When you think “hosteling,” what comes to mind?
Five bucks says it’s not toddlers and teddy bears stacked in the dorm beds dreaming of sugar plums.
While it’s true that hosteling has traditionally been a pursuit of the young and penniless, hostels are becoming an increasingly excellent option for families.
Here is an introduction to why families with kids should consider hosteling over hotel stays, what to look for to find a family-friendly hostel, some tricks to getting a private room for your family, what you should plan on bringing with you to a hostel (and what you can get on-site), and a few tips on etiquette when you’re staying in a hostel with your kids.
Benefits of Hosteling With Kids
Finding lodging for families while traveling can be a real challenge. The more children you have, the bigger the challenge and the more expensive it gets. If you’ve got kids and you haven’t tried hosteling with them, give it a try; it’s fun, it’s easy and there are lots of benefits over the traditional hotel stay. Among them, it’s generally cheaper. At $15-20 a bed per night our family of six can stay for an average of $100 a night in a hostel. Try finding two hotel rooms that adjoin for that price!
In addition to being a budget saver, hosteling offers children what we’ve come to call a “culturally broadening experience.” Hostels are famous for housing a cross section of the world. You’re likely to find multiple languages being spoken by folks ages 20-85 in the hostel common areas and you’ll have the benefit of hearing travel stories that span the globe while you’re there.
Most of the time you’ll find a fully stocked kitchen, allowing your kids to eat like they’re at home and minimize the digestive difficulties tiny people often suffer on the road. The common areas are often a treasure trove of books and games as well as interesting people to play with, and the clientele of a hostel are likely to be of a more “child-friendly” and tolerant sort than you’re likely to find at an upscale, adult-oriented hotel. Our kids never fail to find young people to play ping pong or table hockey with, and love to swap their own road stories over wrinkled maps with the dreadlocked twenty-somethings who seem universal.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Hostel With Kids
Obviously, as parents hosteling with children from toddlers to teens over the years, we are looking for different things in a hostel than we were when we were twenty and unattached. While “Mardi Gras party hostel, come here if you want to stay up all night and have fun!” might have been a tempting advertisement in our college years, we opted for the more mellow option a twenty minute walk from downtown New Orleans with the kids. They still came home loaded with beads but were spared the “full Mardi Gras experience,” if you catch my meaning.
Read the visitor reviews carefully, look specifically for evaluations written by other families, and consider the demographic that each hostel is marketing to.
Amenities are everything when traveling with kids. A kitchen, a laundry room, a common area and no lock out hours are my basic criteria when choosing a hostel. If they offer a game or entertainment room, an outdoor patio area where the boys can run – or the holy grail, a family suite – well, that’s just gravy on top.
How to Score a Private Room
The biggest detractor to a hostel stay with kids is the thought of racking in a 24-bunk mixed-sex dorm room with young people in various stages of inebriation wandering in all night long… Or worse.
Been there, done that. All I can tell you is – pack earplugs.
However, it is often possible to score a private room at a hostel at the regular dorm prices. The more kids you have, the easier it gets. We’ve found that most hostels have a six bed dorm room and, if we let them know in advance, they’ll make sure we get it. Now we have a private room (usually with a locking door, and sometimes a bathroom to ourselves) for the same price as the dorm herd is paying. Alwaysask and, most of the time, the hostel hosts are happy to accommodate your request.
What to Bring When Hosteling With Kids
It has long been my travel mantra that “Less is More.” This became even more true after I had kids to carry in addition to luggage.
That being said, children do require extra gear and are more dependent on the comforts of home. So what should you bring? Only what really matters.
Bring no more than three sets of clothes (the hostel has a washer, remember?). Choose multi-purpose gear, like baby backpacks that are free standing so they’re also safe play places and highchairs for meal time.
Find out ahead of time whether or not linens are provided. Many hostels no longer allow any type of outside bedding to be brought in (bed bug risk) and often even towels can be rented cheaply. The more you can rent or borrow at the hostel, the better.
The things that will pay off to pack are the tiny comforts of home that will make your little ones feel safe, secure and happy in the hostel environment: that special teddy or bedtime book, a favorite toy or blankie, and maybe a baby monitor so that a toddler can nap in that locked private room you scored while you make dinner in the kitchen.
Hostel Etiquette for Families
While hostels can be an incredible value and a wonderful experience for families, it is important to remember that they are not specifically designed for kids.
One of the great benefits of a hostel stay is the opportunity to teach your children how to respect other members of a community and work together, sharing the responsibility for the chores that are often a part of a hostel stay. Cleaning up in the kitchen and stripping hostel beds alongside the college kids is great practice for “real world” independent travel in the future.
Our children have often become the mascots of a hostel crowd while we sit back and take advantage of the wisdom and experience of those around us to help in the education of our kids – it’s a learning experience for everyone!
photos by Jennifer Miller & may not be used without permission