Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Hostels: Family Accommodations in the UK

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Oban Youth Hostel, Oban, Scotland
During our trip to Great Britain earlier in the year, we found reasonably priced accommodations for a family of four a little hard to come by. In order to keep accommodation costs down, we spent a few nights in hostels. This was a first for our family of four. We had our doubts as to how comfortable and safe we would feel, but our experiences were generally very positive.

Our very first stay in a hostel was just one night spent in the Oban Youth Hostel in Scotland. This hostel had 4-person rooms (two bunkbeds) with an en-suite bathroom which worked out very well for our first hostel experience. Sharing a bathroom with others was our biggest anxiety about staying in a hostel. The location along the waterfront and walking distance to the center of Oban is superb at this hostel though parking is limited. We brought take-out (Indian food of course) to eat in the kitchen/lounge. Afterwards, we took a walk by the water since dusk in May at this latitude isn't until after 9pm.
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Loch Ness Backpacker's Lodge in Drumnadrochit, Scotland

Our second hostel experience was a bit different. We stayed two nights at the Loch Ness Backpacker's Lodge located minutes from Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle. This hostel has only two family rooms. Our room contained a full-size bed and bunk beds. The bathroom facilities at this location were shared with all the house guests. Fortunately, it was located right next to our room. I would have hated to traipse through the whole house in my pajamas every time I had to go to the bathroom. Still, it was odd to be taking a shower while an unfamiliar guest of the opposite sex brushed their teeth right outside the shower stall. Other than that bit of awkwardness, we had a pleasant experience. We were able to get some clothes washed for a nominal fee during our stay, and I had an enlightening conversation with a Scots and English couple about the impending elections.

Dorm 9 at YHA Oxford London
During the final days of our trip, we stayed three nights at YHA London Oxford Street before our departure. Here, we again had a 4-person room with two bunk beds. The bathroom situation was different from the other two because there were individual shower rooms with real doors and separate water closets to use a British term. All were just a few steps down the hallway and being separate facilities you never felt like you were "sharing" a facility at least not in the way they were shared at the Lock Ness Backpacker's Lodge. In addition, the staff at this facility were very helpful in getting us reduced tickets for bus tours and were invaluable in securing us a very early and inexpensive taxi to the airport for our return flights. The location near the Circus Oxford Station of the Underground is also a big plus.

When considering a family trip to the United Kingdom, don't rule out hostels. If you plan to stay at multiple hostels, you may want to consider membership in YHA or Hosteling International. With a YHA membership you are automatically made of a member of Hosteling International (HI). Membership gets you discounts on your stay as well as attractions and tours. Knowing a hostel is in the HI network gives peace of mind about cleanliness and safety. The Loch Ness Backpacker's Lodge is not in the HI network. We were in a pinch during those nights because of a 3-day weekend, however, I do not regret our stay there.

Keep in mind that not all hostels allow families. Hostels that do have accommodations for families can be more than adequate. The novelty of the accommodations can add to the family experience. For example, our children enjoyed sharing bunk beds with mom and dad and we appreciated the unexpected additional services not to mention the savings. So get out and go hosteling....
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