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Oct 28 2013

Accommodation: Book in advance or take a chance?


This might seem like a strange question to some people because most of us are used to booking accommodation before arriving at our destination. In fact, we are encouraged and incentivized by companies offering discounts to do so.  But what if you arrived at your destination with nowhere to stay?  How would that feel?  Does that make you feel uneasy or does it excite you?

Until 5 years ago, I could never have imagined turning up at a destination without having booked anything.  I always booked accommodation so I knew that I had somewhere to stay, knew roughly what it would be like, and how to get there.  So, what changed?  Well, in 2009, I set off around the world for a year.  I had a rough plan of where I was going to be in the world at a certain time of year.  Other than that, it was pretty much up to me.  At first, I would book accommodation in advance but, as I became more confident and comfortable with travelling, I started turning up at my destination without having booked any accommodation.

I still do a mixture of the two, depending on the situation.  I have listed some of the times when I  am likely to either book accommodation in advance or take a chance.

I book in advance when…

  • It’s high season

  • I am likely to arrive after dark

  • I’m in a country that has a high cost of living

  • I couchsurf

  • I want to be guaranteed a place to stay or a place to stay in a certain area

  • There seems to be limited accommodation

  • I’m not sure about how safe a particular place is

  • I don’t want the hassle of trying to find something at the last minute

I take a chance when…

  • I’m not sure which country/city/town I will end up in

  • I want the flexibility to decide on the move

  • I just couldn’t decide and ended up not booking anything

  • I feel like having a bit of an adventure

  • It’s off-peak season

  • I’m thinking of taking a night train

  • I know there are likely to be local people who have rooms available

  • I’m not organised and haven’t thought ahead

  • I’m in a country that I know has good WiFi access


If I book in advance, I prefer to book just one night in case it isn’t quite what I’m looking for.  While I was travelling around Europe recently, I occasionally booked 2 nights in advance because I wanted to relax in one place for longer.  The thing is, when I did, they weren’t quite what I was expecting and didn’t match my needs.  So, for that reason, I prefer to book just one night initially and, if I’m happy, book more when I’m there although you do run the risk of it not being available.  That happened to me once on the trip so I had to find alternative accommodation.

When you take a chance, it can be more stressful.  However, I have found some wonderful places that were perfect for my needs and great value for money.  The thing is, it does take a bit of legwork because these places tend not to be advertised on the internet.  The alternative to that now is to find a cafe that has free WiFi so you can search for a place to stay locally on your mobile device.  I did that a couple of times and it worked out well.  In fact, one time, I was upgraded because, while I was booking online, someone else booked the last dorm bed over the phone.  Apparently, my confirmation came in just as the person in reception put down the phone.  I ended up with an en-suite double bedroom for the price of a bed in a dormitory… in Switzerland – lucky or what?

Have your say

Do you book in advance or take a chance?  How do you feel about just winging it?

About the author

Teresa Keane

Teresa has been to almost 60 countries. She started travelling independently at the age of 38 when she gave up her job, rented out her house, put her possessions in storage and spent a year travelling the world. It changed her life. She now creates, publishes, & promotes online travel content and is an experienced freelance trainer & EFL teacher.

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