Our Last Bunk in Barcelona: Staying in a Youth Hostel With Kids

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We’ve stayed in many a youth hostel with kids, but a recent weekend in Barcelona taught me an important lesson. Let me explain.

Our Last Bunk in Barcelona: Staying in a Youth Hostel With Kids hostel sign

Staying in a Youth Hostel With Kids

It was a last-minute trip. The upcoming Tuesday was a national holiday in Spain, so the kids had the day off from their schools. We decided to head to Barcelona for a long weekend. In need of cheap accommodation, we booked four bunks in an 8-bunk room at Mambo Tango, a youth hostel about 15 minutes walk from one of the busiest parts of the city: La Rambla.

It was a pretty good hostel, but next time I stay in a youth hostel with kids, I’ll do it differently.

Our Last Bunk in Barcelona Staying in a Youth Hostel With Kids PIN 1

After dinner the first evening, we came to our room to find someone already asleep on one of the bunks. It was only 9 pm. Was he sick? Did he have jet lag? We didn’t know, but the four of us got ready for bed in the dark, trying very hard to be quiet.

I was the loudest, of course. Turning the latch of my locker as slowly as I could, all I did was make the scraping sound even more grating. Before that, I was trying to figure out the lock, each slight tap of metal against metal making me more convinced I had woke the poor guy up. My 10-year-old finally took over and opened the lock for me in two seconds.

Late Nighters

Just as we were getting in bed, the dude’s alarm went off. It was 10 pm. He had been taking a nap before going out. “Oh right,” I thought to myself, groaning, and remembering when I had been the guy resting up for a big night.

This entire process would happen again at 3:30 am, I thought. The next time, however, it would be he and his friend — probably quite buzzed — who would attempt the same bedtime ritual. Then when morning rolled around, it would be us banging around in the dark again, trying to dress quietly while our bunkmates slept off their hangovers.

Choosing to stay in a youth hostel near Barcelona’s nightlife was the first mistake. Skipping a private room for bunks in a communal room was the second. I would totally stay in Mambo Tango again, but next time, I would book one of their private rooms, or look elsewhere.

Our Last Bunk in Barcelona: Staying in a Youth Hostel With Kids hostel sign come party

Youth Hostels the Right Way

To be clear, I am not suggesting you avoid youth hostels with kids. Quite the opposite. We love them, recommend them, will continue to use them. Keiko and I have used youth hostels since the late 90’s, and as a family, we’ve stayed in youth hostels dozens of times since 2013. In fact, one of our best memories of Northern Spain was a very special youth hostel in the Asturias region.

There are two key differences between the right and the wrong way to stay in a youth hostel boils down to two things:

Private Rooms

Many youth hostels have private rooms for four that are comparable to hotels, and often at a lower price. That price drops even further if you’re sharing a bathroom. If you have a large family, it’s often possible to rent out a 6- or 8-bunk room for your family only, but compare rates to see if that’s really a bargain.

A Non-Party Atmosphere

Towns like Barcelona, New Orleans, and Amsterdam have at least one thing in common: people come to party. If that’s the case, be wary of staying at a youth hostel with kids near the nightlife district.

Many consider staying in a youth hostel with kids to be the cheapest option available. However, it frequently isn’t, especially if you have more than one child since you pay by the person and not by the room. Apartment rental companies like AirBnB and some hotels can be cheaper if you plan ahead and do your research. However, because of our hasty decision days before we were to leave, a youth hostel was the best option if we wanted our accommodation to be both cheap and centrally located.

Our Last Bunk in Barcelona: Staying in a Youth Hostel With Kids bunks

The Social Benefits of a Youth Hostel with Kids

Our story continues. The next evening, I struck up a conversation with our late-nighter friends in the common room. They were soccer fans from California who decided on a whim (!) to fly to Barcelona for an El Classico match. In fact, they had recently met. He’s a high school soccer coach, and she’s a pro player who had just spoken at his school. In the school parking lot afterward, the two decided to drop everything for a few days, buy flights to Spain and watch their favorite team in one of the most amazing stadiums in the world.

It was a very cool and random experience. My son met a pro player and a passionate coach. They talked about teams, strategy, and visiting Camp Nou. Then they talked about how to make Youtube videos with their new GoPros (an early birthday present for the boy). None of that would have happened if we’d stayed in a hotel or apartment rental.

Meeting Kindred Spirits

Another example comes from a good friend who was hiking from the French border to Santiago de Compostela with her 10-year-old son. They stayed in a number of hostels during their trip. Some weren’t even hostels, but simply a mat on the basement floor of a church with 40 other people.

Believe it or not, this turned out to be one of the best aspects of the trip for them. When you’re walking 20+ miles every day, you tend to bond with the people walking with you. Staying in hostels with her son, she told me, helped both of them form stronger bonds with fellow hikers, and with each other.

The difference between their experience and ours? For them, everyone had the same goal: hike all day, and then rest up for another 7-10 hours of walking the following day. Everyone was on the same page.

Not so for us in Barcelona. The 20-something crowd wants to party, and I don’t blame them. I was doing the same in my 20’s…and 30’s…and…well anyway that’s not what this winter Barcelona trip was about. We were in Barcelona to have a taste of Catalonian Christmas spirit and to see what Barcelona has to offer teens and tweens.

I’m not trying to paint a nightmare experience. Far from it. What we lost in sleep we gained in meeting interesting people. However, it did serve as a lesson to plan better.

Our Last Bunk in Barcelona: Staying in a Youth Hostel With Kids hostel sign NYC

Have You Stayed in a Youth Hostel with Kids?

Why or why not? Where did you stay? What was your experience like? Do you have any tips to get the most out of your stay?

Our Last Bunk in Barcelona Staying in a Youth Hostel With Kids PIN 2

Image credits: #1, #3, #4


  1. Anyone who stays in a youth hostel with children is a dickhead. We don’t want to hear your damn children, nor do we want to accidentally say something rude in front of them etc… Come the fuck on, are you serious?

    • Such hostility Sasha!

      Sorry you feel that way about family travelers in youth hostels, but I have to respectfully disagree. The youth hostel we stayed welcomed family travelers. That said, we usually skip the bunks and get private rooms. As for rude things said in front of children, my kids can handle salty language. Remember: some hostels welcome families and some do not. You do your research and I’ll do mine. I’ll admit that I should have checked this one a little better. We try to avoid party hostels because that’s not our thing (anymore) and people who go there to party are in the right place, and we would not be (and no room to complain). But we and our kids have had great experiences in youth hostels all over, and will continue to recommend staying at hostels, without sugarcoating it. Safe travels!

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