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traveling without reservations

Is it possible to travel with out reservations for our whole trip. We are retired and plan at least 2 months maybe 3. We don't know how long it will take to see what we want in each area. Will we be all right if we have the first week planed.

Posted by
16771 posts

I've done it myself for the last two summers and will do it again next summer, making most hotel reservations 24 to 48 hours before arrival. In this internet age I absolutely would not plan to arrive in town and look for a room then.

This travel style works best if you're doing an intense visit to a fairly limited geographic area, because you won't be able to take advantage of deeply discounted rail or air fares. Often that type of trip requires considerable bus transportation, and bus fares, like regional train fares, typically don't vary so much with date of purchase.

These are the situations that complicate matters, in my experience:

  • Travel on a seriously constrained budget. It will be more difficult if you don't have the flexibility to go off-budget sometimes. I always book the cheapest acceptable room so I don't worry too much when I am forced to pay nearly twice my preferred rate (though it still bugs me).
  • Requiring an elevator. In some countries (including Italy) this complicates matters if you're also on a budget.
  • Needing a place with charm/style/whatever. The places with the best style-to-cost ratio typically have really good online reviews and are likely to be the first to be booked up. You're unlikely to snag them during busy periods.
  • Travel in peak season in general, but especially to popular beach resorts (probably ski resorts, too, in the winter) and small towns. This is very, very risky, in my experience, if you definitely want to stay in a particular town. In big cities you're more likely to find something available, though the cost may be rather high.
  • Travel to destinations during significant special events. You must do careful research ahead of time and avoid that situation.
  • Longer stays rather than quick 1- and 2-night stands. It's obviously easier to find a place with a room available for just a few nights than to get 5 or more nights in the same hotel at the last minute. I try to visit my major destinations at the very beginning or very end of my trip, when I'll need to have my itinerary pretty locked down anyway. This year I made my 10-night reservation for Barcelona (my last stop) more than a month ahead of time.
  • Hitting important business/non-touristy cities during the week. On the other hand, those same cities can turn up really good bargains on weekends.
  • Visiting popular weekend destinations on Friday and especially Saturday nights. You're likely to pay a lot for the privilege. I think it's a combination of local weekend visitors (to Toledo, Salamanca, Orvieto, etc.) and--for larger cities--the impact of cheap intra-European flights.

These are among the major advantages of a flexible itinerary:

  • As noted, you can stay as long as you want before moving on (if you're able to extend your hotel stay).
  • You can respond to current weather conditions and head to a warmer or cooler area.
  • When the weather's pleasant, you can take a room in a hotel without air conditioning, potentially saving some money.
  • You may find weekend bargains in business cities and weekday bargains in popular weekend destinations at the last minute, when hotels are faced with a bunch of empty rooms.

Edited to add: If you have an idea of the areas you want to visit and the timeframe, post the information here and folks knowledgeable about your target destinations may have specific guidance to offer. Many of us have probably had particular difficulty getting last-minute accommodations in a few specific places, and we can warn you to be careful about those.

2nd addition: Forgot to mention that finding a budget-priced air-conditioned hotel at the last minute can be difficult if you travel to a normally-temperate region during a heat wave. Hotels don't want to go to the expense for something they think they won't need for much of the year, but that doesn't help you if it's 85 or 90 when you are there. Monitor the weather 4 to 6 days ahead.

Posted by
167 posts

I use a booking site because it gives me the advantage of reserving well in advance, but typically I can cancel up to between 3 days or in some cases 1 day, with no penalty or credit card charge.
In addition, booking ahead gives you the best choice of what is available. For popular places that is a huge advantage.
For example, I booked my next trip to Italy in May 2017 several months ago. I made certain that my bookings were able to be canceled or changed with no penalty or CC charge.

When I reviewed my bookings today ( Bologna, Orvieto, Spoleto, Rieti, Florence) I found that my top rated selections were now showing no vacancies, or had raised the price per night significantly.
So no risk in booking ahead, and many advantages. Booking. com is what I use, not a fan of the others such as Expedia or Orbitz.

