31 March 2009

Types of kid-friendly accommodation

There are many different options for types of accommodation when travelling with kids.
  • hotels (boutique or chain)
  • B & Bs
  • motels
  • caravan parks
  • apartments (serviced or unserviced)
  • campervan or motorhome
  • hostels
  • tents
  • home- and farm-stays
  • house swaps
  • staying with relatives or friends
  • resorts
Wherever you stay, regardless of the type of accommodation, if you have very young kids (babies or toddlers) you will probably want to do a quick initial reconaissance of the room to move or remove anything that is likely to be either hazardous, breakable or hideable (thinking TV remotes here!) before you let your child loose in the room.

And its always worth remembering that wherever you stay, your kids need to be taught to respect the property of others and the needs of others (like keeping the noise down for the sake of other nearby guests). It is a fact of life that most kids are varying degrees of self-centred, and most need reminding.

Now, let's go through each list item separately to work out the good and bad points.

Hotels - boutique or chain
Hotels are often the most easy form of accommodation to find. They come in large and small, expensive and cheap and everything in between. For kid-friendliness, hotels can offer cots (usually at no extra cost or for only a small charge), high chairs in dining rooms, and sometimes extra facilities like pools. Sometimes hotels will offer child-minding facilities so that you can have a night out without them, but personally, this goes against all my feelings about *family* holidays.

Small family run, boutique hotels can offer excellent service as the family that runs them usually wants to retain their customer base! Larger chain hotels are often less personable, but you if you've stayed in that chain before you'll know the level of service, cleanliness and facilities that you're likely to get. Its like McDonalds food - you know what you're likely to get, even if you're on the other side of the world.

B & Bs - Bed and breakfasts
Bed and breakfasts are common in some countries. They offer you the chance to stay in a home and have a room and breakfast provided for you. It is a lovely way to feel like you are "mixing with the natives".

However, if you have touchy feely sorts of children who love to explore their surroundings primarily by touch, then some B & Bs won't be for you! I know that some of the B & Bs that we have stayed in would not be suitable for my child who is a toucher. I just wouldn't feel safe with her in that sort of environment with ornaments and personal belongings that could be broken. However, with our non-touch child, we have stayed at some lovely B & Bs that were extremely welcoming of children. One even gave her a soft toy to help her remember her stay there. And many cultures do value children very highly and love to have children staying in their homes.

There is no guarantee of the quality of the breakfast you are likely to get. One place we stayed, the only drink we got for breakfast was a single shot glass of orange juice each. On the other hand, at one place we were welcomed with freshly baked cake at 8pm on our arrival. In Belfast we stayed with a lovely couple who gave us excellent recommendations for a dinner eatery, and were so thrilled to be able to add Sydney (our home town) to their map of guest's origins. You can get really stingy at some of these places, but most people are just terribly welcoming and generous. You can tell the difference between the people who did it for a job, and those who do it because they love people...

Motels are unique to a few countries. Rather than a large block of rooms in a multistorey building, motels are more likely to be long, sprawling establishments with individual rooms all adjoining side by side. They usually offer a basic room with ensuite. Some have restaurants where meals are served. Family rooms will often have bunk beds for the kids, which some kids are not used to using (I'm thinking of toilet stops in the middle of the night) but find incredibly exciting ("I want the top bunk!!"). Motels are usually basic but serviceable.

Caravan parks
Caravan parks can offer a range of accommodation types: your own caravan or campervan (see below), your own tent, or onsite cabins or onsite caravans. If you have your own van or tent, caravan parks can be quite cheap. At most parks you share laundry, toilets and showering facilities. Onsite vans sometimes have ensuites, and cabins usually do. Your own van, onsite vans and cabins usually have kitchen facilities, meaning that you can easily self-cater. With tents you have to bring your own kitchen facilities, but some parks have barbeque facilities.

Caravan parks often have play areas for kids, which can be an excellent place to send them while you try to erect your tent, or get set up. And some also have pools. In some parks, with longer stays, the kids may have the chance to make friends with other children also staying there, which can be great for some cross cultural friendships, and just regular child to child interaction.

I do remember staying in an onsite van when I was little and the bedding was all covered in vinyl. It had been cleaned with some really over-smelly cleaning product, and I can remember it really stopped me from going to sleep! But most wouldn't be like that!

Another point to consider is that if it is raining and or cold, caravan parks can be miserable places...

Apartments - serviced or non-serviced
Apartments are basically like hotels except that they often have kitchenettes and maybe a suite of rooms rather than just the one room. Serviced apartments are more likely to be serviced less often than a hotel, but if you remember to hang up your towel (and that's not too much to ask, is it?) then there should be no problem with that. Apartments are usually available for longer stays than hotels (you'd probably find it hard to get one for just a night). The self-catering aspect is a definite plus, in my books, and the fact that with a few rooms you don't have to be living in each others' pockets all the time is a definite winner.

