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Travel with No Reservations

no hotel reservations

My new MSNBC column (via Tripso) is out now, called Reservations About Making Reservations. Of course the majority of backpackers go for months or a year finding rooms on the fly without even thinking about it, but from the comments I’ve gotten already on Tripso, you’d think I proposed some radical idea that’s going to upset the new world order.

The lead-off of it is that I’m going to Zihuatanejo, Mexico in October with my family and we’re not choosing our hotel in advance. Egads! What an idiot! Never mind that I’ve done this at least 200 times in my life and only three or four times has it been a disaster. I can point to plenty of times my web reservation has been a fiasco though and the hotel was far from what it was cracked up to be. I’ve found memorable hotels both ways, of course, and either approach can work well in different situations. It just seems to me that real eyes on the ground are more reliable than what “travelinmama457” says on TripAdvisor.

The second part of this story is that I have some friends who took a two-week family trip to Greece this summer with absolutely no hotel reservations beyond the first night. They went in early June, before the crowds, when you could do this with no occupancy worries. In the end though, they found lots of lovely hotels that were a super bargain. Some of them weren’t on any website or in any guidebook. And that was a touristy country! “One hotel was just so-so for the price,” they told me. They had gotten to that town as the sun was going down and didn’t get a good look at it. But otherwise, they felt like they hit a home run every time.

What about you? Has the extra time you’ve taken to look around here and there allowed you to find a better deal in person than you could have found in the same amount of time surfing the web? Are you a contrarian traveler or is the thought of touching down without full reservations too uncomfortable to fathom?

[flickr photo by pbo31]


Friday 18th of March 2011

When you're backpacking I always think you're best off not booking in advance, especially in Asia or south america where the reservation systems tend not to be so reliable or you really want to check out the hotel/ hostel/ hut before you commit to staying there. Like Mike though when I touch down in a new destination I always like to have that first night booked up (somewhere better than I would usually stay) so I can head straight there, drop off my bags and get my bearings.


Friday 22nd of October 2010

It is disappointing that often what we read is not the reality. This is the challenge facing many on line companies. It will sort out soon enough as otherwise the whole of the internet marketing will fall in a heap.


Friday 14th of September 2007

The only times I make reservations are the night I arrive and the night before I go home (for the overall trip). I do, actually, feel it's important to have a place to put down on that first night because you're going to be hungry and tired and have no feel for the city, then get spit out into it often at 1am. Too much. I'll pay the extra $20 to have security that night.

After that, though, I never make reservations. Anything I see online can usually be found for half the price, if not less. It's part of the excitement, in fact, looking for rooms, wandering around the city. It's only really messed me up once - in Cambridge, England, I stayed in a way-too-expensive B&B a mile out of town because it was the week students moved back in (so their parents took up all the rooms). Other than that, though, I like having the choice to give my money to people who are welcoming/kind/honest.

Needless to say, I stay in places that are as cheap as possible, so when it's time to go home, I reserve a nice hotel and get a good night's sleep, shower off, and generally treat myself to some luxury as a final "thank you for doing this trip for yourself."