Beyond the Hotel: Alternative Family Lodgings

By Lauryn Axelrod

Mongolian Yurt

Let’s face it: finding lodgings suitable for families isn’t always easy. Sure, there are the chain hotels with their “kids stay and eat free” programs, and mega-resorts with their all-inclusive kids’ clubs and game rooms, but what if those aren’t available or don’t appeal to your family?

Don’t let the apparent lack of lodgings deter your family from “Going Nomad.”

From campgrounds to villa rentals, houseboats to college dorms, there are numerous affordable and interesting alternatives for family lodgings around the world: homes away from home for families of all sizes.


One of the most convenient family lodging alternatives is a vacation rental. Whether you are looking for a beach house in Florida or a Paris apartment, a rental gives you the home base that kids really need and appreciate.

Family lodging in the Congo - photo by Jonathan Proud
Family lodging in the Congo – photo by Jonathan Proud

No packing up and moving; no restaurant meals three times a day; no having to be quiet so the people in the room next door can sleep. And rentals can also be interesting and educational. Imagine telling your kids they’ll be living in a castle (a real one!) for a week or two!

Depending upon the location, size, amenities and season, a vacation rental can cost as little as $200/week or as much as $2500! For those on a budget, the money you save by shopping in local markets and preparing the majority of your own meals makes a vacation rental a smart family alternative.


A home exchange is similar to a rental in terms of convenience for kids, but it doesn’t cost anything! The concept is easy: you trade your home with a family in another location. You stay in their house, while they stay in yours! For families with kids, this is a great deal. Your lodgings are free and, if you trade with a family whose kids are the same ages as yours, they make new friends and even get to play with their toys!

Sometimes, a home exchange comes with the use of the family car, so you also save on the cost of transportation. It doesn’t get much better than this!


Around the world, families open their homes to travelers and other families for the night or a few days. Whether formally arranged through homestay programs or informal–an invitation from someone you’ve met in your travels–a homestay can be a wonderful lodging alternative for families. Kids get a chance to meet other kids, share cultures and experience the daily life of families in other countries. And of course, it’s inexpensive. You may have a nominal charge, but it’s always a good idea to give a gift of appreciation, however. Kids can exchange gifts, too.

Outside of Traverse City heading toward the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore, these two barns lie quietly in the snow.
Outside of Traverse City heading toward the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore, these two barns lie quietly in the snow.


Another terrific educational alternative lodging for families is a farmstay. In many countries, including the U.S., family farms and cooperative farms offer accommodations and meals, as well as an opportunity to take part in farm life. Feeding animals, helping with the harvest, planting and even churning butter are all activities that kids will enjoy. Farmstays are also inexpensive, compared to hotels, and offer families a chance to get outside urban areas.


One of the most popular family lodging alternatives is camping. It’s cheap and fun and there are campgrounds all over the world! Many campgrounds offer cabins, as well as tent sites, so you needn’t sleep on the ground. In many countries, you can rent a RV or camper-van, which gives you both the comfort of home and the value of a campground, plus a mode of transportation!


In the US and Europe, houseboats and barges are gaining popularity as a family lodging alternative. You can cruise around U.S. lakes or rivers, or canal hop in France, Germany or Ireland with the kids and never have to find a hotel! Think of it as a RV on the water–without having to find a campground for the night–and you get the idea. Great fun and affordable!


Another option for the water-loving family is a sailboat charter. While often a bit more expensive than a houseboat or barge, the sailboat charter gives you and the kids a chance to play pirates and go island hopping without the hassle or cost of a big cruise ship. There are plenty of isolated coves and beaches, great markets and villages, and lots of swimming, snorkeling and other water games, at no extra cost! You don’t have to be an experienced sailor, either: many charter companies will rent you a boat and a captain, so all you have to do is go for the ride!

The monastery at Gandzasar was commissioned by the House of Khachen and completed in 1238
The monastery at Gandzasar was commissioned by the House of Khachen and completed in 1238


Around the US and abroad, many monasteries and convents offer lodgings (and sometimes, meals) for families. These accommodations are usually inexpensive, and while they can be a bit on the Spartan side, they offer a good alternative to an expensive hotel.

Some monasteries require that visitors participate in services or prayers, while others have guesthouses that are more like B&Bs–no participation required. In some destinations, you can simply inquire at the monastery or convent about overnight guests. An interesting and educational alternative for kids.


In many destinations, college dormitories are empty in the summer and are often rented out to travelers. Again, the rooms may be a bit Spartan and you may have to bring your own linens (sleeping bags) and towels, but they are cheap. Some even offer inexpensive meals in the college dining rooms. It’s best to inquire ahead of time to see if there are rooms for families and to make reservations.


Hostels aren’t just for backpackers and college kids: many Hostelling International hostels and private hostels have rooms for families and/or will house families in the dorms. Many hostels also have TV rooms, game rooms, meals and access to guides and other travelers’ resources that make hostelling another inexpensive alternative for families.

Given the wide range of alternative family lodgings around the world, there’s no reason to settle for a chain hotel. Get out and explore, and know that there’s always an interesting, alternative home away from home for your family, beyond the hotels.

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