Campervans or motorhomes
For longer term travel, campervans and motorhomes are often regarded as the way to go. Some people buy their campervan at the beginning of a several month trip, planning to sell it at the end. They can also be hired. Campervans mean that you can take your accommodation with you. Some places you may be able to just stop by the side of the road, but most times you will be better off and safer finding a caravan park to stay in.

With a campervan, everything is with you all the time. This has its good points and bad points: good is that everything is with you, bad is that you have to take everything with you wherever you go, and let's face it, for a family size vehicle, they are usually large truck-ish size, and that adds to the petrol/gas bill when you have to lug it and all your belongings around in it all the time. It can be harder to park and to manoeuvre than a smaller vehicle. You also will be living in each others' pockets - you'll be eating, sleeping, and travelling in the same confined space all the time. But, it can be much cheaper and easier than hotelling it.

Youth hostels are a cheap and affordable option. Despite the name "youth" being attached to them, these establishments are more and more catering for families and people who don't actually fit into the young-adult type category that they have typically catered for. They often have family rooms available - its not just dormitory style accommodation anymore.

We have not actually tried this sort of accommodation yet, because the places we have stayed that have had hostels did not accept children as young as ours. I believe that that is not the case in all hostels though. They can be a great way to meet other travellers, and if your kids love being with people, what better could there be?

This is listed separately than caravan parks, as you can use tents in lots of other places. If you're a "get off the beaten track" type family, a tent will allow you to do this. You can go into national parks and out into nature. For many kids, going camping in a tent is a really, really exciting prospect. (Some parents don't seem to agree though...)

If you stay in a caravan park, powered or unpowered sites can be very economical, and if you're in a National Park, you may need a camping permit, and maybe pay a per night tariff, but its still a very very affordable way to travel. The bad points: rain, cold, snow etc.

And one incident that does spring to mind was camping with some friends on the NSW (Australia) Central Coast, just near a beach. In the morning we woke up to find a funnel web spider (highly highly poisonous, dangerous Australian spider) on the far side of the tent - meaning, further away from the door than we were... yes, it had to crawl past us or over us to get to where it was... It makes me shiver just thinking about it. But the moral of the story is that tenting is a great way to get close to nature! Maybe too close?

Home- and farm-stays
Homestays and farmstays can be a great way to experience a different way of life or culture. We once stayed on a farm in the south of England. The Bookworm had her first up close and personal encounter with a very loudly honking goose! We also stayed at a farm north of London that had THE best bacon we have ever eaten - it will go down in history for us!

Homestays can be an excellent way to experience everyday life in another culture. While it may be difficult to find homestays for a whole family (because of the number of extra beds needed), its great for seeing how other people live, and joining in with them. It can lead to trying new and authentic regional foods, and learning about other cultures.

House swaps
House swaps are where two homes are traded for a certain period of time. Families can stay at someone else's home, while the someone elses stay in the other family's home. Whatever the other family has in their home is usually yours to use for the time that you are there. That sometimes even includes a car.

If you're ok with someone that you don't know staying in your home (and remember you'll be staying in theirs, so the element of exchange usually tempers and wards off any antisocial behaviour) then this can be a great way to find accommodation. Usually the only cost involved is signing up for one of the many home-swapping websites or organisations. All manner of homes are swapped - so even if yours isn't the most flash or luxurious house, that won't be a problem.

If they don't have cots/high chairs etc and you need them for your youngsters, they may be able to borrow some for your stay or you could hire some from a local baby goods hire company.

Staying with relatives or friends
If you've got long-lost relatives or friends that you can possibly impinge on and obtain the offer of enough beds for the whole family, go for it! Its cheap, and can be a great way to see them for the first time in ages or for some, even for the very first time ever. Be good house guests though, and don't overstay your welcome or abuse the friendship! You may even score a free guided tour (with your hosts) of your destination. Again, if your hosts do not have the baby stuff that you need, it could be borrowed or hired.

Resorts most often offer hotel-style accommodation, with serviced rooms. They usually have excellent facilities with extra activities etc. Some are very kid-friendly with children's programs - but personally, if its a family holiday, I'd prefer to actually be spending time with my kids, not have them shipped off to some kiddie program! But, there can also be sporting activities, tours, pools, games etc that can be fun for the whole family.

I'm sure there are other types of accommodation that I haven't included, but that's a pretty good list of alternatives so that you can start to plan for your next trip away with the kids.


  1. You should give a hostel with a private room a shot. You get the benefit of a lower cost with the added social factor of meeting other travelers.

  2. Hi Brian,

    This is exactly the sort of thing we were looking at on our last trip, but unfortunately the kids were too young for the lower age limit on the hostels we looked at.

    Next time...!

  3. I seem to remember when campervan holidaying in New Zealand when I was younger that a few of the caravan parks we stayed in offered communal kitchen facilities as well as the usual loos, showers and laundry.

  4. I also remember on that same holiday having such a large campervan that it was very difficult to drive, especially in high wind and up hills. I can't imagine what the petrol usage was like...