If you're a Travel Mama or a Travel Daddy, you may be thinking “Seriously? A hostel? Been there, done that, with my best friend and my backpack, thanks.” I'd wager that you may still have a few stories hidden in that backpack too, and that you think those student backpacking and hostelling days are a thing of the past. Or perhaps not. Hostels have come a long way, baby. Here's why to consider hostels with kids.
Why to choose hostels over hotels
For both accommodation and dining quality, hostels should be considered a serious option for any traveler—solo or with kids—who is both budget conscious and travel-savvy.
My husband and I started staying in hostels as student travelers many years ago. It was an affordable and fun way to travel. Back then, it wasn't easy to book ahead, so we'd time our arrivals for check in-time, and line up for a room. Sometimes it was shared accommodation in a dorm-style women-only or men-only rooms, and sometimes we'd luck out and get a couples room with its own shower facilities. We met new friends, visited different parts of towns and cities in the countries we visited, and saved money during our travels.
Dormitory-style rooms are certainly not everyone's travel mug of tea, and when you're traveling with children or as a family, it's not always practical or desirable to share accommodation. But the great news is that hostels have indeed morphed into offering a wide variety of options that can and do appeal to family travelers and their needs.
Hostels with kids
Many hostels offer private rooms for couples and families, with private washroom facilities. These rooms will be more expensive then staying in shared dormitory rooms, but at a cost well below booking a hotel stay. Bedding and towels are included in your reservation but you'll have to make the beds yourselves. It's pretty DIY, but again, the Euros saved can pay for an extra night's stay or more trips to the gelateria.
Researching and booking hostels
The Internet has changed so much about how we travel, including how to book hostels, read user reviews, and check out their quality without leaving your own home. Many ‘official' hostels belong to an organized network, Hostelling International, and share an online booking site. They adhere to universal rules and regulations, and will require a membership or ‘guest card', either purchased ahead of time or at check-in.
Independent hostels can be more colorful and unpredictable, but still offer a unique and cost-effective hostel experience. These hostels can be booked through Hostels.com, and HostelBookers. Hostelworld.com is a newer kid on the hostel block, popular with younger, Wi-Fi-demanding travelers.
My family has used Hostelling International to research and book our hostel stays, months in advance of our departure dates. HI's system is secure and well-organized. You can search by dates and locations, and read travelers' reviews. Plug in the address to Google Street View and look around the neighborhood too. For high-season travel to popular destinations, booking ahead is an absolute must. Good hostels book up fast. Some hostels may require a deposit to confirm a reservation, which does differ from hotel bookings, but if you've planned carefully, that shouldn't be a problem.
Hostels in Europe
Like most hotels in Europe, hostels include breakfast in a communal dining hall in your reservation. Some even offer dinner menus on weekend evenings. From our experience, these breakfasts were the best time to load up for the day, and take an extra muffin or piece of fruit for a mid-morning snack.
Breakfasts are often served buffet-style, and offer a wide variety of hot and cold beverages, fruit, muesli, yogurts, different breads and toppings (Nutella, yay!), and cereal. They may also feature hot offerings like porridge, eggs or local specialities. It's not usually fancy, but my family has eaten extremely well and walked away stuffed for the day's outings.
Ups and downs of hostelling
We've had great success in staying in hostels in Scandinavia, France and Switzerland. The quality of the hosteling network in these countries is usually very high, the premises clean and well-maintained, and the food offerings delicious.
My husband and I did have a poor experience (pre-children) with a hostel in a large city in Germany many years ago, and ended up in an expensive hotel for the evening. Fortunately, the Internet has allowed travelers to really vet and research their accommodation choices before they leave home, and although nasty surprises can still happen, I feel it's more avoidable now than in the past.
Hostels deserve a second look as a viable and affordable accommodation option for family travelers. It's a great opportunity to impart a sense of fun and adventure to your kids while seeing the world, and save some precious travel dollars along the way. And you don't have to sacrifice comfort, cleanliness, privacy or fun by doing so.
Would you consider booking a hostel stay on your next European adventure? Let us know in the comments!
All photos from YouthHostel.ch.