Whether it be with your family or you are backpacking through Europe, hostels can be the very best decision you can make for a place to stay. They are anywhere from $5-30 per night and most include a breakfast. You can’t beat that, but does it really make up for the communal showers and sleeping next to strangers?
There are 2 kinds of people that travel to Europe: the person that has a ton of money, wears his business attire when walking for miles and miles, shops at the local Louis Vuitton stores, and stays at the Ritz and the open-minded “im on a budget” mentality person. Though I’d like to have the first guy’s wallet, the second is what I am.
OK, let’s think about your situation and what most people do. You’ve decided to book a flight to experience a world totally unknown to you. You prepare all your luggage the best you can, stuffing that last shirt you plan on boasting on your trip to the Eiffel Tower. You head to the airport, say your “goodbyes” to the good ol’ USA, and board your plan. After you land, you then realize that the flight was not as fun as you thought after 12+ hours of air time and 2 grueling layovers. You finally get your luggage after clearing customs and security and get in that taxi. You tell the cab driver in your best English “to the best western, please”.
GET OUT OF MY CAB AND GO BACK TO THE USA! At least if I was the cab driver that is what I’d say. Staying at a hostel is half of the adventure. They can be very nice and accommodating. It would blow your mind the types of people that stay at hostels. I’ve seen many business men in their 3-piece suits, entire families, friends, and of course solo travelers at these hostels. Just like hotels, there are fresh sheets and towels waiting for you, a clean bed (usually bunk-bed), and super friendly people willing to answer any questions you might have. There are even all-girl rooms and family rooms of 4-6 you can reserve ahead of time.
One time my wife put in the wrong account numbers for our reservation and our room was taken by someone else. We were traveling with 6 people, and the hostel was completely full. They ended up putting us in a conference room sleeping on cots with over 20 other people. It was a blast. I got to meet so many people with so many interesting stories, no one was rude or loud, and I woke up the next morning refreshed and full of ideas and memories.
TLDR; Since you are already traveling to Europe and going “outside of the box” then do it right. Stay in a hostel. You will meet so many people and have a great experience. They are clean, super cheap, and even have lockable storage for your valuables. There is also a really cool website, www.couchsurfing.com, which you can stay at someone’s house/apartment for free. These people offer their place for other people to use so they can do the same in return on their travels. It is a great idea and can be very very nice. You need to be careful and read reviews about people you may be staying with.