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Cynthia Harriman
PO Box 6547
Portsmouth, NH 03801
Tel: 603-436-1608

All information on this website is © 2005, Cynthia Harriman, unless otherwise noted.

excerpted from Take Your Kids to Europe

If you've even heard of youth hostels, you probably associate them with the college backpack crowd, not with family travel. It's a well-kept secret that many hostels offer family rooms in addiiton to single-sex dormitories, and that hostels can be one of the cheapest, most pleasant options for overnight lodging.

Hostels range from mountain huts to castles, so it's hard to describe a "typical" one. Some hostels have been built specifically for the purpose. Others are college dorms, pressed into service for the summer. Still others are mansions and private homes--even castles!---converted to hostels.

One of our favorites, at Esbjerg near Denmark's west coast, is more like an Ivy League dormitory. Housed in a large four-story brick building covered with vines, the hostel has a modern cafeteria and even an elevator. In this hostel, the bunk beds are beautiful Scandinavian-modern wood, with individual reading lights. A carpeted floor, large wooden cupboards and a private sink finished off our room. Yet more often, we've had a bare room with two iron bunk beds.

Despite these differences, there are common features in almost all hostels. You can expect dormitory/group sleeping accommodations, usually segregated by gender. You can expect some sort of common room where people can gather to get acquainted, sing or watch TV. You can expect kitchen facilities, usually available for hostelers' use. And you can expect decent toilets and showers.

All of the above, though, wouldn't be enough to attract most families. The real plus of most hostels--and the most widely-unknown factor---is family rooms: small private dormitories of four to six beds that your family can have all to itself.

Family hostel rooms are simple, providing you with clean beds (almost always bunk beds) with mattresses, pillows and blankets. Toilets and baths are down the hall, as in all hostel rooms. No furniture beyond beds is guaranteed, but many rooms have closets or lockers and even a sink. In Norway, some family rooms are even suites, with a sitting room and kitchenette!

But even when family rooms are spartan, they're clean and private. And there's almost never a surcharge for using one:you're charged the same per-person fee as the backpackers sleeping with strangers in the dormitories.

Our chapter on Youth Hostels goes on to include information on:

  • how to get a hostel membership
  • stuff you need for hosteling: towels and sheetsacks
  • how to find a good hostel and make reservations if necessary
  • pros and cons of hostels for families
  • a table of hostels and how many have family rooms, by country
  • generalizations about hostels in Britain, France, Germany, Spain

This is just part of the information on hostels in Take Your Kids to Europe. If you'd like more, click here to get information on ordering the book.