The Pros & Cons of Hostels – Are they good for families?

The Pros & Cons of Staying in Hostels - Are they good for families?

What immediate thoughts come to mind when you think of staying in hostels?

Let me guess – late night parties, bed bugs, smelly bathrooms, dirty kitchens, naked hairy men roaming the corridors, sleeping next to strangers, run down facilities, and sleepless nights.

Now, let me ask you this?

Can you not find all of the above in a hotel, motel, apartment or a camp ground? Sure you can. My sister came home from Thailand with bed bugs from a 5 STAR HOTEL.

How about these thoughts – great locations, cheap prices, full kitchen facilities, free WiFi, free movie nights, free dinners, friendly people and staying in cool places like old mansions, converted prisons and tree houses.

My point is, there are pros and cons of all accommodation types.

Are Hostels Good for Families?

Good question.

Before we had kids, a lot of our long-term travel consisted of staying in hostels as they are a great option for saving money on the road and meeting other travellers.

These days, we would only ever consider a hostel stay if it has private family rooms and kitchen facilities – we are done with dorms!

Hostels have probably changed a lot in the years since we’ve had children and aren’t the feral places you might be used to.

Many Hostels are recognising the gap in the market and are rushing in to fill it with family style accommodation and facilities.

The Pros of Staying in Hostels

1. Location

They are almost always in great locations. In major cities they are generally very well located close to public transport lines and tourist sites. In coastal areas they are usually within walking distance to a beach and with views.

How much would it cost for a family to stay in a hotel on a beach or a major CBD? Check out the view below of the Opera House from the Sydney YHA. A family room here is much less than you would get for any other hotel in the area.

View of Sydney form the YHA Hostel

2. Price

Depending on whether you are solo, a couple, or a family, a private or family room in a hostel are almost always cheaper than hotels, and dorm rooms are cheaper again.To stay in a hotel or a resort as a family can get expensive.

3. Sociable

Great places for meeting fellow like-minded travelers, particularly if you are solo and need some company and support. And you don’t need to stay in a dorm to get a good conversation going, most hostels have common rooms and notice boards.

For families, they provide a homely atmosphere and an opportunity for your children to mingle with people from all over the world. 

4. Cheap Services

Hostels generally have cheap and sometimes free services such as WiFi, laundry, luggage storage, fully-equipped kitchen facilities, local tours, live music, pool tables, and free meal nights.

5. Communal Kitchens

A great way to save on food costs and meet other travelers. And if you’re a family it helps your children to learn how to respect other members of a community and the sharing of facilities.

Just make sure you clean up after yourself and label any food you leave in the fridge or pantry.

6. Friendly and Helpful Staff

In our personal experience, staff in hostels have ‘generally’ been very friendly and helpful. More often than not the staff are either other travelers or a local who enjoys the interaction with the traveling community.

Hostel workers are usually a fantastic source of information for things to do and see in the area, especially when it comes to budget travel. They often organise tours of the area, and sometimes for free.

7. Games Rooms

They have hang out rooms, often filled with games, TV’s, and DVD’s. Great for children so they are not confined to one small room in a hotel, and a god send for parents with older children who need time out themselves.

8. Cafes and Bars

We enjoy hostels that have built-in cafes and bars, as long as we are not sleeping directly above or below it. Another way to socialise and generally they have great drink specials.

Bare in mind that some hostels can be party places, and the revelers can find you wherever you are in the building, so just know what your style and tolerance level is.

9. Supporting Local People

We once stayed for a week in a local families guesthouse in a rural area of Laos. A very simple establishment with only three bungalows on stilts and just a bed with a mosquito net.

This family had actually lived inside a cave for 10 years during the Vietnam War, only coming outside in the daytime to risk their lives to tend to their crops.

They were amazing people. It was a great feeling to support their family business. Experiences like this give you a whole new perspective on life and really makes traveling what it is.

The Cons of Staying in Hostels

1. Personal Space

If you stay in a dorm, things can get pretty cramped. Your “personal space” is pretty much limited to your bed and locker. That’s the trade off for staying cheap. Just understand and tolerate this.

If you’re traveling in a group of 4 or 6, you may even get a dorm to yourselves.

2. You May Not Meet Any Locals

Don’t become a “Permanent Resident” of your hostel. Some travelers literally hang there 24/7 and drink, sleep, watch TV, play pool, gossip and what not. You may as well save yourself a bunch of money on flights because that’s something you can do with your friends at home.

