It might seem odd that in a discussion on affordable travel accomodations for families, I would talk about hostels last.
So, are hostels good for families? Well, I won’t say that they aren’t worth looking into at all. There are times and situations that call for short term solutions, and in those instances, we’re happy to use both hostels, as well as the occasional hotel.
But on the whole, we found that neither hostels nor hotels were a feasible solution for our family. Why? Well, there are a slew of reasons, but these are the primary ones:
- Despite their reputation as a cheap place to stay, hostels rarely work out cheaper for families (more on this below).
- As a married couple with, err, needs, we can’t stay in one-room dwellings with our crew indefinitely.
- Hostels in particular can be noisy late into the night, since they cater to the young, single, and often bar-hopping crowd. This doesn’t fare well for babies or young children who go to bed as early as 7 or 8pm, or a mom who sleeps lightly and ends up grumpy and groggy the next day.
- Hostels didn’t always feel like a safe option for a family with young children.
- Hotels were usually far too expensive to stay in for more than a night or two.
- We’d rather not split up our family into two hostel or hotel rooms, but the larger our family gets, the trickier it is to find rooms, beds and policies that will allow us to cram into just one.
- Our kids go buggy in hotels after not too long, and some hostels, too (although hostels are preferable because some have excellent public spaces which goes a long way towards helping manage kid energy levels).
- Hostel beds are very thin and uncomfortable for the most part, and we’ve frequently been expected to make our own beds as well. This isn’t the end of the world, but when you’re travel-weary and arriving with a handful of really tired kids, having to still get all the sheets and blankets and pillow cases set up is just another hassle.
*Making the best of a very crowded 6-bunk room in England. Ryan’s expression is for purely for the camera and kids, but a room like this for too many nights is enough to cause this reaction for real.*
Our thoughts on hostels for families
I had initially anticipated we would make frequent use of hostels on our year-long trip. But we didn’t (and still don’t), and one of the main reasons was the challenge of finding private family rooms.
It’s thankfully a growing trend for hostels to offer more private rooms or smaller dorm-style rooms. This means you can sometimes get rooms with 4, 6 or 8 beds, or even family-style rooms that include one larger bed and several small beds, and book the rooms so you have them all to yourself.
Why do we need a private room instead of using the dorms? To be frank, we have zero comfort in going to sleep with all of our young children in a room with strangers. The scary scenarios that could take place in that situation just make it an absolute no-go for us.
One tip in this regard: If you’re booking a hostel accomodation online, you can rarely specify that you want all 6 beds (or however many you need) in ONE room, all for yourself. If you want to have a private space and the entire family together, you usually need to call or email the hostel and specifically request they adapt your reservation to reflect this. Otherwise you may arrive to find out that you indeed have 6 beds… in different rooms, that do not belong to only your family.
The times when staying in a hostel worked out for us:
In England, Ireland and Switzerland, we found hostels where we were able to rent entire 6-bed “dorm” rooms and have them to ourselves. While this isn’t exactly ideal (because it means each parent has to sleep on their own twin bunk bed) it works well enough for a night or two.
In Norway, we used a hostel in downtown Oslo and were able to get two rooms – one with a double bed and one with two sets of bunk beds – right beside each other, and they gave us extra keys so both parents and kids could easily get in and out of each other’s rooms, and this was a satisfactory short-term solution as well.
*Enjoying the peaceful Li River in Yangshuo, China*
In China, we also found a couple hostels in Xian and Yangshuo that catered more to families and offered larger rooms with double or queen size beds, more like a hotel room, but often a little cheaper. These were positive experiences, although neither of those hostels included a self-catering kitchen but only a restaurant, so at that point a lot of the savings go out the window since you can’t easily prepare your own meals.
Once, we even lucked out in a Ceksy Krumlov, Czech Republic hostel, to be able to book an affordable apartment that was connected to a hostel, but included a private bathroom and small kitchenette. It was perfect.
The other primary reason we avoided hostels in favor of apartment or house rentals was because of the cost.
I know, that sounds ridiculous, but it’s true and here’s why: It was our experience that hostels wanted to charge us per person, not per family.
As a result, particularly since we’re a large family of seven (or six if they let us bring the baby for free), we could actually do better in one or two cheap hotel rooms or most certainly in a house rental.
All of that said, we’re not completely opposed to using hostels. We’ve had quite a few positive experiences and consider them a potential place to stay depending on the location, purpose of our visit, and length of our stay.
*A tour at the Guiness factory while staying in a hostel in Dublin, Ireland*
Are hostels good for families? These are the reasons I think they can be:
- Hands down, the best part of hostels is meeting other travelers. Meeting interesting people is one of our favorite parts of traveling in general, but hostels are special in that they bring together a unique group of indie, budget travelers. They’re our kind of people.
- We’ve found that hostel staff and owners are (usually) particularly interested in helping travelers have an amazing time exploring the area. Whether it’s their home and they’re proud to share it, or they’re ex-pats who fell in love with a place and decided to stay and open up or work at a hostel, they usually have a passion for a place that’s hard to find elsewhere.
- Much more so than in a hotel, many hostels have comfortable public living spaces. This can look like a large living room, games room, or dining room, or it can be a lovely garden or courtyard outside with tables and chairs, and sometimes even free bikes to borrow or toys for the kids.
- Depending where you are, it could save you money. Compared to staying in European hotels, hostels are often a lot cheaper (you’ll notice most of the hostels we’ve stayed in are in expensive European countries). They’re certainly worth researching for this reason. (Whereas in China we opted for hostels because of our negative experiences in the budget hotels we tried – in comparison, hostels were so much more pleasant.)
- They frequently come with a shared self-catering kitchen where you can go in and make your own meals, store food in the fridge, etc. Just note this isn’t a given, so definitely confirm whether each individual hostel does indeed have a kitchen you can use. They also sometimes have a laundry room where you can pay a small fee to do a load.
In the next post, I’ll dive more into hotels – the good, the bad and the ugly, and our best strategies for making them work for our family.
Have you stayed in hostels as a family? What was your experience like?
This post is part of a series on Family World Travel… for Less:
- Day 1 – Intro
- Day 2 – Long Haul Flights
- Day 3 – Flights for Families, Part 1
- Day 4 – Flights for Families, Part 2
- Day 5 – Why We Don’t Use Round-the-World Tickets
- Day 6 – 45 Totally Inexpensive or Even Free Things to Do While Traveling the World
- Day 7 – Four Ways Packing Light Can Save You Money
- Day 8 – How to Save Money on Travel Gear
- Day 9 – The Cheapest Countries to Visit
- Day 10 – Stay a Little Longer (Why Long Term Travel is Cheaper)
- Day 11 – Affordable Family Accomodations
- Day 12 – How to Find the Best Long-Term Accomodations