Choose a Hostel for Your Next Family Vacation: Here’s Why

Cabin on a lake

Written by Eileen Gunn on

Eileen P. Gunn is a veteran journalist, parent, and traveler. She’s written for Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, and U.S. News and World Report. She’s traveled on five continents (three with her daughter). She also founded the family travel website FamiliesGoTravel!

Cabin on a lake

Hostels are a great option for families traveling on a budget. Here’s how to find hostels that are okay with kids and what to expect from a stay at 11 of them.

If you’re looking for affordable family-friendly lodging in pricey vacation destinations, consider a hostel for budget-friendly travel. No I didn’t misspell “hotel.” Hostels have come a long way since you’re backpacking days, offering private rooms for families, modern shared kitchens, breakfast and other meals, games, onsite cafes, and more.

What to Expect

The rooms will be simple. You’ll have to make your own beds (many but not all provide linens) and pack towels and all your toiletries. You might or might not have your own bathroom. Hostels often have good locations for the price, and might have other families for your kids to socialize with. Many even court families with private rooms, games in the common room, and more. All in all, a well-run hostel can be more pleasant and reliable than a budget hotel.

Packing Tips

Hostel rooms are typically not spacious, so packing cubeswill help you to pack compactly and to stay organized (you might even be able to pack for your whole family in one bag!). A water-resistant toiletry bagwill also come in handy when you’re using a shared bathroom.

You’ll probably be out and about on your hostel vacation, too, so you’ll want a good day bag. A small, sleek backpackor cross-body bagwork best for a city vacation. They look good but still have plenty of pockets for staying organized and keeping important things handy. It’s also a safe bet to bring luggage that locks(or grab a TSA-friendly lock) so your belongings are secure when they’re out of your sight.

Easy Hostel Search

Websites including Hostel Geeksor Hostels.comare outstanding resources for finding a hostel that will best fit your family’s needs. Just type in your destination and look for places that mention family rooms or private rooms for four to six people. Joining Hostelling Internationalor any of its country-based branches will give you access to hostels that meet agreed-upon standards, and sometimes at a small discount.

Choosing Your Hostel

These 10 family-friendly hostels around the world will give you a taste of what’s out there.

North America

Where: Washington, D.C.
Hostelling International
What to expect:
Not only is this hostel walking distance of the White House and National Mall, but the price of lodging includes tours of the monuments, Georgetown or Arlington Cemetery. Sometime they score tickets to events at the Kennedy Center for their guests, too. Try to book dates that coincide with weekly pasta and taco dinner nights. If you don’t, you can use the large shared kitchen, then hang out in the TV room or library. Private rooms for three with a shared bath are $119. Rooms with four or six bunks can be had for $45 per person.

Where: Chicago

What: Urban Holiday Lofts

What to expect: Emma Pamley-Liddell from Journey of a Nomadic Family recently checked her family of five into this hostel in on a quiet side street Chicago’s fast-rising Bucktown neighborhood. Families can book private rooms with en suite or shared bathrooms. An upstairs lounge offers city skyline views, a flat screen TV, pool table, Xbox, board games, and a computer center. Shop for local ingredients at Olivia’s Market next door for the meals you cook in the shared kitchen.

Where: Luray, VA

What: Open Arms at the Edge of Town Hostel & Inn

A large Cape-Cod-style house near Shenandoah National Park, this hostel offers families the opportunity to sleep inside or pitch your tent out back. Either way, you can roast marshmallows in the outside fire pit after making dinner in the shared kitchen. You can also pop your own popcorn, cue up a movie, or play a board game in the common living room. They provide shared bathrooms, towels, bedding (indoors), and laundry facilities along with a shuttle to a nearby trailhead. Rates are $30 per person indoors, and $15 per person for camping; cash only.

Where: British Columbia, Canada

What: Fireweed Hostel

What to expect: In addition to great views of Yoho National Park, this hostel offers a two-bedroom suite for $100-$200 (depending on the time of year) or four-to-six bedroom dorms that a family can take over for $27 per person. A spacious shared kitchen has ample amenities and there is a dining room and lounge. Given how expensive lodging can be near national parks, this is more of a budget-friendly option than you might think, especially if you like sharing tips on the best hikes with other travelers.

Where: Cape Breton, Canada

What: Hi-Cabot Trail Hostel

What to expect: This Nova Scotia hostel offers views of Pleasant Bay, direct access to the Cabot Trail and a beach a few minutes away. Book one of the three family rooms and make use of the outdoor Barbecue, fire pit, and horse shoes. Inside there are board games and a book exchange. If you cook in the shared kitchens feel free to grab a handful of herbs from the outdoor garden (in summer). They can store your bikes or rent you theirs. Prices start at $20 per person.


Where: Brussels

What: Brussels Train Hostel

What to expect: Kids who are obsessed with trains will love this hostel, with a real train car perched on the roof. Families can choose private rooms, suites, and apartments that are designed to resemble sleeper cars and have private bathrooms. There’s no kitchen, but there is a barbecue, evening bar, and breakfast for a small fee. Use the outdoor patio space, library, or rec room to eat, read, play board games, or play a game of table soccer. Prices range from about $87 to $150 for rooms sleeping three to six people. Dorms that sleep nine start at $23 per person.

Where: Saas-Fee (the Alps) Switzerland

What: Wellness Hostel 4000

What to expect: Kristin Reinhard, a mom and blogger at Simple Family Travel liked this hostel because it has nine family rooms with private bathrooms and was filled with other families. The nightly fee included access to the pool, with whirlpools and kids waterslide, in the spa right next door. There’s no kitchen access but breakfast is included and lunch and dinner buffets are budget friendly. You can also order a packed lunch to take hiking or skiing. There is ski storage, a common room with a reading nook, TV, ping-pong, pool, and board games. Cribs and changing tables are available, too. Prices for family rooms run about $240 in low season to $335 in peak ski season, which might seem like a lot, but only until you start pricing area hotels.


Where: Sydney, Australia

What: Sydney Harbour YHA/The Rocks!
What to expect: Sara Wellensiek of the parenting blog MomEndeavors calls this hostel fantastic because of it’s handy central location in Sydney and private family rooms that sleep three to five people. A spacious outdoor patio and some rooms offer views of the harbor and opera house. There is a full kitchen and the option to buy cold or ready-to-cook breakfast fixings. Take advantage of cheap burger and sausage nights, free pancake Wednesday, and free tours of the nearby seaside or archeology site. Laundry facilities and a rooftop barbecue are handy, too. Prices range from $112 to $192 for family rooms depending on time of year and type of room.

Where: Brisbane, Australia

What: Brisbane City YHA

What to expect: Tom Stevenson, who frequently reviews hostels for his Traveling Tom blog recommends it for families because of its inexpensive family rooms and—wait for it—rooftop pool! There’s also a large shared kitchen, outdoor deck with dining tables, and stunning views. Look for free walking tours twice a week and cheap tacos, wings, or pasta and wine on select evenings. Rates start at $94 for a family room and don’t climb much higher.

Where: Queenstown, New Zealand

What: Queenstown Lakefront YHA

What to expect: Stevenson prefers this hostel for families because it’s both close to the city center and “next to the lake, with amazing views.” More like a small lodge than a hostel, it offers a huge shared kitchen, outdoor dining deck, indoor lounge, and dining area. Rooms that sleep three to six people with shared or en-suite bathrooms can be rented out completely to make them private. A lake esplanade for walking and bike riding passes by and leads to a nearby playground. Rates range from $24 to $33 per person per night.

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