For inexpensive family getaways, give German Youth Hostels a try

For inexpensive family getaways, give German Youth Hostels a try

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

For backpackers on a budget, the word “hostel” might conjure up thoughts of trying to catch a decent night’s sleep in a vast, dimly lit room filled with the sounds of snores and the restless tossing and turning of countless bodies. In Germany and other northern European countries, a type of accommodation that’s also classed as a hostel can mean something quite different: welcome to the world of the German Youth Hostel Association (Deutsche Jugendherbergen) and its network of some 500 hostels scattered across the country.

Although Jugendherbergen do offer inexpensive beds in communal rooms to solo travelers, a large portion of their clientele is made up of school classes, sports teams, youth clubs and similar groups of young travelers. What many may find surprising, however, is the popularity such properties enjoy amongst families. Long-weekend getaways and short breaks during school vacation weeks are particularly beloved outings for many configurations of one or both parents and any number of children. Family accommodation is, generally speaking, one room that’s big enough to fit up to six members of a single-family or a group of close friends traveling together, equipped with its own toilet and shower. Such a room will quite possibly be outfitted with bunk beds.

Could this form of accommodation be right for your traveling family unit? Here are a few arguments that could sway your way of thinking:

They’re often in places of natural beauty or cultural significance: hostels are to be found in the Middle Rhine River Valley, the Alps, Saxony Switzerland, and the island of Ruegen’s Baltic seacoast; they’re also located in some of Germany’s most fascinating cities from Berlin to Berchtesgaden.

A handful are located in very special places: a ship docked in a harbor, a converted factory and a water tower are just a few examples of the out-of-the-ordinary structures which have been converted into hostels. For something with real wow factor, try the hostel in Bacharach, situated in the 12th century Stahleck Castle, perched on a cliff high above the Rhine River.

They cater to children: communal areas offer space for playing games or just running around and blowing off steam. Some have playgrounds on site, or a pit for a blazing campfire. A handful offer indoor swimming pools. In the network’s 120 hostels certified as particularly family-friendly, parents of young ones will appreciate practical touches such as availability of cribs, high chairs and facilities for warming bottles and baby food.

Many offer weekend and holiday packages: During school vacation weeks and close to kid-favorite holidays such as Halloween and Christmas, many hostels offer special weekend packages inclusive of supervised child’s play in the form of arts and crafts, games or outdoor fun. In the summer months, some offer sports camps. The youth hostels of the Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland, for example, offer family vacation packages for up to six persons including two overnight stays with breakfast and a warm meal on arrival day for prices between 39 and 95 euros.

Many offer meal plans: the cost of the overnight stay generally includes a decent breakfast spread with rolls, cheese, cold cuts and cereals, coffee and tea. Half-or full pension plans provide simple but hardy, kid-friendly fare.

Booking is straightforward: with an English language website and all kinds of search filters available, you can be sure of what you’re getting.

The cost savings can be significant. Whereas a family traveling with two or more older children might be forced to book two double rooms in a standard hotel, family rooms in hostels should offer all the space that your family requires.

It’s a members-only system: Foreigners with a permanent residence in Germany can become members of the German Youth Hostel Association DJH. The annual membership fee for families or single persons over the age of 27 is 22.50 euros; this gets you a card that grants you the right to stay at some 4,000 hostels in over 80 countries that are part of the Hostelling International network of properties. In some instances, international guests might find themselves allowed the chance to spend the night in a hostel with the purchase of a welcome stamp at the cost of 3.50 per adult, per night.

While a stay at one of these hostels isn’t exactly roughing it, neither is it a particularly luxurious experience: think single beds and rooms with just the basics. When the chance to bond as a family takes precedence over high thread count sheets and mini-bars and new sights to discover lie just outside the door, such properties could open up a whole new dimension of travel possibilities.

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