the YHA (in England and Wales), Hostelling Scotland (formerly the SYHA), and Hostelling International Northern Ireland. Founded in the charities that started in the 1930s, each group was founded to offer affordable accommodation, with a focus on younger people. Hence the original term for such accommodation that is still used by many today: youth hostels. The term’s often used as a way of differentiating against private operators.

There are now many city based hostels, but access to the countryside was a key part of the youth hostel movement, and remains so to this day. This means there are many hostels in rural locations, many well placed for long distance walks.

At one time you needed to be a member to stay in a youth hostel, but some years ago the doors were flung open for everyone. You can still join though, and members receive discounts on their stay. This means if you are planning to stay for more than a couple of nights in a hostel, it can easily save you money by joining. Joining can be done online.

There are multiple membership options, but currently the benefits for each hostel group are as follows:

Stay for a few nights or more and the savings can rack up, especially given membership isn’t that pricey in the first place.

Joining also gets you reciprocal membership with Hostelling International, allowing you to save money in 4,000+ hostels across the globe. That means your YHA membership will also get you money off at Hostelling Scotland, for example. There’s also no restrictions on UK residents for which group you join. For several years I was a member of the SYHA despite living in London.

Finally, as well as saving you money, joining also helps put money back into the community. Each youth hostel group runs educational programmes to help, support and inspire young people, and give them access to the Great British Countryside.

And that is definitely worth doing.

Your Comments

Paul Duane

14 December 2019 at 4:57 pm

Thank you for your very informative website. About the hostel membership. Does it just cover the youth hostels or is it all hostels? Also, does it cover hostels in Spain? We are going to hike the Camino de Santiago. What is the membership cost and how do I join?
Thank you

Andrew Bowden (Rambling Man editor)

15 December 2019 at 10:14 pm

Hello Paul – in the UK it covers all youth hostels operated by YHA, Hostelling Scotland and Hostelling International Northern Ireland. All three are members of Hostelling International.

In Spain the equivalent organisation is REAJ. They don’t currently offer any discounts to members – apparently you can’t stay in one of their hostels without being a member. Other hostels on the Camino probably won’t offer a discount (although I’m not an expert on the Camino.)

Your Comments