Cheaper than a hotel: family-friendly travel accommodations

Our family likes to go places.

Lucky for me (or maybe not so lucky for me), Damien is an experience junkie. He adapts really well and is a great problem solver; his INTP brain seems to thrive on the stimulus of new situations.

I am more set in my routines and I love home sweet home but I also appreciate having interesting experiences, seeing new places, and I especially love meeting people.

Put the two of us together and you get a couple (with three big kids who are a combination of the two of us) who like to travel.

Here are four different types of accommodations we've used over the years to make travel more affordable.

1. Tenting

We're outdoorsy people so tenting is a natural option for us when traveling in non-urban places. For us, tenting is not the ends, it's the means to the ends, the ends being to go places and do things.

Tenting is not a "sacrifice" for us. Since deciding to use tents as a reliable form of accommodation, we've invested in high quality tents (and comfortable mats and sleeping bags). Our tents are not big, we use them for backpacking after all, but they are dry.

tenting on the Jim Murray Property on the AT in NJ

Car camping tenting has enabled us to go beautiful places like Grand Manan Island, Perce Rock, and Common Ground Fair.

For us, a tent (or two or three - like we had for our thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail) is a great investment for family travel.

2. Couchsurfing

A few years ago we discovered Couchsurfing. Most of our travels and adventures are outdoors-related so tenting is our go-to accommodation. But tenting doesn't work so well on a city visit, or for winter travel.

Our first experience Couchsurfing as a family was on our reconnaissance trip to the Gaspe Peninsula right after Christmas. Definitely no tenting.

On this particular house-hunting in Montreal and flying to Chicago trip we used Couchsurfing again for our first six nights of accommodations.

There were a surprising number of Couchsurfers willing to host a family of four (Laurent is not with us this trip) but I guess that's what you get in a big city like Montreal. More people, more hosts.

One of the requirements for me in booking a Couchsurfing host for our time in Montreal was that our family could share a room. We didn't need beds per se, though we were able to find those also, but a private room for our family was a non-negotiable.

This is a safety precaution for me when Couchsurfing as a family since you really don't know much about your hosts, other than what is shared on their profile.

We spent six nights Couchsurfing in Montreal this trip. Three nights with two different families. Both were amazing in their own way. And each household offered us a different view of Montreal life.

Montrealers are diverse and cosmopolitan people. Between the two families we stayed with, three unique cultures were represented - mixed European, Moroccan and Quebecois and seven to ten different languages were spoken (I lost count and the common language was English - lucky for me).

In my experience people who try Couchsurfing - either as hosts or "surfers" - are adventurous, open-minded, generous, hospitable, and community-orientated. My kind of people.

3. Airbnb

This trip to Montreal we added a new option to our cheaper-accommodation experience: airbnb.

With Couchsurfing you're never exactly sure what you're going to get. This is part of the appeal for some people, though free is the biggest draw I suspect.

When I am traveling with Damien I feel more comfortable with this unknown as he rolls with things really well. And he's my husband, and is the protector of his family, and I feel safe with him.

This weekend Brienne and I were alone, with me as the solo-responsible parent and I just didn't feel comfortable, back in March, booking a Couchsurfing accommodation for the two of us, without Damien along. (If I had known then what I know now I might have felt more comfortable. Our Couchsurfing in Montreal was fantastic, but you never know...)

For my solo time together with Brienne for our last four nights in Montreal, I decided to book an airbnb accommodation. It's not free but it's not expensive either.

In Montreal you can find a private room with a double bed in a good neighborhood for under $50 a night. Much more affordable than a hotel room, plus you get full kitchen access and the chance to meet great people.

You can also find full house rentals on airbnb, and many adventuring families choose this option on their travels.

Brienne and I are loving our current airbnb digs in Montreal. We have a private bedroom with a double bed. Our hosts are two women both originally from France. They are as interested in our stories as we are in theirs.

What a great way to meet people.

4. Hostels

In my experience and opinion, the most amazing hostels are those along the Appalachian Trail. (There are some scary ones too, but the gems are truly awesome and I will never forget them.)

But those hostels, at $20/person, are not necessarily the most affordable options for a family.

Our family has stayed in a couple non-trail hostels over the years. I remember meeting up with my parents and celebrating Celine's 5th birthday in the Ottawa Hostel. And more recently we celebrated Laurent's 13th birthday at the hostel in Quebec City.

Hum... we seem to have "celebrating birthdays in Canadian city hostels" theme goin' on.

Our hostel experiences have been fun but with the growing availability of airbnb I feel hostels are a less appealing option, in terms of cost and amenities, for families than an airbnb rental. Hostels most often charge per bed and with a family of five there's not a lot of cost savings over an airbnb rental. And the comfort of a home is nice.

I will say though you meet really interesting people at hostels, which we like, and most are strategically located.

We're going home very soon. We've been here nine days and we've had a productive time - we found an apartment and got Celine and Damien off to Chicago. But in amongst those activities, and especially after those were taken care of, we've been enjoying a little vacation with great food, shopping and friendly people.

And inexpensive non-hotel accommodations are part of what make this possible.

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  • Nana

    Nana on April 26, 2015, 11:43 p.m.

    We stayed at an Airbnb in Quebec City over the New Year, 2013. The basement suite worked well for us -  our kitchen amenities were limited to a large fridge, microwave, toaster, a bit of plastic cutlery -  but for our group of 4 adults and 3 kids our hosts generously shared the stove in their kitchen on the main floor. We'd definitely go this route again! Your Montreal Airbnb looks delightful!!



  • Alaina

    Alaina on April 27, 2015, 1:57 a.m.

    I've wondered before and now I will remember to ask- what do you use for sleeping mats when camping? My body is getting older I guess...and my thermarest isn't as comfy of an option as it was years ago. I've also tried the "blue foamy" sleeping pad and its even worse. Of course there are big and heavy and bulky options but as for lightweight options I haven't really seen anything else but I haven't really looked very hard yet. What do you use?


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