Finding Budget Family Accommodation

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Finding budget family accommodation is always the hardest part of family travel at the backpacker end of the market. This post is about that and how to find cheap family accommodation for travel around the world.

I’m having a bad day. We have 3 countries coming up in the next two months, we’ll be moving around a lot and I have the job of finding budget family accommodation in a dozen or so towns. That is the hardest part of family travel.

The hunt for the good deals is frustrating, time-consuming, and a pain in the rear. Finding accommodation at the budget end of the spectrum for anything other than one or two adults is an absolute nightmare. It is difficult to do and costs are significantly higher.

The budget travel industry is set up for backpackers and they normally come in ones or twos. It’s understandable, I get why it’s like that, but what’s really frustrating me right now is the greed in the accommodation industry.

Landlords’ eyes seem to light up with dollar signs when a family in need of a room is in their sights. Really, how much extra does a 7-year-old cost the landlord, the cost of a shower, maybe? The 7 year old doesn’t have an income, why penalise parents just because they can?

Finding budget family accommodation

There are loads of options these days, from AirBnb to Couch Surfing. I think that actually complicates things, we seem to be spending even more time searching websites looking for a decent deal.

A lot of these options are complete duds when it comes to families.

I’m sharing with you what we do and what we know, how we find budget family accommodation as we travel. This section applies to Asia and budget family travel for your average two-parent family with small kids. We consider ourselves experts on this part of the world now.

The rules vary between countries, the Asia method won’t work in the USA, for instance. See the USA section at the bottom of the page. In the UK things were different again, there is a link to the best deals we could find here.

Finding Budget Family Accommodation. Our Experience.

1. Turn up on the doorstep and ask for a room, don’t book in advance.

It doesn’t suit everyone and we can’t do it at the moment because of my husband’s surgery, but it saves you money. You also avoid disappointment this way. Accommodation booked online may not be what you expected (remember my big freak out in Malaysia?).  Negotiate, ask to see a range of rooms, and take a room that suits you. We often take a 2 person room for all 4 of us and share beds, it is very difficult to book like this online.

You need to do a bit of research and find out where the backpackers are staying, the main budget accommodation streets are packed with hotels and guest houses. You just get yourself to the right part of town and start knocking on doors. Most of these places won’t even have websites.

TIP: Send an adult, solo, to look for rooms if you are happy to take a 2 person room for your whole family. Find out the price before they realise you have kids, they usually don’t backtrack and inflate prices that way because you agree a price for the room, not the number of guests. This ploy has worked for us a few times.

2. AirBnb

Everyone wants to tell us how great AirBnB is. In our experience, it hasn’t been worth looking. We used to host for them back in Australia and we know that the rooms we rented out were a great deal compared to every local hotel and hostel.

We’ve found that AirBnb doesn’t work like that in Asia. Every time we’ve looked we’ve found higher prices than the cheap hotels and guest houses, we’re at the point where we’re about to stop looking, it’s been a waste of time.

In Central America we finally found that AirBnb would work for us, we scored a lovely little villa for a month in Antigua for $30/night. AirBnb is looking fairly promising for Spain, too.

3. Couch Surfing

We thought we’d use Couch Surfing once we set off. With that in mind we took in a couple of Couch Surfers back in Port Douglas. We enjoyed meeting them and they enjoyed staying with us, but the stories we heard of their earlier Couch Surfing experiences would make your hair curl.

I know some hosts will take families as Couch Surfing guests, but the site doesn’t allow you to search for family accommodation easily and I’m not ready to take the risk of staying in a stranger’s home with my kids. Most people in the world are good, but some aren’t.

4. Hostels

We have stayed in hostels in Kuala Lumpur, London and Sydney. Hostels have advantages and they were fine, but in the cheaper parts of Asia hostels almost always work out more expensive for a family than cheap hotels, bed and breakfasts and guest houses. Even if you take the budget option of staying in a dorm, costs mount up because you pay per bed.

A family of four needs 4 adult priced beds in a hostel, it costs a fair bit. If you can find a 4 bed dorm for your family you’re effectively getting a private room, we did this once in Sri Lanka and we’re about to try it in Guatemala. Some hostels don’t allow kids to stay. We’ll leave these to the single travellers.

The hostel booking sites do not allow searches specifically for private or family rooms.

That said, we had a great stay (although a little pricey) in a private 3 bed room and in a couples dorm in Kuala Lumpur. A couples dorm has double bunk beds, they’re pretty cool.