I don’t know about you, but we love to get out and meet the locals, mix in with the day to day living that goes on in the town, and experience the culture.

3. Can Be Party Houses

If you are young and looking for a rock-in good time, hostels can be a blast. We’ve been there done that, and whilst we still love a good time, these days we prefer a local bar/pub that’s more of a traveling experience in that town and interacting with the locals.

Ask around and check reviews concerning the atmosphere and character of a hostel.

4. Interrupted Sleep

If you’re staying in a dorm, consider the fact that people will be coming and going due to late or early flights and tours, they may be out clubbing, or they may be sleep talkers or snorers (nothing worse).

If you have an en suite attached people showering at all hours can be quite annoying also. Just be prepared to tolerate this – investing in some ear plugs and an open mind can do wanders.

5. Communal Bathrooms

If you sleep in a dorm, you could be sharing a bathroom with up to a dozen people, which can lead to dirtiness and long waits for showers or no hot water. Again, your personal space is compromised.

Points to Consider When Booking

1. Think Location

Being located somewhere practical is SUPER important. Make sure you have easy access to airports, public transport, attractions, and the ability to get out and walk to most things.

Also, make sure your hostel is located in a safe neighborhood – there is nothing worse than feeling trapped inside your hostel because the area seems unsafe.

2. Reviews

Most sites will have reviews from previous travelers. By all means read them, and generally they will help you get a feel for a place, but in the same token some people have nothing better to do than to complain for the sake of complaining.

Go with your gut – it’s usually correct.

3. Independent Hostel OR an Organization?

Personally we have mostly stayed in independently owned hostels and have really enjoyed them.

However, in Australia we’ve mostly stayed in YHA or HI (Hosteling International) properties. You may have to join their annual membership, but it provides for great discounts and privileges.

4. Dorm Size

The larger the dorm, the more potential annoyances but the cheaper the bed. Try to stay in smaller dorms if your budget allows.

Remember you’re roughing it. Just consider the trade off between money, personal space, and a decent nights sleep.

5. Are The Dorms Segregated?

Some hostels only allow male and female configurations. On two occasions we found ourselves separated by this rule – once in Victoria Falls Zimbabwe, and another time in Santa Monica, LA.

As a married couple, this was quite annoying, and considering we like to travel light and share things, also unpractical. So if you are a couple, just double check to see the hostels rules and regulations.

6. What Facilities?

At the top of our priority list are cooking facilities. Does the hostel have an equipped kitchen to cook your own meals, and also refrigeration space to store any items you purchase at a local store.

Does it have 24 hour reception, free WiFi, a tour booking desk, laundry facilities, a pool, BBQ areas, a garden, private rooms with en-suites, lockers?

Komune Resort and Backpackers - Coolangatta, Australia

7. Any Extras?

Does your nightly rate come with free breakfast, bedding, towels, transport to and from the airport/bus station, complimentary dinner’s?

All of these are nice little bonuses but not always included.

Booking Hostels

A booking site we like is Hostel Zoo which has a free search and comparison service allowing you to book the right hostel at the best price. They utilise the booking engines from the top hostel sites to provide the most comprehensive listing available.

In Australia, we prefer to stay at YHA properties which have excellent standards, and many of them are hotel quality.

YHA also has a great membership program providing for discounts on accommodation, tours, attractions and more.

If you visit our home of Sydney, check out our review of YHA Sydney Harbour and the YHA Central.

Do you stay in hostels?

What are your tips?

Craig Makepeace is the founder of yTravel Blog and has been traveling the world since 2002, first with his wife Caz, and now with his two daughters. Get his free email series on the 4 best ways to reduce travel costs. Follow him on Google+

24 Comments on “The Pros & Cons of Hostels – Are they good for families?”

  1. I have never stayed in a hostel before but I wouldn’t be apposed to it. My brother travels a lot and stays at them most of the time. It saves a ton of money on lodging.
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  2. Great post! We are looking into traveling more and have never stayed in a hostel.
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  3. Marilyn

    Excellent post…a ton of useful info

  4. I’ve stayed in them before and most likely will stay with them again when my girl is a tad bit older, I also notice how some hostels and dorms have age restrictions and some wouldnt allow anyone under 18, and others under 6 — so i guess that’s a good thing to remember when booking for a family as well.

