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Finding Budget Family Accommodation.The Hardest Part of Family Travel

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. It’s 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

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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 can’t backtrack and inflate prices so easily that way. 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, 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.

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 and 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 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!

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Nicole

Friday 19th of February 2016

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.

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Saturday 20th of February 2016

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!

Anne

Saturday 10th of January 2015

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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Saturday 10th of January 2015

No Anne, we backpack, we mostly go knocking on doors of small guest houses when we arrive in town, not the sort of places you're looking for I don't think.

phadlee

Thursday 8th of January 2015

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. :(

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Thursday 8th of January 2015

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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Friday 4th of April 2014

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.

Stacey

Thursday 3rd of April 2014

Last year I took my 4 preteens/teens to Europe. We mostly rented apartments and stayed in hostels. I averaged 65€ 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!

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Friday 4th of April 2014

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! http://latitudetravelservices.info/

nomadic family life

Alyson is the creator of World Travel Family travel blog and is a full-time traveller, blogger and travel writer. A lifetime of wanderlust and now over 7 years on the road, 50+ countries allowed the creation of this website, for you. She has a BSc and worked in pathology before entering the travel arena and creating this website. World Travel Family Travel Blog has been helping you travel more, better and further since 2012, when Alyson and James first had this life changing idea. On this site you can find endless travel information, tips and guides plus how to travel, how to fund travel and how to start your own travel blog.

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