In 1981, I set off with a backpack to see Europe. At that time, hosteling was the province of youth. The upper age limit for staying in most hostels was 26; families with children were not welcome. Hostels provided barebones accommodations, requiring guests to bring their own sleep sacks, as linens were not available. Hostels had lock out times during the day and curfews in the evenings. Many hostels expected guests to participate in the work of maintaining the hostel by doing chores. The cost of an overnight stay was unbelievably low, and this was the main benefit of using a hostel. The physical conditions in hostels often were less than desirable. In some hostels, hundreds of guests slept on sleeping sacks on the floor of an open room without a foot of space between them. In other hostels, strangers slept six or twelve to a room on army bunks. Bathrooms were usually located in hallways and had gang showers. Theft was a commonly reported problem.
And of course there was always the crème de la crème of European hostels such as those in Switzerland, where cleanliness and quality were the hallmark.
Today, some hostels in Europe cater to traveling families, with special family rooms allowing families to sleep together, without strangers and with amenities such as in-room bathrooms. Even hostels catering to youth do not ban families. Few hostels have lockouts or curfews or require guests to do chores any more. And most hostels in Europe today will provide linens, for an additional charge. You can leave the old sleep sack (a sheet folded over lengthwise and sewn across the bottom and ¾ up the open side) in the attic as a memoir of your hosteling youth. In 2004, I visited European hostels with internet access, children’s play equipment, tv rooms, laundry rooms, full kitchens, and bike rental.
After staying in several family friendly hostels with my husband and three kids, I compiled this list of reasons why hostels offer greater benefits than hotels do to families. Why choose a hostel over a hotel when traveling with your family in Europe?
Save Money on Accommodations Cost
Bringing your family to Europe can be expensive. Lodging is typically the most expensive aspect of the trip. Hostels in Europe are much cheaper than hotels even when the cost of renting linens is factored in. Using a hostel saves families money.
Save Money on Meals
A family staying in a hostel can also save money on restaurant meals by eating on site. Many of Europe’s hostels have community kitchens in which a family can store, prepare and eat food. Eating at the hostel is considerably cheaper than eating in restaurants every day. By minimizing restaurant costs, a family staying in a hostel can justify splurging on a few elegant restaurants. Eating family meals in a hostel also minimizes the stress of constant eating out, an important consideration when traveling with children.
Hostels usually offer low cost prepared breakfasts on site as well, sometimes for a small additional charge.
Make Your Dream a Reality
With the combined cost savings on accommodations and meals, using hostels may make the difference between your family’s Europe trip remaining a dream and becoming a reality. The difference between staying in, and eating many meals in, a hostel versus relying on hotels and restaurants can easily add up to a hundred or more dollars per day savings for the average family. The emotional impact of knowing that your family can operate from a home base with a kitchen may also motivate you to pursue the family dream trip.
Hostels are a great place to meet international travelers. If you are traveling in Europe for example, you can expect to meet people from all over that continent as well as a smattering of people from around the world. Unlike a hotel, a hostel climate is friendly and interactive. In the group breakfast room or tv room, it is easy to strike up conversations. Introducing children in the family to people from around the world is one of the primary benefits of bringing them to Europe. The family who interacts with people will have a richer European experience than those who get their stimulation from tourist attractions.
Find Travel and Play Companions
Because the hostel environment encourages interactions among guests, travelers looking for traveling companions are likely to meet others with like intentions. I have met people in hostels and spent an afternoon seeing an attraction together and I have also met people with whom I have left town and traveled to another country.
Sometimes I have not met anyone to travel or tour with but have just had interesting dining companions that I would not have had had I stayed in a hotel and dined in a traditional restaurant. Admittedly, this prospect was less important to me when traveling with my family than when traveling solo.
For a family with children traveling in Europe, one of the important benefits of staying in a hostel is to find playmates. There are plenty of kids in family hostels and usually plenty of games for them to play together.
Get the Inside Scoop on Attractions and Locales
Hostels are chock full of world travelers. Your family may meet people who are finishing their stay and can give you great to-the-minute advice on local attractions. Your family may also meet people who have been to places you have yet to go and can put you on the inside track to a successful trip.
Practice Foreign Language Skills
Because hostels introduce your family to guests from around the world, they offer unparalleled opportunity to practice foreign language skills in an extended conversational format. If you want your children exposed to foreign languages in real-life settings, a hostel is an ideal place to bring them.
Buying tickets or ordering in a restaurant, by contrast, offer minimal, functional conversational opportunities in many cases, as the staff is too busy to stand by and chat. With so many countries so close together in Europe, any given hostel is likely to attract people of varying nationalities speaking varying languages.
Where Family Hostels are Optimal
With all of the advantages of hosteling in Europe, are some areas known for high quality hostels? Yes. The most desirable family hostels in Europe seem to be in Switzerland and in Scandinavia. In the Swiss Alps, where hotels are pricey, hostels are still expensive but still much less expensive than a hotel room. They are uniquely clean and accommodating. In Interlaken, we were able to prepare meals and do our laundry on site, and the hostel provided games such as badminton, pool, foosball, and scrabble for guests to play. The hostel offered not one but several computers for guests to use. In Denmark, we were able to rent bikes on site, do laundry, cook meals, surf the net, and otherwise make ourselves right at home. The breakfast offered at minimal cost was a huge spread of breads, cheeses, meats, pastries and cereals.
When planning a family trip to Europe, consider these benefits of choosing family hostels over hotels.