Fancy spending some time on an organic farm, practicing yoga and taking long walks through the hills? Or would you rather stay in an art-filled old downtown warehouse, and maybe hire a bike to hit the city's nightlife? Whether your traveling tastes run rural or urban, green hostels offer an inexpensive and character-filled -- not to mention sustainable -- alternative to bland hotels.
After picking a dozen of the best places in North America for backpackers to lay their heads, we start our international tour off in Ireland and the U.K., where budget travelers are downright spoiled with eco-friendly accommodations.
It's a big world out there: What are your favorite green hostels? Let us know in the comments section.
1. The UK (Rural): Deepdale Backpackers Hostel (Deepdale Farm, North Norfolk Coast, England)Officially recognized as a "Walkers Welcome" and "Cyclists Welcome" lodging by VisitBritain for catering to the needs of people traveling under their own steam, the Deepdale Backpackers Hostel is set on a working farm, parts of which date back to the 17th century. Crops on the farm are minimally irrigated and rotated to reduce the need for chemical sprays. Solar hot water and efficient underfloor heating and motion-sensitive lights all help save energy, while showers and toilets have low-flow settings and some of the loos are even flushed with rainwater. Hostel staff -- who receive help finding nearby housing to lessen their commutes -- lead stewardship walks, conduct surveys of the local flora and fauna, participate in woodland-management projects, and are working with local universities to bring even greener practices, from straw-bale building to wind turbines, to the farm.
Honorable Mentions: The YHA Lockton in the North Yorkshire Moors has installed a living sedum roof and houses for bees, ladybugs, and hedgehogs to encourage critters to stay for a spell, while the Pembrokeshire Hostel Old School in Wales plants a tree for every bed booked and offers a discount to guests arriving by foot, bus, bike, or any other low-impact mode of transportation. As lovers of green beer, we've also got to give props to the YHA National Forest in Derbyshire for featuring local ales and organic wine in its restaurant, and to the Corris Hostel in Wales for its campaign to save an endangered species -- the local village pub.
2. The UK (Urban): Liverpool International Inn (Liverpool, England)
Appropriately for a hostel smack-dab in the middle of the city's "cultural quarter," the Liverpool International Inn, housed in an old Victorian warehouse, has commissioned local street artists to decorate parts of the building. The hostel has been awarded with silver certification by the UK's green tourism board for its efforts to save energy, such as with efficient lights on timed-motion switches, and recycling -- and encourage visitors to do likewise. "Green Guides" in each room spread the eco-gospel to guests, who can borrow canvas bags to do their shopping and take advantage of plentiful information on public transit and walking tours in the area.
Honorable Mention: The recently remodeled YHA London Earl's Court in West London melds a modern look and conveniences such as Wi-Fi with energy-saving measures and a cafe serving locally sourced produce. Future plans include an organic vegetable plot, composting, and rainwater collection in the small courtyard garden.
3. Gyreum Eco-Lodge (Sligo, Ireland)
Ireland’s first certified eco-lodge, the Gyreum (meaning "round place") caters to trekkers, student groups, yoga and meditation practitioners, and people who want to have a rustic green wedding or commitment ceremony, complete with local food and fair-trade flowers. The unusual main building was constructed with sustainably harvested or scrap timber and has roof insulation made from a mixture of sheep's wool and fiberglass from an old mushroom farm in the area. Gray- and toilet water is processed through a reed-bed system that breaks down toxic materials. The lodge is even hosting a "build your own wind turbine" workshop this summer.
Honorable Mention: The Sleepzone Connemara in County Galway, a 110-bed hostel in an 1800s hunting lodge, has cut its energy use 35 percent by installing efficient lighting and is working on incorporating solar panels, biomass fuels, and water-conservation tactics.
4. Adventurers' Escape (Weem, Perthshire, Scotland)
In a crowded field, the Adventurers' Escape stands out for its green-from-the-ground-up construction. When rehabbing the hostel's brownfield site -- an old garage and petrol station -- the owners used as much of the old building as possible and brought in reclaimed timber, locally grown wood, and stone from around the property. Passive solar heating and good insulation reduces energy needs, which are met by solar power and an efficient, waste-wood-burning boiler. Rainwater is used to wash vehicles and water plants and guests can take clothes-drying lines and free bicycles for a spin.
Honorable Mentions: Also in Perthshire, the Loch Ossian Youth Hostel recycles graywater, uses oil-based "bat-friendly" paint, has one of Scotland's first dry-toilet systems, and is close to many walking routes. In Aberdeenshire, the former lighthouse station turned Rattray Head Eco-Hostel captures rainwater, uses low-energy, motion-sensitive lighting, and is taking steps to make the area more hospitable to wildlife.
Find hip green hostels in Eastern, Southern, and Nordic Europe on page 2.