When we first considered a trip with our three girls and my pregnant self, we immediately thought hostel.  For some it is a thought that may never cross ones mind.  The papa and I hosteled extensively in the Netherlands and New Zealand.  Our experiences varied but were generally excellent.  I mean yes there was that one hostel where we slept in our sleeping bags on single beds so we wouldn't have to touch anything.  And there was that other one where our food was stolen.  But there was also the hostel that had a continental breakfast that allowed us to stock up on food and feed us for the day.  Oh yeah, and that other one where the bathroom was palatial and we slept mighty well.  Let me begin with the benefits of staying at a hostel and then some disadvantages.  I will then comprise a list of how to choose a hostel.  All of these relate to hosteling with babes remember.

Benefits of staying at a hostel:

1.  Cost effective:

When we decided to book our flights for Chicago, we failed to realize that it was Lollopalooza weekend, as I mentioned before.  Hotel costs were astronomical.  Definitely out of budget.  The Chicago Getaway Hostel, which I highly recommend, was perfect.  We received a private room as well as free wifi and continental breakfast every morning.  The breakfast alone saved us a couple hundred dollars if we were to eat out or even make our own food.

2.  Lessons of community:

As common to most hostels, we share space.  We did not have a private bathroom.  We did not have a private kitchen.  If we wanted to use the computer or eat, it was with others.  We made short term acquaintances.  The atmosphere encourages positivity amongst your neighbours.  We all respected each other.  The front desk was most helpful.  The lounge brought us together.  And each afternoon we got to hear melodies from a piano played by a traveller.  The international flavours wafted through the kitchen.

3.  Responsibility:

No one calling room service here.  If you are hungry, you must prepare food yourself.  The babes helped pick and plan several meals and were a real fixture in the communal kitchen.  They were quite proud to be hanging with the big boys making their dinner.  Our room was cozy, which meant that your bed is your space and not the entire room.  We each had to maintain order so that each of us felt comfortable.  Lastly, if you had to clean yourself or go to the washroom you had to plan it as we had to walk a bit to get to one.  This taught the babes the importance of organization and respecting our bodies.

4.  Information and Planning:

The hostel workers are knowledgable, not only of the local area, but the entire city.  At any time we as parents had questions about where the heck we were or how to get there, we were directed promptly, accurately and positively.  This reduced our time staring at maps and even deciding on when we should leave the hostel to make events or flights we had planned.  They were also great at telling us what to avoid and gave us a better bang for our buck.  Our hostel also had a great activity board highlighting their daily activities and the city's.

5.  Living Simply:

Our room was quite bare and thus Chicago became our playground.  In moments of quiet time in our room.  The girls were quite content to imagine and use their sheets to mimic Rapunzel's hair.  They drew, ran, laughed and enjoyed the company of others.  It was magical to watch.

Disadvantages of staying at a hostel

I am of the mindset that an experience is what you make it.  My expectations are never low.  I just don't have any.  Then I am pleasantly surprised.  If you are expecting the Hilton, think again.  If you are the type of person who loves the Hilton (trust me I do love hotels as well), a hostel may not be for you.  But if you are like us and have a very limited budget and three kids.  A hostel was our only option.

1.  Shared space:

No private bathrooms, television or cooking preparation areas.  You may get to the bathroom and find it full.  You may also be uncomfortable getting nearly naked near others (although you are hawt Mama!).  You may just like to take a dump in peace.  I get it.  Sometimes at the end of a traveling day you just want to put on cable and veg.  Well, at the hostel, you may be forced to watch something someone else is watching or wait for a computer. (We were lucky that there was free computer access and no timed play.)  Some people also love the advantage of having a private kitchen.  At times I would have enjoyed it as well, as certain smells were making me queazy.

Lastly: there are some dishonest people around.  Some people steal other people's food.  But nothing happened like that here and I saw Ben and Jerry's and beer in the fridge.

2.  No Living Large:

You aren't pampered at all.  You clean your own clothes, prepare food, walk to shower.  No room service.  The beds are not exceptionally comfortable.  But hey!  It is a place to sleep.  And aren't you there to explore anyways.

How to Choose a Hostel with Children

1.  Inquire about private rooms and specifically with children.  If they don't accommodate children, you obviously cannot stay there.
2.  Determine the culture of the hostel by thoroughly reading the website and reviews.  Some hostels are basically frat houses.  Ensure that there are safety measures in place and that the activities hosted don't centre around alcohol.
3.  Easy access to transportation and places that are child friendly.
4.  Shop around.
5.  Any extras are great.  Continental breakfast was awesome and saved us a lot of money.  Also the free wifi, which meant when the kids fell asleep, we could surf the web from our phones or go catch up on emails or do local research about the city.
6.  Visually, does it appeal to you based on photos you have seen.

So if you are ever in Chicago I suggest hitting up the Chicago Getaway Hostel.  You would not be let down.

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