5. Online Booking Sites

Some online booking sites are better for finding family accommodation than others. We find Booking.com and Agoda are the most useful for us. The cheaper guest houses are not listed on these booking sites, they can’t afford to be because their margins are too slim. If you need to book in advance, and sometimes we all do, these sites are great.

Update: This post was written over 10 years ago, today we always book online and it’s rare to find unlisted accommodation.

Booking.com

We like booking.com because you enter the number of children and their ages as part of the search criteria. If you pull down the menu tab for guests, you will see the option “other”,  you can enter just about any combination of rooms, adults and children, with their ages.

The search results will only contain family accommodation suitable for your sized family, no bed sharing involved. The list is usually small and usually more costly, but you have a selection of guaranteed family options without having to search too hard.

We have used this list to get cheaper, smaller rooms. The search results allow you to look at all room types for each hotel, we have managed to book 3 person rooms for 4 people by finding places where children under 12 stay free ( as with Agoda, below)

Agoda

When you search with Agoda, you enter your dates and destination only. If you see a hotel within your price range in the list of available hotels, you can click on it and inspect all room types. You will see a list of room types with prices and maximum occupancy. Ignore the maximum occupancy, it doesn’t always apply to kids. Click for more details of the room you choose and a box will appear giving you information on child restrictions. These vary enormously, sometimes children under 2 are free, sometimes children under 12, so long as they are sharing the existing beds.

Check if older children must use an extra bed. Sometimes extra beds aren’t available, so they can’t stay. If extra beds are available, check the cost, it will be listed.

You will also come accross a few hotels that don’t allow children or babies to stay at all.

Note on Cheap Family Accommodation in the USA

We’ve just completed a 1 month USA road trip and we found accommodation easily for under $50/night, sometimes under $40/night. The only exceptions being NYC and Washington DC.

The rules are totally different in the States, booking online was always cheaper, rooms almost always had 2 big beds so families didn’t pay any extra. See our planning a USA road trip section for more information.

So that’s what I’m doing at the moment, trawling the internet and finding family accommodation. It’s hard work when you’re on a tight budget and takes up a lot of time. Finding budget family accommodation is, without a doubt, the hardest part of family travel and it drives me nuts!

Update: As time went on finding places to stay became easier and easier as the internet evolved. We always book online today. The days of door knocking as we backpackers did 20+ years ago, are long gone.

If you'd like to hire a car during your stay, use this car rental comparison tool to find the best deal!

We also suggest you take a look at this company to get a quote for all kinds of the more tricky adventure or extended travel insurance.

Try Stayz / VRBO for an alternative way to find rentals on homes/apartments/condos in any country!

About the author
Alyson Long
Alyson Long is a British medical scientist who jumped ship to chase dreams. A former Chief Biomedical Scientist at London's West Middlesex Hospital she started in website creation and travel writing in 2011. Alyson is a full-time blogger and travel writer, a published author, and owns several websites. World Travel Family is the biggest. A lifetime of wanderlust and over 6 years of full-time travel, plus a separate 12 month gap year, has given Alyson and the family some travel expert smarts to share with you on this world travel site. Today Alyson still travels extensively to update this site and continue her mission to visit every country, but she's often at home on her farm in Australia.

28 thoughts on “Finding Budget Family Accommodation”

  1. Loving your blog, thanks. Off to Thailand Koh Samui and Koh Phangan with the family (3yrs and 7yrs) in July. Have bee peen to Koh Samui with them before so we sort of know what to expect. 3 yr old is very fussy with food, so it will be interesting, I’m sure we will find a banana for her to eat. I enjoyed reading about what you did in Haat Salad, we are not sure where we will stay in Koh Phangang yet, we will only be ther for 3 nights, just want a cheap bungalow, my sister and her kids are joining us there too. Even thought we have travelled with the kids before I still nervous, oldest was 4 and youngest was 5 months, still on the boob (hope I’m allowed to say that). we also had trouble financing accommodation in Koh Samui when entering our 2 adults, 2 children as most places only have rooms for up to 3 people.

    Reply
    • Yep K. Samui is expensive. If you go knocking on doors you’ll find somewhere for 4 easily , but it’ll cost. Although if it’s high season it could be full. Have a great trip!

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  2. Great article. Have you got any budget accom recommendations (preferably with pool) for family of 4 in Luang Prabang & Siam Reap for a week each, and for a one night layover near Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport? Thanks

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  3. hi there, before I book hotels for a trip to Amsterdam on April with Agoda, I wanted to get some feedback on agoda children policy.