    WiFi at dorms and hostels tend to be more accessible and faster (and free) compared to regular hotels, more so in business hotels where they charge an arm and a leg.
    Eileen, The Super Tourists recently posted..El Nido Philippines: TOUR B as in Snake Island (and others)
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  5. We always choose hostels before hotels, although do admit to choosing self catering apartments a little more often now that we are parents. Having said that, if we ever went back to The Big Island in Hawaii, it would be hostels all the way, even with kids, some of the best hostels we’ve stayed in.

  6. We used to stay in hostels before we had kids. Now, I find that often the family rooms at hostels cost as much as a vacation apartment rental, so we usually go with those. However, I occasionally look into them when visiting an expensive city, or if we will only be passing through for 1-2 nights.
    Chamisa recently posted..Brugge, Belgium – With Kids!
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  7. I’ve encountered several families in hostels as well (including one who travelled with a rice cooker for meals? Hardcore!), but I suppose it won’t always be the cheapest solution when with a family. Although, cost aside, I’ve found that independent hostels tend to have loads of unique character and are actually a really nice addition to the travel experience as a whole!

  8. These days, I get a private room at a hostel every time one is available. It’s cheaper than a hotel room, locations are always convenient to downtown, and you still get privacy. If you want community it’s there. Granted, can be tough for families but there are hostels out there that do provide for that. A private room in a hostel is still a good cheap option where you get the basics and spend less than a hotel.

    Each hostel is different so hard to lump them all together. I would just recommend people do their research, know their budget, and find the best option that fits all their needs. Hostels definitely offer that.
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  9. Don’t you get tired with throwaway friendships in hostels? Everyone is eager to talk with each other about where they have been and where they are going. And then the next they they go away and everyone forgets each other. That is why we tend to avoid hostels.

    Our social needs have been better satisfied with hospex contacts and living like locals with locals.
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  10. We’ve been staying in a mix of hostels/guesthouses/budget hotels in SE Asia, but always in private rooms as it’s pretty cheap. London will be our first taste of a typical dorm – eep!

  11. I stayed in hostels almost completely when I backpacked through Europe many years ago. Now that I have a family we have not actually tried a hostel but I remember even then there were some family-friendly ones. Great tips and thanks for putting the bug in my ear to check this out!
    Kiera @easytravelmom recently posted..Making life and travel easy
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  12. Hello Caz and Craig,

    this is a great overview which focuses on the values of hostels!

    To the cons:

    1. Personal Space – this is correct! The personal space is limited, but this may be also an opportunity in getting more comfortable with other people and not to take his self to serious. For a limited time, this is a big opportunity, I guess.

    2. You May Not Meet Any Locals – Absolutely, and this is a pity! Therefore we developed GoDashBoard, to see who else will be there in your hostel PLUS you can connect with locals. In this way, you can do whatever you want. Maybe there are cool people in the hostel, maybe a local would be better for this destination? It always depends!

    3. Can Be Party Houses – We always recommend to check this out before you book. The description will tell you which kind of hostel you are booking! Plus, if you are a party traveler, even better to find the right spot. It always depends on the motivation to travel.

    4. Interrupted Sleep – Ou yes, this might happen and happened to me as well couple of times. But over the time I figured something out: Ask the trouble-shooters with a calm voice if they could be more quite as people are sleeping here. Most of the times those trouble-shooters were ashamed and left, or slowed down.

    5. Communal Bathrooms – This depends on the budget. If you share with 200 people, this can be really disgusting plus waiting time. Therefore we recommend to check out with how many people you might need to share the bathrooms.

    Again, this is a great overview! Let us know if you need any hostels and maybe you want to check out our website as well!

    Best regards,

  13. I have never experienced staying in a hostel when traveling, especially when I am with my kids. My husband and I usually prefer hotels. Maybe if my kids are a bit grown up, we will try hostel accommodation.
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  14. we (my husband, myself and 2 children (8 and 16) were traveling in SanDiego area and stayed in a variety of places including a 4 star hotel right on marina with all the amenities (big big bucks if not for my husband’s business trip), another nice hotel through priceline (bigbucks) and a hostel in 2 family rooms. one for us an one for the kids. When I asked my kids which place they liked best of our stays, they both said the hostel. Go figure. they loved the experience and to meet people from around the world.

    • That is so cool Bet! Hostels have that warm homely feeling which is what kids totally love. My girls tonight were playing in the toy area of the hostel with other small children and they loved it! It’s so great for them

  15. […] as a couple and, for the last few years, as a family. They provide some great tips, such as the pros and cons of staying at a hostel as a family and tips for flying with children, and refreshingly honest confessions, such as the time when one […]

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