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Jen from Backyard Family Travel and her three kids stand at the top of Red Tarns Track overlooking Aoraki Mt Cook Village.

Myth Busting: Staying at YHA with kids

We asked Jen from Backyard Travel Family to explore the South Island with us. She has three kids under 8 and hadn’t stayed at a hostel in over 10 years.

South Island

“I had never really considered a YHA for my family for my New Zealand holiday. To be honest it was never on my radar.”

The perfect candidate to learn the secrets of family travel with YHA.  Now she's here to tell you that it should be on your radar too. Over to Jen. 


With prime locations I could only dream of, all the facilities I need for the kids and more money in my pocket to do those bucket list activities, it pretty much ticks all my boxes. So Mum and Dad, let me put your mind at ease and debunk a few myths

Kip, Jen's son from Backyard Family Travel, smiles at the camera from the bunk bed ladder at YHA Aoraki Mt Cook

Myth: You’ll have to sleep next to strangers

Nope, not at all. If you’re a family group and have kids under 18, you have to book a private room which is actually great. No interruptions from a late night stranger waking you up and space to spread out all your things.

Did you know you can privatise a dorm room? This means you can have a whole dorm room to yourself and the kids. Have a big family that is hard to get accommodation for? Many rooms sleep up to 6 or 8.

Myth: It’s only for travelling backpackers

YHA’s are so well set up for families. You can even bring your baby. Yes, they accept the youngest little travellers and you can borrow a portacot at no charge or bring your own. Just give them a quick call to check the room you are booking has space for it. (We don’t want it to be a fire hazard)

One thing we love when travelling is a kitchen. While eating out can be fun, being able to feed the kids a home cooked meal that I know they will eat is key. They even have all those little extras on the kitchen: recipe books, baking tins, free herbs and spices, salt and pepper (all those things you wished you’d thought of at the supermarket but didn’t buy).

The kids love being able to chill out or watch a movie in the TV lounge while I cook and I can get them to bed at a decent hour. I mean, you could even cook a roast at Easter. Oh yes I did… to the envy of every passing visitor I might add.

Once they are in bed we can pull out a cold bevvy from the fridge and watch Netflix. YHA’s have 5BG of free WiFi per device per 24 hours. I just love not having to pay exorbitant amounts of money just to have internet access.

YHA Lake Tekapo

Jen's Family from Backyard Family Travel sits at a large dining table in the YHA Wanaka dining area. Their roast meal for Easter dinner is on the table ready to be served.

Myth: You have to bring your own linens and sleeping bag

The thought of having to drag extra things on my road trip does my head in. So no, unlike hostels in the past, this is not a thing in the YHAs in New Zealand. Fresh clean sheets and duvets are provided. The only thing they ask you to do is strip the linens when you leave. Easy as.

Myth: You’ll have to share a bathroom

You don’t have to, depending on which YHA you stay at. There are some fabulous rooms with ensuites on the YHA network. We had an incredible 6 bunk room cabin in Wanaka with our own toilet, shower and kitchenette which worked perfectly for our family of 5. I kid you not when I say that it was one of the best showers I’ve had on holiday (pressure and heat = divine) The room had plenty of space in a magic location, so we are definitely heading back soon.

YHA Wanaka

Not a myth: It’s great for your budget

Staying at a YHA will help you save more money for the fun stuff, like skiing or ziplining or hot pools. I challenge you to find a lakefront location for $168 per night in Queenstown. Yes you read that right. At such great value you can spend your hard earned money on epic family experiences. Having full kitchen facilities means you don’t have to eat out every night, a great savings. Compared to hotels, which at best have a kitchenette, you have everything you need. Away for a kids birthday? Whip up a boxed cake as they even have cake and muffin tins. Feel like late night apple pie? Just pop it in the oven, and yes there's a big freezer so you can even add ice cream.

YHA Queenstown Lakefront


Jen from Backyard Family Travel and her three kids stand out side YHA Aoraki Mt Cook, you can see the mountains in the background.

Not a myth: They have the best locations

I don’t know how they do it, but the YHA has some of the best locations. Central city Queenstown, the most incredible view of Lake Tekapo, 2 blocks from Lake Wanaka with the skatepark and domain across the road, under the snowy mountains at Mt Cook. Location is something you don’t have to compromise on.

Not a myth: You’ll get to hang out with some epic humans

One of the reasons we travel is to connect and for the children to learn empathy and understanding of others. As we naturally chatted about who had the most appetising dinner in the YHA Aoraki Mt Cook kitchen, we found ourselves a fellow hiker who was also climbing to Mueller Hut the next night. As we all high fived on the steps of the red hut after completing this epic hike, I knew the shared experience with a new friend made the win that much sweeter.

YHA Aoraki Mt Cook

Not a myth: You get great discounts with your YHA membership

You do not have to be a member to stay at a YHA, but you do get a 10% discount if you are one (kids get a free membership by the way). 

I think every parent is looking for a good deal, especially with kids when you have more mouths to feed or more activities to book, so a YHA membership is great. You can get great travel deals such as discounts on your Interisland ferry booking, epic activities such as Black Cat Dolphin cruises or Franz Josef Glacier tours or even a cruise to Milford Sound with Real Journeys.

So if you thought the days of exploring the hostel network were well behind you, then perhaps think again. They’re a great budget friendly way to explore the country and will be your home away from home.


helicopter landed on mt cook

Thanks Jen! If you're taking a holiday in New Zealand and looking for some incredible things to do with kids, go check out or follow Jen and her family on Instagram @backyardtravelfamily

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Jen Parkes

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