I'm traveling with my two kids this summer (Germany, Austria and Italy) and we are planning to stay in youth hostels. I was planning to book dorm rooms instead of family rooms, even though that could mean that my son (who is the 15 year old) might be separated if they segregate by sex. Personality-wise I think this is not a problem and I'm sure we could all use breaks from each other. However, if anyone had any advice (one way or another) as to this arrangement, I'd appreciate it.
If you check out some hostels online before you leave, you should not have a hard time finding hostels that have co-ed dorm rooms so you can stay in the same room with your son. Check websites like HostelWorld.com
As an aside, sometimes it is actually cheaper to book a budget hotel room than to book 3 bunks in a hostel dorm (i.e., Accor Hotels is a pretty good budget chain). The pro for the hostel is that you have access to a kitchen and laundry facilities. You may also want to look into university housing - many colleges & universities offer accommodation to travelers in the summer months and they may have private triple rooms in your price range. Monasteries & convent lodging might be another good choice with kids.
If you were planning on going to Berlin, it will be cheaper for you and your family to rent an apt. then staying in a hostel. You can rent for just a few days, it doesn't have to be a week. In Germany, it is also possible to rent rooms in peoples homes, that would also be cheaper and nicer than a hostel. Not sure about Austria or Italy, but I am going to guess that people also offer private room and apt. rentals.
The apartments by far will give you the most space, but I don't know what your budget is. If it is very tight, you may find paying for a (refundable) security deposit or (non-refundable) cleaning fee up front on top of the nightly rental rate prohibitive. There is more flexibility to cancel a hostel, hotel or university dorm without being penalized should your plans change. You probably won't get much (if any) money back if you have to cancel on the apartment unless the owner/agency can rebook it or you pay extra for cancellation insurance.
Ilsabe,, while the hostelling idea sounds rather fun etc,, it is likely not a cheaper way to vacation when you are paying for three people. Carefully compare prices before you commit. A clean one star hotel can easily be less then 90 euros a night.
There are a lot of options. When we travel as a family, we are occasionally stuck in seperate sex dorms. It's not a problem because my daughters can stay with mom while the boys stay with me (depends on who we have in tow).
From a personal safety perspective I don't think it's a problem. My biggest worry is trying to instill in your son sufficient caution so his valuables aren't stolen. Leaving an Ipod on the bed while you go down the hall to shower is a sure-fire way to lose it. Leaving your camera or wallet in an unlocked locker while you are out of the room will more than likely result in their loss.
My kids, traveling on their own for the first time (ages 17, 20, 21 and 21)couldn't wait to stay in hostels this past Christmas. But they also soon found out that the idea of a hostel was much more romantic than the actual experience. I could have Pricelined them into 4 star hotels ( in 2 separate rooms)for the same price as the hostels. They all said they would absolutely would choosse that option next time.
Personally, if it was me that was traveling with kids, I'd would skip the hostels totally and just stick to apartments/pensiones, hotels, and B&Bs. It will cost the same price, but you get more for your money and a private room. But, anyway... Check out the hostels online and read their reviews. Some hostels cater more to families than to young vagabonds. Young travelers tend to sniff out and avoid "family-orientated hostels" because they want to be around others of their age (kids get in their way) and they can get away with drinking and partying. Also, tell the front desk that you are a family and booking X amount of beds. Then, ask what is their lowest price (since you are booking more than one bed). They might give you a small discount and pack you all into one dorm room.