The Parent Report’s radio host Joanne Wilson, shares her experiences and advice of how to “Travel Europe With Kids”. In the fourth of her six part series, Joanne offers tips on finding family friendly accommodations.
Booking accommodations for a family traveling Europe is quite a challenge, especially on a budget. Hotel rooms are small and typically sleep only two, maybe three people, which means that you’ll likely need to book at least two rooms. Even when booking budget hotel rooms, this can add up quickly. You might think that where you sleep doesn’t really matter, after all, you’ll be busy all day and will only need a bed to crash in at night, but the reality is that when you’re traveling with children, accommodation is important. Sightseeing can be exhausting and often you’ll need to take a break during the day, or head back to your accommodations by late afternoon. The best idea is to find a place that feels like home – or at least a home away from home!
In our travels, we tried all types of accommodation, and of all of the types available, we found apartment and villa rentals the most comfortable and reasonable. For about the price of two hotel rooms in a one or two star hotel, we rented a lovely apartment in Paris and a beautiful villa outside of Florence. Still, hotels and hostels couldn’t be beat when it came to shorter stays.
Hostels are about the least expensive form of accommodation and many are open to families. Ask about family rooms. In our case we rented a room that slept four (2 bunk beds) and had it’s own private bath. The hostel we stayed at in Amsterdam also offered free breakfasts (they were hearty and quite tasty) and it even had a small restaurant that offered lunches and dinners at a reasonable price.
The hostel also had an internet cafe available for free for its guests, and had a very helpful staff. It’s also a great way to meet other families and people from around the world. Overall the hostel was ideal for a short stay of three nights, but in all honesty, would have worn on us if we stayed much longer than that.
You can book hostels on line. Go to http://www.hihostels.ca/167/Home/World-Hostels/index.hostel. When booking hostels be sure to check where they are located. If you’re counting on traveling by public transportation you’ll want your hostel to be fairly central. Also, if your hostel is open until late, ask to have your room located in a quieter area. Our only complaint was that our room was located near the front of the hostel where all the young people hung out, playing music and visiting until 3 or 4am – not great for a travel weary, jet-lagged family.
You’ll have to spend more money at a hotel than at a hostel. Even one or two star hotels will be more expensive mostly because you’ll need to book two rooms if traveling with 4 or more people. Still, ask if they do have family rooms. In Bern we got lucky and booked a very large family room at a very nice 2 Star hotel in downtown Bern, just a couple of blocks from the rail station. It had two large bedrooms (one with a double bed, the other with 2 single beds), plus a bath, in a charming old hotel for less than the price of two rooms.
Your travel agent may prove to be very helpful when it comes to booking hotels. Often they are privy to group bookings that are less expensive than something you could find on your own.
Apartments and Villas
If you are planning to spend a week or two in one city, then renting an apartment is an ideal way of traveling as a family. Our apartment in the Montmartre area of Paris had 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, a dining /sitting room, and a kitchen with dishwasher and even a washer and dryer. The streets were lined with little shops and we faced a beautiful park…. all for about the price of staying at a two star hotel. This allowed us to buy and cook our own meals, which was a savings (the restaurants are very expensive). And when everyone was beat after a day of sightseeing and wasn’t up to hunting down a restaurant, it was so nice to go “home” and whip up a quick dinner. While Paris can be expensive, we found it quite reasonable by shopping for our own food, packing a lunch for the day, and cooking many of our meals in the evening. Plus by shopping for and cooking your own food, you get a chance to experience the city more like a true Parisian!
In Italy we rented a villa outside of Florence in the beautiful hills of Tuscany. Our villa overlooked a gorgeous pool, had two bedrooms (one with a double bed, and one with two single beds), two bathrooms, a kitchenette and dining/sitting room. Again we were able to either cook at our little home-away-from-home or eat out, and that saved us a lot of money. The villa was the equivalent of a 3 or 4 star hotel, for the price of a budget hotel.
We found both our apartment and villa on-line. We made sure it was through a reputable agency, and actually spoke with the proprietors of the homes before putting any money down.
One way we saved money was by traveling to other cities on over-night trains and booking couchettes, which are the equivalent to our sleepers (sort of). But be forewarned, you may end up in a compartment for 6 people, be expected to make up your own bed, and having a less than stellar sleep. Would I do it again? Well, every experience adds to a story…but if I had a million dollars? Honestly? I’d book first class!
Another accommodation option that we explored (albeit unsuccessfully) was home exchanging. This is when you exchange your home with another family who would like to visit your city and country. I’ve had several friends who have exchanged homes and enjoyed the experience. The difficult part is finding that one family who wants to exchange a home with you in the city you’re after on the dates you want. At first glance it may seem an easy accomplishment, but not necessarily. We attempted to book a home exchange over several months with several near misses. Finally we just gave up. We realized that if we hinged our trip on a home exchange it might never happen. However, it may be worth giving it a try, and the price is certainly right. Just search for “home exchange” on the internet and several companies will come up. You sign up for a fee, put a description of your home along with pictures of it online and then go house hunting in Europe. It’s actually kind of fun!
We know of one family who tried camping in France, and others who have stayed in Bed and Breakfast or pensions. All offer their own benefits and could be worth researching as you plan your stay in Europe.
Once you’ve found and booked your home away from home, the next step is researching and what sites and adventures you’ll want to take in. The Devil’s in the Details, when it comes to this part of your trip plans, and we’ll give you some advice on what you’ll need to consider in part five of the six part series “Traveling Europe with Kids”!
Check out our other posts in the series ”Traveling Europe with Kids”.
Adapted from The Parent Report Radio Show. Any advice or information contained herein should never be a substitute for professional and/or medical advice, diagnosis and treatment. For more information please review Terms of Service.