Posted by
4637 posts

I never had everything booked ahead from the States. Usually just few first nights in Europe and even that's not necessary. In Prague I always got good hotel just few tram stops from the center and cheaper than if I booked it ahead. I drove around Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Italy. We were three and never bothered to book anything ahead and we never had problem to find overnight on the day of arrival even in such places like Beilstein in Mosel Valley or Vernazza in Cinque Terre. It's risky but we had a car so no problem to drive little farther to find overnight. The advantage of it is that you are very flexible, can change your mind and so on. When we go by train we usually book a hotel one or two days ahead. I would feel like in straight jacket if I had to book every train and every accommodation from the States. There are of course exceptions to this approach for example if there is some big festival or something like that and you want to be in that vicinity.

Posted by
2353 posts

That's the only way we travel. I typically book the next location the day before we travel there. Never had a problem finding great places to stay.

Posted by
1074 posts

When we did two different driving trips in the UK (England, Scotland and Wales) the only reservation we made was for arrival in London. I traveled on train by myself and again only reserved London and Paris. If you can drive it gives you more freedom but with some restrictions in major metropolitan areas. They do have Rail Passes which include limited time Auto Rentals. We found that we really enjoyed being in the countryside over the big cities. This made it seem to be easier to find accommodations: we stayed in rooms of small village pubs, farmhouses, guesthouses, business hotels, etc. Bon Voyage

Posted by
6543 posts

WIth a $150 Chromebook, making arrangements for rooms is very easy on the fly--1 day ahead. Some of the big cities are pretty full on weekends, however--like Amsterdam.
I too like to travel variably. You never know who you meet or places you're going that you may want to stay with longer.

Posted by
23412 posts

We are retired and plan at least 2 months maybe 3

It is worth figuring that bit out. If you are Florida citizens you will be limited by Schengen regulations to a maximum of 90 days in any 180 in the Schengen Zone.

Also your airfare is likely to be considerably cheaper if you buy it all at once rather than going and seeing how you like it and deciding then when to return.

Posted by
607 posts

Joann, what time of the year do you plan to travel? Obviously, during high season, the more popular accommodations get booked up first. It is rare for a whole city to be booked up. There was one time, back before online booking, we drove into Edinburgh and could not find a room for that particular night (Tattoo and Fringe Festival at same time). We drove to a nearby town for that night and came back to Edinburgh for the following nights. You just have to be flexible and go with the flow.

I suggest you just do a test run to see how easy or difficult it would be to book a room on one day's notice. Make a list of all the towns you plan to visit, go online and see what it would be like to pretend-book a room in each of your towns for tomorrow.

On an actual trip, i have used Kayak to locate and compare a bunch of hotels in a particular neighbourhood to find the best hotel for me. Then i go to the particular hotel website to check for availability and rate. If price is right, I may book online or i often telephone to talk to the front desk/booking to reserve the room over the phone. Talking to a warm body and being nice, you may get a better rate (you cannot do worse than the online website rate) or a better room.

Posted by
16768 posts

"This travel style works best if you're doing an intense visit to a fairly limited geographic area, because you won't be able to take advantage of deeply discounted rail or air fares. Often that type of trip requires considerable bus transportation, and bus fares, like regional train fares, typically don't vary so much with date of purchase."

It also works well with a car, as others have mentioned. If you're thinking of a car for at least part of the time, see Leasing a Car in Europe (and Other Rental Alternatives).

It can work with a rail pass, too, as long as you're aware of seat reservation requirements for the faster trains in some countries (most restrictive in France). And some countries have cheap train tickets even on short notice, such as most of "eastern" Europe.

Posted by
5288 posts

Joann, when you're taking a 2-3 month trip (isn't retirement great ??) you mind less the extra time spent looking for lodgings. As long as BOTH of you are on the same page about uncertainty, because not knowing where you're going to sleep can get pretty unnerving as night falls (if you start blaming each other.) Good reason to book one town ahead. No reason to lock up your whole itinerary in advance, though, unless it makes one of you more comfortable.

Posted by
11613 posts

I love spontaneity but I have pretty much traded it for lower prices by booking in advance. I also travel for 89 Schengen days, so the budget has to stretch.

Even planning ahead, I have to avoid place like Mildno during Expo or fashion week, when hotel prices go up astronomically.

I do sometimes change plans and that's when I use booking.com for next-day searches. If you don't carry an electronic device, many hotels or libraries have computers guests can use.

