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Travel with an Infant

Hosteling is a Fabulous Way for a Family to See the World

School children in Ireland
School children play in beautiful Saint Stephen's Green, Ireland

Between family, friends, and host families, we've been lucky to avoid the hotel route on previous trips to Europe. But with no family in Ireland, too short a stay to justify an exchange, a tiny budget, and a thirst for adventure, this time we chose hosteling for our accommodations.

The hostel employees were knowledgeable about the area and had extensive recommendations for food, sites, and even other hostels; but the real advantage of hosteling is the wide range of people we were able to meet along the way.

Our first stop was in the town of Wexford, a charming city of approximately 16,000 people set on a hill over a quay. Kirwan overlooked the town. Our room was on the top floor with an incredible view of the neighborhood. The room was small but clean with and the hostel had a kitchen, TV room and a pretty courtyard with plenty of room for our toddling tot to roam. The hostel host was a young man from the States who was spending a few years exploring Europe and supporting himself by running this small hostel. He loved the laid-back attitude of the Irish and their sense of fun. No one made a lot of money, he said, but everyone made enough to get by and have a pint at the end of the day.

In Dublin we stayed in a huge hostel that had once been a hospital. We tried a dormitory-style room, but with our roommates wrapping up their day in the wee small hours of the morning and our son waking up at the crack of dawn, we quickly changed to a single. While we wandered in the lobby in slippers and pajamas, waiting for our younger roommates to wake up, we met a businessman from Saudi Arabia who preferred hostels to fancy hotels, a young Spaniard interviewing for jobs in Dublin, and a group of Swedish teens besotted by our young son. The hostel's handyman opened the breakfast room hours early and made me a mug of tea, and the two older men who worked at the hostel as night desk attendants entertained our little one while we ate an early breakfast.

Traveling with an infant means needing a kitchen 24 hours a day to mix formula, keep juice and baby food cool, and warm up coffee for the inevitable middle-of-the-night waking. And for this, a hostel turned out to be an excellent choice. Laundry facilities at the hostels allowed us to wash our clothes, so we only brought a few changes. The newness of the surroundings and the fast pace of the city kept our son entertained far better than a suitcase full of toys.

Our one mistake was to bring a child backpack that converted into a stroller; it was uncomfortable to wear and hard for him to nap in. Given the chance to do it again, I would have brought a regular child backpack and bought an inexpensive umbrella stroller once I was there, donating it to the hostel or Oxfam at the end of the trip.

Most people imagine traveling with very young children to be nearly impossible. Our experience was that it opened doors. People went out of their way to be kind and helpful. The worldwide love of little children makes traveling with them a fulfilling experience.

Hostels that have the reputation for being filled with student backpackers, have in recent years opened their doors to globe-trotting retired folks, businessmen and women, and even families. Web sites such as www.hostelworld.com and www.hostels.com offer photos of facilities, maps of the area, directions to public transportation, amenities available on site, as well as online reservation capabilities. The few hostels that are not kid-friendly state their rules up front. Take a list of alternatives and a little extra cash in case you have to spring for a B&B one night.