On Jan. 1, 65-year-old American Youth Hostels changed its name to Hostelling International-USA. The move was an acknowledgment that travelers of all ages, not just youths, are using its services and budget accommodations.
Along with the name change, the internationally affiliated not-for-profit organization launched a new Web site, www.hiusa.org, and is expanding services, offering members 18 and older free basic emergency travel health coverage and assistance.
At hostels of the past, travelers usually slept in a bed in a large, single-sex dormitory room.
But in recent years, as new hostels have opened and older ones have been renovated, more hostels are recognizing that families, older travelers and couples are also attracted to the camaraderie, convenience and low prices that hostels offer. As a result, smaller family and double rooms are being added.
HI-USA has more than 100 budget accommodation facilities in 33 states and the District of Columbia. They range from city high-rises to rural lodges, from a former lifesaving station in Nantucket, Mass., to a hotel in the Art Deco district of Miami and ski inns in the Rocky Mountains.
The bathroom may be down the hall, there may be kitchen facilities to prepare meals, and there will be a lounge and common areas where you can relax and meet international travelers.
HI-USA members can stay at more than 4,500 affiliated Hostelling International locations around the world. Nonmembers usually are charged an additional fee. Beds at HI-USA facilities start at $10 per night. Big-city hostels, such as in Chicago, usually cost $22 to $25 per person per night.
The HI-USA annual membership costs $28 for adults ages 18 to 54, and $18 for seniors 55 and older. It's free to those younger than 18 and for groups of 10 or more travelers.
HI-USA also is offering members the Emergency Medical Identification Card, which entitles travelers to assistance and insurance benefits from ISIS Insurance, a Dutch company that has been providing travel insurance for youths for nearly 50 years.
ISIS offers immediate payments in emergencies through a worldwide network of student travel services, said Rod Hurd, chairman of the steering committee of the International Student Travel Confederation. ISIS has 70 locations authorized to pay claims.
ISIS benefits for HI-USA members include a daily allowance of $70 for hospitalization (to a maximum of $1,400); up to $100 for emergency dental treatment; coverage for accidental death ($2,000) and transportation of remains ($3,500); and up to $1,250 toward traveling expenses for emergencies, such as an unexpected death or serious illness of an immediate family member.
Coverage is far from complete. The ISIS plan will not, for example, cover the costs that you can recover from another insurance policy, so you should check your or your parents' insurance to see whether it provides coverage for travel outside the country. ISIS also doesn't provide coverage if an emergency is a consequence of war, invasion or the effect of alcohol, drugs or self-inflicted injuries.
Cardholders have access to a free 24-hour emergency assistance telephone service for travelers. The service can help you find a doctor or hospital, obtain medicine, send urgent messages to your family, help you find a lawyer and help you replace lost or stolen travel tickets.
HI-USA members can buy more comprehensive coverage, including coverage for hazardous sports, through www.isis-usa.com.
HI-USA members are also eligible for discounts negotiated by local associations in North America and abroad.
These include attractions, theaters, city tours, free currency exchange from Travelex offices around the world, and Alamo and Hertz car rental discounts in the U.S.
For membership information, contact the HI Travel Center, 1434 2nd St., Santa Monica, CA 90401; (310) 393-3413, www.hostelweb.com/losangeles.
Lucy Izon, a Toronto-based freelance writer, is author of "Izon's Backpacker Journal." Her Web site is www.izon.com.