Two of the Schoenstatt sisters read the morning paper in the center's dining room. They are particularly happy because the center was mentioned in the paper!

Most student travelers decide to stay in hostels or with host families when they go abroad. But my friend Leesha a junior at the University of Minnesota, relies on the hospitality of Catholic sisters in different convents around the world.

I asked her why she chose such an unusual travel experience, what the living conditions are like, and whether non-religious people are welcome. Ever the English Major, Leesha took her assignment seriously, describing the two weeks she spent in Australia in 2008:

So what made me want to stay with a bunch of nuns? Well, being Catholic, I knew there were places I could stay internationally that would be clean, safe, and cheap. These places are convents or even monasteries.

The Schoenstatt sisters of Mary are part of laity in Catholicism which means that they minister specifically to the lay people, and are not a cloistered convent, in which the sisters are mostly or entirely removed from secular society. The Schoenstatt (sh-uhn-shtah-tt) shrines are places of pilgrimage.

In Australia, the Schoenstatt sisters had three buildings, plus the shrine itself. The bedrooms usually have two beds, and we were able to do our laundry at the shrine while we were there, a much-needed amenity.

I found out about the Schoenstatt sisters through friends of mine. As for other convents, I have friends who know different orders in the various countries I hope to visit (France and Italy, for example), so I’ve been asking them for the email contacts or phone numbers of these orders.

One of the orders I found out about through some friends are the Little Sisters of the Lamb. They are a mendicant order, which means that they beg for their food daily. In spite of their poverty, the sisters are very hospitable, so my friends assure me.

A typical convent bedroom, which Leesha found to be a welcome relief after sleeping on a school floor.

“We begged for vegetables like we were starving!”

Our hosts were wonderful in Australia. It’s amazing what kind of foods you can miss when you are abroad. In Australia, during our first week, we ate very few vegetables. And the ones we did eat were cooked or canned. So when we got to the center and met the sisters, they fed us dinner right away. And we begged for vegetables like we were starving!

The buildings themselves were as comfortable as any other housing. I would imagine they are cleaner than most hostels and hotels, because fewer people pass through religious centers. The beds were a welcome relief after spending the previous week in sleeping bags on a school floor.

The one thing about staying in convents or religious centers is that they are not always conveniently located near tourist sites. We were fortunate in Australia to have locals who drove us to the center, and then we rented a bus to visit the Blue Mountains, but beyond that we didn’t “sight see” while we stayed with the sisters. When I travel to Europe, I believe the Little Sisters of the Lamb live right in the heart of Rome, so I don’t think I’ll need much in the way of travel assistance there.

Money is definitely an object when traveling. Being a student means pinching pennies any way we can. Even now, I’m expecting to spend money on apples and bread in grocery stores and splurging on the beer and wine, just so that I can stay within a good budget; this is a difficult thing to do when you decide to travel during peak tourist season.

Fortunately, the Schoenstatt sisters have allowed us to work for our room and board when we go to Scotland, and I believe it only cost us $100 to stay for a week down in Australia. Of course, I cannot say for certain that was the case in Australia, because all of our costs were consolidated into one fee for the whole two-week trip. It is usually the case that religious orders will charge a fee to stay with them. However, it usually costs less than hotels, and even some hostels.

The Schoenstatt grounds in Australia, which include a gift shop, visitor bedrooms, and a dining hall.

“[This] does not mean you are going to turn into a nun!”

I’m pretty sure you don’t have to be Catholic to stay in a convent or a monastery. I believe the Schoenstatt sisters welcome all visitors. Their primary website is http://cmsms.schoenstatt.de/de/, and there are links on the website for people to contact the different shrines around the world to inquire about visiting. That is how I got in touch with the sisters in Scotland and Germany.

Other orders are similar, though you will often find that many religious orders do not have contact information on the internet, simply because they often do not have computers. Taking a vow of poverty requires different standards for the religious. So being a part of the Catholic network has definitely helped me simply in finding these convents, because often one hears about them simply by word-of-mouth.

I do plan on staying with religious sisters when I travel in the future, as I have mentioned. While it is not always possible everywhere, I find it is a very useful safety net for young women who travel.

And don’t worry: visiting religious sisters for a weekend, or a week, or even three weeks does not mean you are going to turn into a nun! They are certainly a joyful and open bunch, but they don’t pry.

Thank you for inviting me in for this interview, and good luck to anyone considering this as an option while traveling!

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