I was recently 'interviewed' via email about staying at 'alternative' accommodations while traveling as a family.

Many people don't travel with their family because they imagine that it requires large expenses such as hotel rooms every night.

In reality, they are a lot of alternatives that can help reduce the traditional costs of accommodations.

Can you tell me if you ever stayed in alternative accommodations, where was it, why you chose to stay there, describe the experience, and what makes it different when there's kids.

Hostels: We've stayed in hostels in Costa Rica and Mexico with our children. We chose them because they offered kitchen services and bathrooms/showers, but are less expensive than hotels. We enjoy the experience, and meeting all sorts of interesting people, but in some ways it's stressful for mom (especially with very young kids or babies) because I'm worried about their noise levels and 'bothering' other people. However, as the kids get older and can understand respect (i.e. older than 3 or 4), it's a great opportunity for them to practice.

Farmstays/staying somewhere in exchange for work: We've thought about doing this but haven't had the opportunity yet.

"Couch surfing"/Staying with strangers: We've done this many times in the United States, because people have invited us over after finding our blog. We really enjoy it, especially when the other family has children, because we know there will be more understanding about how children are, and plus the kids will have friends to play with and keep entertained while the adults chat. Staying with families without kids is more of a challenge because they need more parental attention. Some of our closest friends we met by being invited over to a 'stranger's house'.

Camping: We love camping, and it's a very inexpensive way to travel. We've done this with the kids in Alaska, Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Costa Rica (and we'll be doing it in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama and throughout all of South America). We have great experiences camping with the kids. It gives them the freedom to 'be themselves' - to run and play and get dirty, without the need to worry about 'bothering others' (unless of course we're staying in a campground, which we rarely do). It also provides an amazing connection with nature which is difficult to get any other way. You wake up to sunrises, go to bed with sunsets, get undiluted views of the moon and stars and can hear the sounds of nature all around you. We LOVE it. (Check out this video to learn more about how we camp for free in Mexico and Central America.)

House swap: Haven't done this one yet, only renting houses in Guatemala, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, etc. I may be wrong, but my impression is that this would be difficult with our large family of young children, because I would be concerned about damage to the home (plus we don't have a home of our own to swap) ūüėČ

What other accommodations have you stayed in with kids besides hotels, motels, and RVs?

In Mexico and Belize we've camped in tents/roof top tent with the kids in farms, on beaches, in fields, even at gas and police stations, as well as parking lots for stores like Walmart - when needed. We love camping as a family, and it's an inexpensive way to get from one place to another (from the U.S. to Guatemala, where we're renting a house) while more fully experiencing the country your visiting and enjoying the natural beauty.

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What would you say to parents who would only be willing to stay in hotels with their kids? How is alternative travel beneficial?

It gives you more of an experience (or at least a different one), either by mingling with local people, meeting varied personalities who are also traveling, or getting an up close and personal look at local flora and fauna. Each type of accommodations provide their own unique experience, and it's fun to mix it up once in awhile, to get 'something new' even out of the same place.

What advice do you have for parents who are exploring these alternative travel accommodation? Safety advice?

You should definitely try it. More often than not, you will be safe. People love children and respect families, even going out of their way to keep them safe. You're likely to be safer doing these types of experiences with your children than you would alone or as a couple. Just follow common sense rules (i.e. don't take your kids out to the bars - or go yourself - late at night) and you'll be safe. Being where families would naturally be is your safest bet.

So were you ever concerned with taking your kids around strangers?

We have not been concerned taking our kids around strangers, because most people are so nice, and many people enjoy children. We are usually with our kids anyways. It's also a great opportunity for our kids to learn about different personality styles and cultures, and to learn things we wouldn't otherwise.

What other safety advice would you offer parents staying at hostels? How about camping?

The only safety advice is to maintain your family unity -- do things together, instead of allowing your children to go off with new friends/aka strangers. We always stick together, so we always know what's happening with our kids. We don't have to worry about 'something bad' occurring. If we hang out with friends, we do it as a family. We trust other people, and believe in their goodness, but we're not going to let that supersede our children's well being.



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