After spending time backpacking around Europe and now living in London I’ve met a few backpackers. In that time I’ve spent hours and hours relaxing in hostel common rooms and various drinking establishments talking travel. Where have you been? Where are you going? What was your favourite place? All questions that will come up everywhere you go so be ready with your best (or worst) travel story.
When I would tell them of my future travels plans I was often met with two different responses. My usual answer to the question was “oh I think I’ll stay a few more days before I move on but I’m not sure yet”. Some people at that point would take it upon themselves to suggest I go and see another site while here, jealous I was staying longer than they were. The rest would say “but don’t you have your next hostel booked already? you are crazy I could never do that”.
This was where I discovered that so many people had pre book travel. Be it their hostels, tours and even their entire trip abroad before having left home. I’m not one to say you must travel a specific way otherwise you are doing it wrong but I do believe there is some method to my madness.
Lets look at the pre book travellers train of thought. Booking everything from home makes it easy. You have your accommodation squared away so won’t have to worry about dealing with that on the road. It allows you to spend hours not minutes finding your so-called perfect hostel and having tours or bus’s booked in advance takes away some of the language barrier stress. Lastly it makes the parents feel safer knowing they will have a detailed itinerary of where you are staying for every night of your trip.
Nothing wrong with the above, it’s safe and leaves little chance of you ending up with no bed for the night. But… aren’t you removing yourself from part of the joy of travel. What happened to the world is my oyster dreams you had when the idea of backpacking first entered your mind. When you were excited about all the places you wanted to explore with not a care in the world.
By all means plan out some of your trip like countries you want to visit. It would be remiss of me to tell you to just land abroad with no plan as I’m sure you will have certain places or sights you will want to visit (I know I did). After that stop and draw a line in the sand, stop planning travel and start living travel. Why? well because of the following.
- You will make friends on the road and want to travel with them
- You will fall in love with a place and want to stay longer
- You will miss at least one bus or train
- You will discover a new independent you
- You may find love
How can you do any of the above if you are running to a timetable that resembles your first year of high school. To sum it up best I saw this line over on urban dictionary awhile ago as a definition for travel which lines up with my reasoning’s for not pre booking my travels.
to move from point to point, often done at the spur of a moment
In my mind pre booking all your travel is selling yourself short. Less than a week on the road and you’ll gain your travel legs along with a new view on the world and I’m living proof of that. Scared out of my brain when leaving to travel solo around Europe with nothing booked other than my first hostel in Paris. It took just a couple of days until I was a completely different person and boy was I thrilled to have so much freedom to go wherever I pleased.
With confidence abroad the last thing you want holding you back is the fact you sunk so much money booking hostels and other things ahead of time.
With all that said I’d love to hear if you book everything before you leave or just take it day by day as you get on the road?
I don’t book anything before I actually get to the country, unless of course its a short trip. When I went to NZ I didn’t have owt booked. I completely agree with your reasons Chris, pre-booking isn’t for me on a long-term basis.
Mike I understand short trips etc being booked but for longer travels who knows where you will want to go or what you will want to do once you arrive. Pre-empting that is impossible as many traveller will attest to once they get on the road.
I generally book flights well in advance (in part because I’m using frequent flyer miles most of the time), but leave everything in between open with plenty of extra time to stray.
I do book hostels prior to arriving in a new city, but not more than a day or two in advance so I can stay longer wherever I might be if I choose to.
More power to those people who arrive in a city with no set destination and no bed ready. I’m more of an explorer than adventurer 😉
Joel I agree on booking flights ahead of time because the earlier you book the more discount you get. You know you are going so book it, just don’t then go and book a hostel for your first stop and then your second and third etc. How do you know after 4 days it will be time to move on?
When I’m traveling I try to book as little as possible in advance, typically only the first nights accommodation on a trip.
That doesn’t mean I leave home blind. I’ll almost always have researched my options beforehand but who can know what adventures will come your way once on the road.
One of the advantages of not booking ahead is being able to make use of the best resource going – fellow travelers and their recommendations.
Eg: Last year when i was given a tip of a great hostel in Riga while still in Warsaw I took note, but over the next 2 weeks when another couple of people also mentioned the same place how could I not stay there? (They were right btw)
Ali you make a great point. Other people you meet on the road will give you tips from their first hand experience and I’ll take word of mouth over an online review any day, especially when hostel reviews sites can be gamed.
