Staying in a city – hostel, hotel, apartment or couchsurf?

Loving the view from the 18th storey apartment
Loving the view from the 18th storey apartment

So what is the best option?

When we found ourselves in Santiago Chile, we  entertained the idea of staying in a hostel family room for all of about one minute, until the lady at reception came running out to the communal area to shush my 12 month old who had cried out  – it was 9am and people were still sleeping…..

So what do we think of some of the accommodation options for family’s when in a city??

Hostels are great for:

  • meeting other travellers
  • tourist information point
  • reception help with any city/country/language issues
  • communal areas -kitchen, lounge, outdoor space. In Mendoza city, Argentina, the hostels were well set up – grassy backyards, pool, great communal areas, BBQ (asado) dinners – the only problem was, they were all booked out!!

Hostels not so great for:

  • turning up without a booking.  We regularly would drive into a city (during our South American trip) and look around for accommodation.  We tried hostels a few times, and often found the one or two (triple/quad) rooms they did have, were already taken.
  • In Paris, most of the hostels have a specific age policy -not over 35’s.   Could probably get away with it if they didn’t have to check my passport!
  • Party atmosphere, not conducive to early bedtime, tired kids/parents needing sleep
  • Hostels are not always cheaper – a room for our family cost $60US in a   Santiago hostel and an entire apartment cost us the same!

Pros and cons of hotels

Yes its great not to have to clean up after yourself, or have to cook every meal ( you are on holiday’s after all!) and have access to dressing gowns.  The pleasant surprise you get when you leave the room for a couple of hours and come back and  they’ve already made the beds, changed the towels, tidied up the toys and found your dirty underwear!!  Yes,  its great to collect the little bottles and samples of shampoo and conditioners and any other nice collectible that’s just for you.     Watching cable tv in bed, with the possibility of room service, access to pools, gyms and the like – it really does start to feel like a holiday. Maybe even a buffet breakfast is included and maybe you even got the last minute cheap deal of a 5 star hotel for the price of a 2 star……… NOT!!!

Okay, reality check….  yes, there are lots of choices when it comes to hotels and competitive pricing. However, there are lots of really crap, dodgy hotels and sometimes that is all that you can afford!!!

Hotels not so great for:

  • eating out ALL the time: great for a day or two, not really a long term solution for your purse or your health….  Eating out can be expensive, stressful when your needing to find something good and cheap quickly with kids (blood sugar levels low!) , a pain when your kids just aren’t up to “restaurant behaviour”, and unhealthy when  the quick local fast food is “completos” / hotdogs!!!!
  • keeping up with the family’s laundry – I’ve tried washing in the bath tub and hanging wet clothes on the bathroom shower rail – it only fits about 4 items not the 20 items requiring a clean!!!  In Chile, the lavendaria’s (laundry services) were costly.
  • It is just one room!!!!!   Even if there wasn’t anyone in the room next to us, how am I meant to know???
  • the awesome hotel pool you saw on the website (and the reason you booked the bloody thing)  is absolutely freezing and unsuitable for kids…..

If you have the money and can afford a really nice hotel in a great location then by all means go for it….

Another  alternative is  serviced apartments or hotel/apartments for the space/use of facilities.   We have used the website:


Yes apartments can get messy very quickly and there’s no-one else that’s going to come and clean it up – except YOU!!  (and the rest of your family hopefully!!)  Truth is,  apartments are so much easier to clean than homes – easily done in 30 mins!!

I love cooking, and the fact that I can cook and provide healthy meals for my children or even healthy snacks (smoothies, good breakie, good coffees -for us) is a bonus.  Even better, is getting your kids involved in the functioning of a household even when away from home – getting the broom or dust buster out, helping to cook, tidy up etc is still really important and good for learning independent living skills!!!

So what to look for in an apartment: 

  • balcony area
  • nice view – we had an awesome view of Santiago city in our apartment, the kids loved looking down at the traffic/ city from our 17th floor
  • laundry facilities (we had access to coin operated washing machines and dryers in the basement)
  • our apartment building came with use of a  pool and gym – great for hot city’s where communal pools are non existent or pricey or only in hotels.  One apartment we stayed in, had no ceiling fan, it was small and hot, and looked directly out onto a hotel rooftop pool, how we wished we had booked that hotel…..
  • good security and concierge area
  • good internet access and wifi
  • close to playground/park, metro station, supermarket!!
  • negotiate for a cheaper stay if staying for a week or more
  • ask around locally, look out for flyers, visit a real estate rental place or book through (If you are going to Santiago city, I can give you a great recommendation)


Is it even possible to fit a family on a couch???

Saving  on accommodation costs is a sure winner, as its one of the biggest budget expenses when it comes to travelling….but at whose expense????  Probably my sanity…..

I’m not really sure what it means to couchsurf as a family… maybe someone can enlighten me.  What I do know though, was that staying in a family member’s apartment while in London was a lifesaver… there was no way we could afford to stay for as long as we did, in the location we did, without that offer of available space.  So go out there, network, find out what long lost relative lives overseas in amazing locations and plan your holiday destinations around these…..

However, I have to sheepishly admit that what we did  save in accommodation costs we seemed to splurge on doing a lot more touristy things with the kids…. oh and maybe a few coffees for us….   but hey, we’re only in London  once…..