Why Not Try Family Hostelling?

Many people think hostelling is just for singles and young adults – the college crowd. We’ve discovered it’s also great for families with school-age children. In fact, we can’t think of a better way to connect with other travelers, learn new things about the world, and have lots of fun together.

The hostel we stayed at in Redwood National Park, California.


When we hostel, we typically stay in a private family room and make use of shared bathroom facilities. We’ve always found the bathrooms adequately clean. Though at most hostels, private rooms are in short supply, but we usually don’t have trouble getting one if we book far enough in advance and travel during off-peak times.

Some hostels offer free morning breakfasts. One we visited in California had
sourdough pancakes every morning. One we stayed at in Germany had bread rolls, cheeses, meat slices, juice, and cereals.

Inside a family room at a California hostel.


More commonly, hostels in the USA have kitchen facilities that are open to guests. Expect to find pots, pans, plates, cups, silverware, and plenty of refrigerator space. Eating in, rather than going to a restaurant every night, enables us to save bundles on our food bill. Typically, with such an arrangement, we shop at the local grocery stores, and eat like royalty for less than $40 a day (and that includes snacks we may purchase during the day while out exploring). Often we spend half that amount. Two or three days in a row of that sort of savings leaves us plenty for an occasional splurge in a fancy restaurant.

Usually, the hostel’s kitchen will have shelves where guests can leave their food. Simply put your name on each item, and then find yourself an empty space on the shelf to store your stuff. There is also a refrigerator where you may keep perishable food. Of course, when you use the hostel’s kitchen, you must clean up after yourself. That’s part of the deal.

Morning chores are also a time to pitch in. Usually lasting no more than 15 minutes, chores might include vacuuming the carpet in the common area, sweeping the mats, cleaning the shower, or taking out the garbage. The reason for chores is so the hostels won’t need to pay to have all of the cleaning done. This translates into lower lodging prices for guests.

Hostels generally close during the days (around 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.). If you’re
the type who likes to hang out in a hotel room all day, you’ll feel like you’re getting kicked out. On the other hand, if you’re the type who likes to explore, you won’t have any complaints. We generally get out the door at 10 a.m. on the dot. Mandy and Heidi are NOT morning people.

In the evenings, we enjoy the company of other travelers in the commons area that doesn’t have a TV. Sometimes if there are musical instruments in the hostel (and people who can play them), we entertain ourselves with live music. More often, our children play board games with each other or find another hosteller to join in.

I’m not much of a games person. I much prefer meeting and talking with the other
guests. On our most recent family vacation, we stayed in four different hostels. Here’s a sampling of the people we met:

  • A freelance accountant from Juneau, Alaska who travels several months a year.
  • A man who worked for 10+ years as a teacher of English and editor of a magazine in Japan.
  • A student from Bombay, India, who is in the USA studying to be an engineer.
  • A cartoonist and computer animation specialist from Germany who hopes to find a job in the USA.
  • A recently graduated chiropractor, in the process of building a new practice in the Bay Area.
  • A woman who works in fundraising for an animal rights nonprofit organization.
  • Two graduate physics students from Germany.
  • An actor from LA who has a clowning business on the side.
  • An English woman who just graduated from college in the UK and is on a journey around the world. She wants to get a graduate degree in geography, and one of the prerequisites for her chosen program is to spend at least one year traveling.
  • A young British woman on assignment with a major newspaper in the UK. She is traveling the globe, writing articles about the places she visits.
  • Two women who have a guitar/violin duo. They have performed at night clubs in Ireland and England, and are now performing in the USA.

As a rule, the hostellers we met were creative, highly educated, well-traveled, and had lots to talk about. So this more than made up for not having a TV.

One of our day hikes while hostelling. This was taken on top of San Luis Peak near San Luis Obispo.


Oh, and two more things:

  1. Hostelling is usually much less expensive than staying in a hotel (for family accommodation, we paid around $50 a night)
  2. Hostellers have access to lots of helpful tips from the staff for things like where the best and most affordable restaurants are, good hiking trails, cultural events, and more.

Granted, hostelling won’t suit every family. However, if you enjoy meeting new people, prefer staying in home-like accommodations, don’t mind pitching in to keep things clean, have a limited budget, and are fascinated with learning about other places and cultures, you may discover, as we have, that hostelling is a great way to go.


John O. Andersen is a self-employed carpet cleaner in Portland, Oregon. He and his wife Mandy have two children. In his spare time, John volunteers as a docent at the Oregon History Center, and the Oregon Military museum. John lived in England for four years as a maintenance officer in the Air Force. He speaks German fluently. Travel is his lifelong passion. For other essays by John, go to www.unconventionalideas.com.