I agree with you to a certain extent…I’ve changed my plans so many times. Sometimes you meet some cool people and you decide it would be fun to hang out with them for longer. If you’ve already booked everything it doesn’t give you any flexibility. But Europe can get so expensive in the summer and occasionally everything gets booked out so planning ahead is just necessary. You can save a lot of money on filghts too if you book them in advance.
Victoria I agree with you about the flights, they aren’t something that generally works out well booking last minute. If you know you are going travelling it’s easy to book them ahead. As for the rest while you can get caught short with hostels in Europe I never had trouble finding a bed last summer and if you do get stuck there is always couchsurfing or other options available these days.
We travel in a caravan, so we won’t be left without somewhere to sleep. We usually free camp, so we don’t need to book anywhere either.
That said, one of the biggest reasons for it is being able to go and see places that we pass that sound interesting, or follow suggestions from other travellers or locals. There are so many times we’ve driven along and seen a tourist information sign saying something that sounds interesting like “Hot Springs, 12km”, so we’ve just followed the signs. Some of our favourite places have been found like this!
That’s it Amy, with the freedom of not having to be at a certain place on a certain day you can take a detour on your travels or follow along with other backpackers. If I had booked my entire trip around Europe last summer then I’d never have gone to Italy. And as it turned out Italy was where I had some of the best nights on my trip.
I’m guilty of booking everything, mainly in the name of bargain hunting, but I am trying to break the habit, sort of. The last few weekends we’ve been away, we’ve headed off with no real plans, then booked a room after 6pm using an iPhone app wherever we’ve ended up. Two out of three times, it’s worked well and we’re hoping to do the same on a week long trip around France or Spain next year (if data roaming charges come down).
Kiwigirl it depends on what your travel is really. Hostel’s don’t generally offer that much of a bargain price booking ahead. When I arrived in Paris on my first day abroad I had booked the first 2 nights stay before leaving OZ as I was still very green to everything.
It turns out I paid more than what I could have paid if I had arrived at the door on the day. I also found hostels that hostels while booked out online still had beds free if you just arrived on their doorstep.
I will prebook some stuff, the stuff that has to be booked in advance. I know a friend who wanted to go see the Last Supper painting, but couldn’t, because she didn’t book in advance, and you have to book 2-3 months in advance usually, since its so packed. Usually I book stuff a day or two in advance, unless I know things are going to be crazy busy (ie: ending up in Berlin during the Berlin marathon and everything was PACKED) or its a big trip (like, umm, oh, our honeymoon). Weekend trips are booked about a week in advance, max, in my world. 🙂
Emily that is one long waiting list to see the last supper painting. For things like that you have to pre book, it can’t be helped.
I’d love to take a trip long enough not to have to prebook my stuff, but with a finite number of days to travel in (usually a month or less), I don’t have the option to go with the flow. I hope someday to take a trip when I can book less things in advance.
Yes Erik shorter trips don’t lend themselves well to a carefree attitude. I’m trying to be as free flowing as possible on an upcoming 2 week trip to Spain so will see how I go.
Dude, I am loving your website more and more. You’re writing has gone to the next level. You’ve convinced me to throw away plans (which I do). I do pre-book hostels, but usually the day before or two days before I know I’m leaving. Does that make me not spontaneous? 🙂
haha thanks Jeannie. I’d say as long as you aren’t pre booking your next 4 hostels you qualify 🙂
Oooh I love the new look of the site! I wish that I wasn’t so Type A and that I could be more spontaneous and not book everything beforehand. I have gotten better though throughout the years…
Thanks Andi, I’m so happy with the new look. We need to convince you to stay in hostels first then you won’t need to book ahead 🙂
I used to be super obsessed with planning, but as soon as I started showing up in places with no reservations and only a vague idea where to stay, I started letting go and being less uptight about it.
Now, apart from my very first hostel/guesthouse (and in countries like Burma where it seemed every single guesthouse booked out by 9 in the morning thanks to all the overnight buses!) I just wing it. It’s so freeing, and I’ve never ended up with no place to sleep.
Also, not pre-booking gives you so much freedom to change your plans at whim – and when you’re travelling for an extended period of time, that’s essential, I think.