    We have two children (aged 3 and 6), but when do the booking with agoda we dont have to specify the no of kids. Even tough the hotel children policy that i choose stated that All children Under 12 Years Old stay for free when using existing bed, I do not want to face an issues upon arrival. Please advice. Thanks in advance.

    p/s: I already email the hotel to give me a quotation, they reply me with Urban suite that will cost me double than superior room to fit our family. ๐Ÿ™

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    • Hi Phadlee, you book per room, not per person, so the cost of the room is fixed and you have to check max occupancy rules. There is a column headed “max” and an image of people plus often a little blue ? . This tab will give you that particular room’s max occupancy and the hotel’s policy on children, to what age they stay for free. Hope that helps.

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      • Thank you for your reply. I already check the max occupancy rules for the room. It stated max 2 adults. And i already check with the children policy (Both Agoda and Booking), it stated Free! All children under 12 years stay free of charge when using existing beds. Am i good to go? (but why every time i search for 2 adults and 2 children (3,6yo) they always asked me to get the suite that cost triple from standard rooms.) ๐Ÿ™

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  4. Ah, you didn’t say you were going to Krabi! Yes, the big package tourist draws will cost you an arm and a leg, we couldn’t find any accmmodation under 800 Baht on Ko Samet, that was for a 2 bed room. So we left! Ko Pahangan was a bit cheaper and a lot nicer, but still I think we payed 500 Baht. I’ve never been to Krabi, I know we couldn’t afford it! Particularly not in high season when hordes of Europeans will arrive with fat wallets.

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  5. Last year I took my 4 preteens/teens to Europe. We mostly rented apartments and stayed in hostels. I averaged 65โ‚ฌ a night. Most places were accomadating since I was traveling alone with the kids. Letting us squish.

    Now I’m planning for Thailand in December. Rooms are in the $200 a night range! I thought it was going to be cheaper! Everyone has told me this is peak season and to have reservations prebooked. My oldest is in college so she won’t be joining us but this time my husband is coming. So we are still at 5. My mom who is Thai said that’s crazy. Her family of 15 traveled and would always cram into 1 room. I think that may not work for my American family. Any pointers on lodging would be extreamly appreciated!

    Reply
    • Hi Stacey, Booking online isn’t for you, you need to contact accommodation directly and ask if they will allow you to squish or just turn up on the doorstep and negotiate. Don’t be afraid to do that, particularly not in Thailand and particularly not with your big kids, it’s very easy. We payed upwards from $6/night in Thailand. Admittedly, $6 was a double room, we took 2. We normally take rooms for 3 and squash up, but we have found double rooms with big enough beds for 4. I don’t think we ever payed more than $40, maybe $30. If you must book online try a good price comparison accommodation site, one that will show you the absolute rock bottom prices. I’ve used this one before, it found us a good deal in BKK, go to the bottom, search “all deals”. It’s owned by a friend of mine, that’s not why I’m recommending it and he’s not paying me, but if anything goes wrong he’ll do his best to sort it out, he did for us!

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      • Thanks! I tried the search engine but it just came up with higher prices. They aren’t linked into agoda or booking. Do you think that it is the time of year we are traveling? Krabi / Ko Lanta in December? I wish I could find a room for all of us for $40 a night. I will try calling and practice my Thai bartering skills. I’ll go to the asian market tomorrow and see if they sell cheap calling cards. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  6. With 4 kids, I feel your pain! I hate when we are charged extra and they are staying in the same room. Even when camping I’ve been charged an arm and a leg and once had to pay $70 bucks a night at a campground. Crazy! To save money we also share meals, camp when possible and look for places with free breakfasts.

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  7. Yeah me too Sam. Mine will be 12, 10, 5 & 2 when we set off.
    Gonna cost us a fortune, I only hope we can manage to afford to travel for as long as planned.
    ๐Ÿ™

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  8. I totally agree, it is so annoying!

    On our last trip, our kids were 0 and 2, and we did get away with never paying extra for them. However, that took lots of research, emails and other carry on. Often we would see that free box like you show above on agoda, but it would only say for one kid. Usually, we would email and two kids would be fine when they were so young, but it just took so much time working it out. Also, we would have to worry about places charging extra for cots or for breakfasts. It would do my head in! Turning up was just not something we felt comfortable with with kids so young. We were all always completely exhausted on arrival and our luggage plus carrying them made getting around difficult.

    It can be worse here in Aus. We have had places want to charge us for the extra children plus charge us extra again for a cot!