Posted by
2945 posts

I found it strange that not having reservations would show up under money saving strategies. I suppose the time of year you travel makes a significant impact, but my experience is that I get the best value by booking several months ahead. I always take public transport so that is a factor as well.

Posted by
5288 posts

It's money-saving when the hotel drops the price on an unsold room -- but not when the only rooms available are the pricey ones. And you never know which you're going to get.

Posted by
17648 posts

The only places I know of that drop the price of an unsold room are places that charge more to start with, so it might be cheaper for a particular higher price hotel to just get a room that day, but overall, the lower priced rooms in a town are probably sold first. If you don't reserve, you get what the people who reserved thought were too expensive.

I once showed up in a Black Forest town a day early. I'm sure I could have gone to the place I had reserved for the following night, but I decided to try the "wing it" thing and went to the TI office. The hotel they sent me to was fine, but farther from the train station and a little more expensive than the place I had reserved for the following night. Had I not known of the second place, I might have thought I got a good deal. I don't think TI offices have a list of accommodations in a town prioritized by price and offer you the cheapest one on the list.

Posted by
5288 posts

Lee, I agree that on-the-fly is not a "moneysaving strategy" -- just commenting on the placement of this post. Like many people posting replies, I also now book well ahead for the combination of price and quality that suits me best.

Posted by
16771 posts

It's my impression that the very least expensive places don't usually discount even if they're fairly empty, with the possible exception of deals for folks looking to stay longer than is typical at that location. The occasional deals I've gotten have been at places nicer than my usual--business-class hotels with spacious rooms, non-cramped showers, etc. I'd rather have a €40-€55 room any day, but if I occasionally end up in a €100-120 room for €60-70, it is a pleasant change of environment.

It's difficult to put a price on flexibility, but it's very important to me and I'm willing to take the bad with the good as long as I'm traveling in relatively affordable areas. Trips to Switzerland or Scandinavia would have to be attacked differently. I spend a fairly small percentage of my vacation time in the high-cost cities, which reduces the risk somewhat.

Posted by
2353 posts

Most places drop the rate of unsold rooms:

Not rented = 0 revenue

Rented for something = some revenue

I book the evening before we head to a new place. That gives me time to do a little research on what rates are offered for early bookings & current bookings. Do I always get the best rate - no - but for the flexibility is worth it.

Posted by
5288 posts

If you have a car, last resort can be finding a safe-looking parking lot (I've used a supermarket and a church) and hunkering down for the night. But with a car, if it's still light out you can drive on to another town.
That's why I learned to 1) make a reservation from the prior town or 2) start looking for lodgings in the late afternoon.

Posted by
16771 posts

If you don't take advantage of the internet and book a day or two ahead, I strongly encourage you to get to your new town fairly early. Remember that a high percentage of your competitors for rooms probably used the internet to book a room the night before.

I've spent almost two years in Europe, about 13-14 months pre-internet and 7-1/2 months in the last two years. Other than first and last stops and a 2-week tour to the USSR, I've never had any reservations when I landed. I travel on a budget and am not prepared to pay 4-star (or upper-3-star) prices. And there's a limit to how far I'm willing to go from the center of town.

I remember having problems only 3 times, all during my pre-internet travels: twice in Bologna (business city, not enough hotels??) and once in St. Malo when a ferry got canceled and I guess a lot of people unexpectedly needed rooms. I left Bologna unvisited on those first two occasions, and I slept in a partitioned-off section of a hallway in St. Malo. Needs must.

But the world has changed and a lot more people are traveling now, especially Europeans on long weekends. I wouldn't be surprised if the hotel infrastructure is a bit more efficient now and occupancy rates have increased. Not having tried the just-show-up-and-look technique since the mid-1990s, I am a bit uncertain how well it would work in the internet age. But for travelers with cars, the risk seems pretty small.

Posted by
2353 posts

If you have a car, last resort can be finding a safe-looking parking lot (I've used a supermarket and a church) and hunkering down for the night. But with a car, if it's still light out you can drive on to another town.
That's why I learned to 1) make a reservation from the prior town or 2) start looking for lodgings in the late afternoon.

If it is dark out you can turn on the headlights and drive to another town as well.

It really is simplest to just book something online the night before you leave your current place...that way you are guaranteed a place to lay your head the next night. With the online booking sites IF you can not find a room in the next town you can easily look for one close by.