Glad things have worked so well for you Megan. I’ve not been to Burma as yet but will keep you experiences in mind so I don’t end up fighting for a bed with the tour buses.
Totally agree with you mate. I rather just go with the flow! It’s so liberating knowing that you don’t HAVE to be anywhere particular tomorrow.
Roy, that’s what I find so much fun about travel. You wake up and can do whatever you please. Go see a site, people watch in the park or just roam the streets for some fine local food.
We never book ahead on the road either \. The only time we do is if we are going for short term holidays. For anything longer, forget it. I want that flexibility to make it up as we go. For those real cautious people we recommend booking maybe your first night but then that is it. Go with the flow. The more you do it the easier it gets.
Caz, I’ll book my first night ahead as I like the ability to go to a place and dump my stuff allowing me to get back out and explore straight away. After that I just take it as it comes and move on when I’m ready.
On a longer trip where you’re bound to meet others you’ll want to travel with, I can see not wanting to book much in advance. A RTW or long-term stay somewhere just begs for lots of flexibility.
However, for someone like me who usually can only travel for a week or two at a time, having a plan is sometimes a must. If I’m only going somewhere for a week, I want to make the most of that time (and the money I’m undoubtedly spending to get there). This doesn’t mean I’ll pre-book EVERYTHING. But I generally like to at least know what city I’m planning to be in each night.
That being said, however, I went to NZ last month with only the first week of my 2-week trip planned. The last 5 days or so were completely up in the air for quite a while. And I didn’t really mind! Though, I was traveling in NZ’s shoulder season, so it made making last-minute plans simple. If it had been high season, I may have had more trouble booking the things I wanted to do at the last minute.
For the most part, I do book travel, but when I went on a cross country road trip in the States with a friend, we only had a loose itinerary and zero hotel bookings. This is to date one of the best trips of my life. We were able to spend more time in some states, skip others and make extra plans when we met friends on the road.
I totally agree. My current trip is the first time I’ve traveled without booking my hostels in advance. I am an IT Project Manager, so I still do plenty of research and know which hostels I may want to check out when I arrive somewhere. But not committing in advance is much more liberating. Also, you get to check out the hostels before you commit and find the best one.
I totally agree with you. I think it’s important to prepare well every trip and gather all the needed information but that doesn’t mean planning everything. As you said, you never know what is going to happen and who you will meet but there’s a good chance that several options will make you want change your route. (point 4 and 6 of the Hejorama manifesto ;))
Definitely pros and cons for booking in advance. I hate travelling long distances then needing to traipse around, often jet-lagged, looking for a place to stay. Similarly, for major events, festivals or peak summer periods, finding decent accommodation can be impossible.
On the flip-side if you hate/love a place you are visiting, you are not tied down to stay more/less time than you want.
Hmmm tricky one.
This is a tough one. I’m a planner and like having somewhere to sleep but have found myself loosening up as I’ve traveled. However, it doesn’t always work. Found myself getting to Cairo around 1030 pm the other day, instead of 5 pm as planned, with nothing booked and that was a little nervewracking. On the flip side, for my five days in London next week, I booked last month since several hostels were already sold out. I think my ideal thought on this topic is always book the first night and go from there.
Mate, I loved your article!
I’m also more the spontaneous traveler. I never plan until I get to the place. Due to that I met some of the most amazing and generous people in the world. An Aussie family I spent christmas with last year rebooked my ticket and we went swimming with dolphins the next day. That is the bright site of spontaneous traveling, the other side of sleeping under the stars every now and then isn’t that bad anyway 🙂
I spent a month in America last year (my first solo overseas trip) and I planned everything. Not each individual day, as I hate the idea of “9am- Statue of Liberty. 11am- Empire State Building. 1pm- Central Park” etc.
I think I really needed to have dates and flights and accommodation booked in each city though, both for my parents peace of mind, and not needing to figure it out along the way.
I am in the midst of planning 2-3 months in Europe next year and I am vaguely contemplating not booking anything, having learnt in America that there are some cities I don’t feel the love for and would quite happily leave earlier, had I not had flights booked, and conversely, those I could have stayed in far longer.
I don’t know if the idea is completely realistic for me, at the end of the day I am a planner and would be quite stressed trying to deal with last minute transport and accomodation (teamed with potentially higher prices). If it weren’t for the risk of higher prices (though I would be away October-December, so it isn’t as bad as travelling in summer), I would lean far closer to it.
