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Budget Travel in Ireland

Hostels: Family Alternatives to Hotels and B and Bs

Before my family’s recent trip to Ireland I thought “hostel” meant a cramped room filled with rows of bunk beds and backpacks. I was pleased to discover that hosteling in Ireland can actually mean spacious private rooms designed with family travel in mind.

Budget travelers to Ireland have traditionally flocked to bed and breakfasts. But with the average price of a night’s stay in a B and B running well over $25 a person, the price has become prohibitive for family travel.

So my family opted instead for hostels, which generally offer private rooms for $12 to $20 per person, including use of kitchen facilities. Dinner in a restaurant for our family of four ran over $50 easily, but dinners cooked in our hostels rarely cost more than $20.

Beyond the benefits of saving money, hostels brought us in touch with other travelers and with wonderful hosts, like Marty Phelan of the Traditional Farm Hostel in Ballacolla, County Laois. The Phelans have renovated an old, stone farmhouse and transformed it into a warm, inviting hostel. Marty Phelan provides travel tips, makes calls about local entertainment, and cooks a good breakfast. Before our trip, he called us at home here in the States to be certain that we could find our way to his hostel.

The Kilmorna Farm Hostel, just outside the Heritage Town of Lismore in County Waterford, surrounded by fields of grazing horses and sheep, has spacious, beautifully designed rooms set around a cobblestone courtyard. We wished we’d planned a longer stay. Owner Sibylle Knobel opened the hostel a few years ago after renovating a crumbling stable and other old farm buildings. Today the facilities include a sleek, modern kitchen and a spacious great room for dining, reading, and TV.

Another favorite of ours was the Cliff, a YWCA-run hostel in the beach town of Tramore, along the south coast of Ireland. For $18 a person, we had two twin-bedded rooms with a sensational view of the beach and a full Irish breakfast.

In general, we found that hostels in the countryside were more affordable, more attractive, and more spacious than their counterparts in cities. But the city hostels were certainly far more affordable than any other lodging alternatives, and they were safe places to stay that were within a stone's throw of the sites we wanted to visit. Our hostel in Dublin was next to the beautiful Christchurch Cathedral and down the street from Trinity College. Our Cashel hostel was within easy walking distance of the Rock of Cashel and its magnificent ruins. In Kilkenny, we could leave our car parked and walk through the medieval town. City hostels operate with secured access. All provide some form of safe storage for luggage and other valuables.

We used addresses from guidebooks, internet services, and hostel associations to reserve ahead for our trip. It is worth checking back with hostels that had been booked. Last-minute cancellations got us into a Dublin hostel that was full when I'd tried two months earlier.

While lounges and kitchens are the norm with hostels, check to see that the one you're booking comes fully equipped. Ask about bed linens (most private rooms include them; most dorms do not) and bathroom facilities (unless rooms are “en suite” your toilet and your shower will be down the hallway).

• Expect a clean, modest room; don't expect luxurious decor and a fresh paint job.

• Expect bunks--and be pleasantly surprised when you get a standard bed.

• Expect to share a lounge, a kitchen, and dining room with travelers from all around the world and to see a lot of twentysomethings, with a sprinkling of families and middle-aged travelers.

• Expect advice--solicited and unsolicited--on what you should see, where you should eat, and how you should change your travel plans.

• Expect to experience more closely the places you’ve chosen to visit. We stayed in only one hotel while we were in Ireland. While my daughter appreciated the hair dryer and my son the TV in our room, it’s the conviviality and the personality of the hostels we reminisce about now. We talk about Rose, our “warden” in the Glendalough Hostel, who gave us a farewell present of an Irish book that we read over the rest of our trip. We talk about the Australian family we went out to a pub with and the Canadian man who gave us a Toronto Bluejays T-shirt and made us promise to root for his country’s athletes in the Olympics.

Hostels made our travel affordable. But, more importantly, staying in hostels filled our trip to Ireland with memories of people we otherwise would never have come to know.

Irish Hostels

Kilmorna Farm Hostel, Lismore, Co. Waterford; (011) 353-58-54315. Double room costs about $15 per person.

Traditional Farm Hostel, Farren House, Ballacolla, Portlaoise, Co. Laois; (011) 353-502-34032, fax 502-34008. Private room with four beds, about $12 per person.

The Cliff, Church Road, Tramore, Co. Waterford; (011) 353-51-381363 (or book through Ireland online). Beautiful location, overlooking Tramore Bay and beach; single, twin, and double-bedded rooms; $20 per person.

The Old Presbytery, www.irishtourist.com/details/the_old_presbytery.shtml. The Fairgreen, Rathdrum, Co. Wicklow.; (011) 353-404-46930 or 46173. Immaculate, spacious hostel in Rathdrum village, one mile from Avondale National Forest. Kitchen and laundry facilities. Four-bedded room, $15 per person.

Kinlay House, www.kinlayhouse.ie. Large hostel with basic amenities; good location in Temple Bar section. Single, doubles, and quads available. Private room en suite sleeps four in bunk beds for $18 per person, including generous continental breakfast. Kinlay also operates hostels in Cork and Galway.

Cashel Holiday Hostel, 6 John’s Street, Cashel, Co. Tipperary; (011) 353-62-62330. Four-bedded bunk room en suite only $16 per person.

Information and Booking

Independent Holiday Hostels; www.hostels-ireland.com. A cooperative society of privately owned hostels throughout Ireland, all approved by Tourist Board. Most have private rooms. The IHH guide is available from the tourist board.

Irish Tourist Board, 345 Park Ave., 17th Fl., New York, NY 10154; (800) 223-6470 or (212) 418-0800; www.tourismireland.com.

Irish Beds, www.irishbeds.com/nav/site_map_hostels.html.

JODY LANNEN BRADY is a freelance editor who lives in Annandale, VA.