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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

For Russians, a Hostel New World

The glamorous world of bunk beds, shared bathrooms and communal dining is now open to adventurous Russians whose wanderlust outstrips their travel budget.


Russia's first internationally recognized youth hostel now sells membership cards giving holders access to low-cost room and board throughout the world.


Steven Caron, co-owner of the St. Petersburg International Hostel, said he has just received permission from hosteling's world governors to market the card not only to resident foreigners but for the first time to Russians for travel throughout the world.


Hosteling traditionally has been one of the least expensive ways for young travelers to explore the world. But the key to that experience -- the hostel card -- traditionally has been unavailable in Russia.


"We're the first hostel to be accepted here," said Caron, 27, a California native, who opened the St. Petersburg hostel three years ago. "We are going to start selling these cards to Russian nationals and to other foreigners here."


The pass normally costs about $20 but is available at a discount of roughly 50 percent in Eastern Europe and Russia.


It will be a while before the cards are available in Moscow, but efforts are underway to bring them here. There are four hostel-style guest houses in Russia -- two in St. Petersburg, one in Novgorod and another in Moscow. But there must be at least five hostels in a country, Caron said, before an entire nation can receive blanket permission to sell the cards.


Before the cards became available, Sputnik, the former Soviet youth travel organization, gave its members student identification tags and told them they could buy hostel tickets once they arrived at their destination, Sputnik spokesman Alexander Ivanov said.


In addition to the cards, which sport an internationally recognized green triangle, Caron can now offer Russian travelers of all ages computerized reservation services and visa support.


"Before, you had to book an expensive tour or hotel to get the visa to come in," Caron said. Hostels are typically much less expensive. A spot in a five-bed room at the Travelers Guest House in Moscow, for example, costs $15 a night.


Maggie Bowen of the International Youth Hostel Federation in England said Caron earned accreditation expressly to open the Russian market.


"It is very encouraging to have at least some means of access to Hosteling International Cards for young Russian people," she said. Nadia Cherdakova, 21, could not agree more. The student at the Bauman Technical University in Moscow called the move "spectacular."


"I want to see Europe," she said. "I think a lot of Russian students would be interested in seeing the rest of the world, but the biggest problem, of course, has always been money."


The actual popularity of the cards will depend on how easily Russians can obtain visas to foreign countries. Caron said he has begun discussions with the Finnish and German consulates in St. Petersburg, but is leaving the U.S. Consulate for later.


"The U.S. Consulate will be very hesitant to issue visas to single young people," he said.


Not so, said a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Moscow. Travelers to hostels in the United States will be held to the same requirements as all people seeking visas.


"As long as they demonstrate sufficient ties here in Russia to indicate that they are not a potential immigrant, they shouldn't have any trouble," the spokesman said.


It will be a while before hostel traffic between Russia and the rest of the world grows from a trickle to a flood, Jan Passoff, owner of the Travelers Guest House in Moscow, predicted.


"Hosteling is not as important as it used to be 10 years ago," Passoff said, "when there weren't as many inexpensive places to stay."