It will be interesting to revisit this idea in a year and see what I have decided to do!
I definitely take each day as it comes, but I think its an Aussie thing, we´re quite easy-going like that. Of course, sometimes its detrimental. Like I will wake up, decide to change city, but with no accomodation or bus tickets booked it can take til after midday before I find somewhere to sleep that night. I´m usually the guy finding my way from the Airport to the Tourist Information office, and asking things like ¨wheres the nearest supermarket/campsite¨.
well, in my case the reason why I prebook flights and accommodation is simply because like this, I do save a lot of money. Plus, since I travel with my partner and want private rooms in hostels, booking in advance is essential for those great hostels out there. Personally, I would mind a lot if I had to sleep in a dirty, bed bug filled hostel because I hadn’t made any reservations elsewhere.
I agree with you completely! I really hate the idea of pre-booking accommodation – especially in Europe where it is so easy to travel from place to place! – But I am planning a solo-backpacking trip to Europe after school (so I’ll be 18) and I have never been to Europe before. I don’t know how to reassure my parents that I am capable of travelling without bookings – or whether in fact I will be able to mange it once im over there? Any advice? thanks.
Anna Europe will be teeming with people to hang out with. I was never once without a friend to visit a museum with or travel on a long over night train. Along the way you make friends and travel together so the thought of being booked up in advance and not having the chance to continue to hang out with them would really have sucked for me.
You’ll be as safe as houses in Europe.
I am inspired by all that I am reading…. so can it be said if i travel for 3 weeks in august (france and italy) i should be ok with not pre-booking?
Hi Craig, you should be fine to find accommodation when travelling then. But since you are travelling for a short time it will depend on where you are going etc. If you plan to stay in mainly one or two places then it may be easier to book ahead. I talk about not pre booking my travel from the view of I’ll be travelling for weeks to months at a time so locking in a 3 night stay 3 months from when I started my travels isn’t beneficial.
how have you found europe hostel availability around xmas/ new years? Im keen to leave it pretty unpllaned but a little worried about availability. Also just on your comments, I think people really need to do some research at least before ‘winging it’ and also depends on countries. We are doing a few weeks in south east asia before europe and have booked our accomodation in cambodia and myanmar (previously Burma), because there are a fair amount of travel warning especially around Myanmar, lots of research and review reading was done before booking these ones.
Thank you so much for this! I am flying to London in September to travel Europe solo for 10 weeks and have been going crazy with anxiety over weather to pre-book or not! Thank you, reading this has made me feel so much better!
Hi Ally thanks for the comment. The only thing I’d say to watch out for as it will be peak season then is to keep an eye on availability of hostels as you travel. Major cities will be fine still but smaller locations can book up fast.
Ah this is great to hear Aussie Nomad.. Im heading to Europe next week With no real plan except for the first few days accom booked, Shouldn’t have any troubles finding a bed throughout the major cities in spain at the last minute should I?
Any reccomendations on hostels?
Goodsy as your hitting up Europe during peak time all I suggest is to keep an eye on availability in places. While you should always find a bed it may not be the most comfortable or close to everything.
I always looked over availability a couple of days before I was thinking of moving on just so I could be sure I was all ok. I only once stayed on where I was as accommodation was tight at the next city.
For recommendations if you find yourself in Sevilla check out the Oasis Backpackers Palace. Stayed there and really enjoyed it.
So it turns out, I’m not as free spirited as I like to think in the “booking things in advance” department.
Though my excuse is that I’ve got just under 3 weeks to travel across 4 countries and see 4 unique cities. Wish it could be longer, but as my visa for the UK is due to finish at he end of March, I’m running out of time.
Going to Copenhagen, Berlin, Prague and Vienna for about 3 or 4 days each and have factored in travel time on the coach which adds a couple of days. I’ll be away for 18 days total, including the travel time.
As a side note Chris, if you ever find yourself back in Copenhagen, they have city passes (cOpenhagen Card) for 24, 48, 72 and even 120 hours. I bought the 120 hours for about 100 Euros and it includes a travel card. (It may make things cheaper on the sightseeing front next time).
Hope you are enjoying your time in Australia right now 😉
Another Aussie with a passion for travel,
Each trip is different kate so you get some leniency there. As for Copenhagen I’ve actually been back since my first visit and used one of the cards. They still seemed expensive for what you get unless you go out and see absolutely everything.