    Our next trip is to the US, and it has been a dream in comparison. Two double bed rooms seem standard and every place we have booked online as had it clearly stated that kids under 12 (usually) are free. I haven’t had to contact a single place!

    Reply
    • Yep, quite often, if breakfast is included ( which it usually isn’t) we’ve ended up with 2 or 3 breakfasts between 4. No biggy, the kids don’t drink coffee, so long as I get my caffein fix I can go without.

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  9. Travelling with kids in tow (plus an injured husband) is exhausting enough, without adding in the extra work that is involved in budget travel. I have had similar problems. I found Asia to be much more flexible accommodating extras in a room ie. 2 adults and 3 kids in a room advertised for a maximum of 3-4 adults. But it’s much more difficult in Europe and the UK, where OHS regulations are more strict and the tourist dollar does not go as far. The problem I’ve encountered with Airbnb is that an apartment that look very well priced for 2 people soars in price when the number goes up to 5 people (even in those people are children). I know you are keen on slow travel and don’t fancy the idea of rushing about, so what about housesitting? Might not be a great option for Asia, but might be perfect for the UK? Many Brits head off to sunny spots, skiing etc in Dec/Jan and need someone to petsit/housesit. Good luck!

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    • Yes, I’ve been looking at house sits, luckily we have plenty of family and friends to stay with all over the UK, so I don’t think we’ll have to pay for accommodation at all.

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  10. Sawadee.com seems to be good too for finding accommodation based on having children. They let you put in the number of kids in the search too. I am booking for our trip to Thailand in 2 weeks and do find that it is a lot of work to find cheap family friendly places to stay, especially as this is our first big trip and I am learning as I go (thank you so much for all the tips, you have helped me a lot in planning!) I also always email the hotel before I book it just to double check if there will be any extra costs for our kids.

    Reply
    • I booked a special offer, child stays free, online, for a hotel in Bangkok. On arrival the hotel wouldn’t honour the booking, even though I had the print out, clearly listing the pre-paid price and the number of people. They made me pay an extra $12/night before they’d even let us check in. This was Rambuttri Village Inn and Plaza. The booking agents did eventually sort it out and I was refunded the money, so be careful!

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  11. Accommodations was always the toughest part of our RTW trip with our kids ages 14 and 10. We loved Australia for it’s family friendly views on pricing!!! I can see why it would be hard once you left to adjust! We always tried to find houses/rentals through air bnb for our longer stays. They worked for us and tended to have better long term rates (week-6 week) than the daily rates of other places. Plus, dealing with people rather than companies almost always meant bargaining. We often were offered time or extras. Plus, homes suited our family life better. Hope you find a good place soon!!!

    Reply
    • The cheapest room I ever booked in Australia( for 3) was $80, and it was a stinking, mouldy hole of a place! We think that’s really expensive. We’re mostly paying under $20 in Asia, as low as $12, even $6 occasionally.

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  12. Very informative article, thank you! The issue of family accommodation feels like the biggest unknown for us as we plan our RTW.

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  13. I know exactly what you mean. I’ve only got the one but he’s only 11 and is as tall as I am and I found it difficult to convince people that he’s a child. That was in Scotland!

    Next year, we’re going to Thailand and Indonesia. I wonder…..

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    • In Thailand they often judge admission costs and fares on boats on the height of the child. If the child is taller than the counter, they pay adult prices. My 7 year old just gets by, my 9 year old doesn’t. You should be OK with hotels, they’ll look at passports.

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  14. This is how I proceed: I check last minute rooms for 2 personnes, I use “jetcost.com” they compare the other websites prices and then we take 2 rooms t discount price, sometimes this gets us cheaper than a family room with 4 beds or suite of two rooms that I find very expensive. I don’t put 3 children when looking on a web site because there is really nothing proposed at a decent price. In Europe at least you can make camping in summer. We stayed 1 month in april in a camping “mobile home” with 3 rooms for the price of a hotel room for 1 personn. Could you make a post with the mames of the cheap hotels you found so we can also use them?. We will travel in december for 5 weeks in Asia and are curently in Vietnam for 3 months Greetings Estelle

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    • The only place we’ve found rooms cheap enough to book 2 doubles was in Kanchanaburi, they were $6/ night. Other that there, room prices have been too high for us to even consider taking 2. We’re happy to share a big bed or twin singles with the kids, the problem is, finding rooms online that allow you to do that!

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  15. This post makes me think travelling with my tribe may be more difficult ๐Ÿ™ 4 kids aged 8 and under!

    Reply

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