I am planning a trip after Europe this August and only have 36 days starting London, Amsterdam, Berling, Krakow, Vienna, Split (8 day cruise), Bled, Veince, Rome, Florence then finally Paris.
This is my first solo trip and I was wondering you think it’s risky travelling in high season (in Italy mostly) with no accomdation booked?
Thanks for any replies in advance!
Christina thats a LOT to fit into 36 days, is the cruise part of that time as well? I’ve not travelled Italy at that time of year but imagine as long as your aware of how full hostels are for your next destination you should be ok to get a place to stay. Bigger cities like Paris/Amsterdam will be easier than smaller places like Florence from hostels as well so keep that in mind.
Great post Man, I tend to agree for the most part. I like to get things like return flights and stuff far in the future locked in place, but make sure that I have date changes available (and hopefully free) so I can make plans on the spot and change my mind. This helps me to plan with a ‘skeleton’ schedule I can work with. I wrote a post about my planning, it’s how I do it: http://nomadicalsabbatical.com/long-term-travel-primates/ Generally I won’t book transport until the last minute to avoid sticking to an annoying schedule. I have found in Europe that sometimes the train companies will offer 2 for 1 last minute deals.. but I wouldn’t rely on it.. still it’s nice when it happens 🙂
I work as an airline staff so most of my globetrotting experience is thanks to the very cheap standby tickets I get. That said, I only can afford to travel when I get my vacations so I request the amount of time I need for the destination I will visit to make the most of it. I plan in advance how many days I need but I always leave a couple of days in case flights are full and I won’t be able to get on a plane. So usually I don’t book hostel or hotel rooms until I arrive in the country. What I do is have a list of the possible hotels/hostels I would like to stay, and I must say travel apps are very handy in those situations.
Hi there! I plan on doing a 10 day road trip in italy this august along the west coast. I’ve been hearing that it will be extremely difficult to find accommodation without pre-booking because it’s such a peak season and everyone is off in Italy throughout August. I would really prefer to just see how it goes, but if it’s actually as impossible as people are describing, it might be risky! Do you think I will need to pre-book in this case or will I still be able to find accommodation last minute? Any advice would be much appreciated!
Hi Sarah, I don’t think its impossible but August is the month that a lot of locals take for their holidays so it may be a little more difficult. I’d look at reviewing accommodation options along the route you want to take and see how full they are. If it looks difficult then pre-book them otherwise just go with the flow.
I’m about to leave for a 1 month solo backpacking trip to Europe (my first time travelling alone). I was really taken with the concept of of making it all up as I go, maybe booking hostels and inter city transport a day or two ahead at the most.
However I’m finding that little sections of my itinerary end up getting “locked in” due to budget considerations – e.g. Eurostar from London to Paris can be three or four times more expensive on the day compared to booking in advance, likewise for short flights within Europe on budget carriers. I’m not sure whether other inter-country trains increase in cost much as you get close to the travel date? Some of my hostel stays coincide with key festivals so I’m also now wondering whether I should try and lock something in.
It’s a slippery slope! If you have any tips on how to wing it whilst remaining budget conscious please let me know!
Hi Kairy, on all trips there is obvious points where booking in advance are always going to be cheaper, like the eurostar. Its a balancing act to be honest and it comes down to what you are doing and when you want to do it. Obviously with stays coinciding with big events locking in accommodation is key as you could very well find out there is none if you leave it to late.
You have to take the good with the bad. Leave to chance what can safely be done so and book up what needs to.
Thanks! I’m trying to balance things by pre-booking some hostels but ensuring flexible cancellation policies.
Any opinion on whether it is generally better to…
– Book for fewer days and extend if you like the city/hostel? (Possible risk of hostel booking out for days you wish to extend to)
– Book for the full stay in a city, but shorten trip if you get bored/dislike the environment in a particular hostel? Are the funds generally refundable? Had a look at hostel booking websites but changing booking period after stay has already commenced is not really covered.
I’m travelling in shoulder season (September) if it makes a difference.
When I toured around Europe I booked for a few days and extended if possible as opposed to the other way. I believe getting a refund would be a lot harder and honestly more fuss so I’d book for the time you think you’ll want and soon as you know you’d like to stay book in for longer.