Posted by
132 posts

We have traveled, both with and without reservations. We have had a car on each trip. I would suggest having a plan and reservation for the stop or two, but such a long trip realistically means that you will need to travel without reservations as planning such a long trip in advance is problematic.

I would suggest that you try and break the trip down and book in segments. That allows flexibility and freedom but give you some piece of mind. Traveling without reservations means stopping earlier to find a place, so there are trade offs.

Book directly with the hotels. Using the booking sites to narrow down your choice as booking directly can save money.

Enjoy your trip

Posted by
4 posts

We tried the method of booking as you go along, and hated it. (It was not nearly the length of trip you are proposing, however). We ended up spending too much time while traveling, looking for "reasonable" places to stay. I would rather spend my time researching before the trip, and time ON the trip, spend my time exploring the local sites, instead of on the web. On longer trips (still not as long as yours), we try to stay at the same place for 3-4 days if in a major city, to give time to react to the climate, and then map out a route ahead of time, and pre-book local places along the way that offer flexibility of 24-48 hours). If something happens along the way, the most we are out is the cost of a few hotels.

Posted by
269 posts

These are my $0.02 so...

  1. Go for three months.

  2. Stay in each place longer than you think.

  3. Before you leave plan your route. For instance:

"1 Land in ZRH travel to Luzern
2 Luzern (Undetermined # of days)
3 Travel to Nendaz
4 Nendaz (Undetermined # of days)
5 Travel to Saas Fee
6 Saas Fee (Undetermined # of days)"

  1. GET AN IPHONE. People feel one way or the other. I don't care. Without a phone with data and a decent amount of talk time (no chatty Cathy sort of stuff, but reservations and information is vital) going without reservations is impossible. To me 'without reservations' just means you call ahead for reservations while on the road and not before leaving home. ALSO YOUR IPHONE CAMERA IS PERFECT FOR YOUR TRAVELS. I work in professional publishing--trust me. In Switzerland, at the airport, I get a SIM chip for ~$30/30CHF, that gave me enough data to use it for Maps, research, email, and VIDEO FOR MY CHILD, for 24 days before I had to give them another ~$30/30CHF. Not bad. If I had gone with Verizon it was a LOT less data/talktime and a LOT more money.

  2. Use Tripadvisor but call (OR EMAIL) the hotel/gasthaus for the final reservation. Trust me. And one time I had a hotel tell me, "We don't have any rooms but go to Booking.com and they do. Call me back after you buy through them and I will confirm it." Weird, and I ALWAYS deal directly with the hotel, but sometimes...and I had stayed with them three separate times on that trip.

  3. ALWAYS have a reservation the day before you leave a town. At LEAST a day before.

  4. Also, only do it if your gut can handle it. Always worrying about where you are going to stay is not much fun. I have stayed in parking lots before. Several parking lots in the day. Now I realize that having reservations is...relaxing. Comforting even, and it helps to keep the trip 'moving' from one place to another. Want to stay longer one one city? I have rarely had a problem moving the reservation a day (although it has happened...and I liked them so much before that...).

Good travels!

Posted by
16771 posts

Listen to cabalist.

Except it doesn't have to be an iPhone; any smart phone will do. It's very, very helpful to be able to hit the internet to research hotel options for the next city or two. Wi-Fi is usually available; I travel for months without a data plan, though it's convenient to have that option.

Posted by
11613 posts

Remember the 90-day Schengen limit (not 3 months, 90 days including arrival and departure days).

Posted by
2513 posts

I've travelled with and without reservations. Without, I found some great hotels at great prices by inquiring at the TI. Quite often hotels and B&B's notify them if they have rooms they want to fill and quite often at reduced rates. Often reduced but not aways. Also, they're aware of hotels that have just opened or reopened after remodels that are looking for guests. I've never been disappointed with a hotel I stayed at using the TI. They are a great and underused free resource.

Posted by
1878 posts

Yes, it's possible. But you will probably end up compromising on price, location, or quality. You don't mention where you are traveling to--in the countryside and in countries with a B&B culture, much easier. It also depends upon the season, of course. Showing up in Paris or Venice without reservations would be a recipe for paying way too much. Some cities have conventions and such that take up a lot of hotel rooms, too. Last time I traveled in Europe without a reservation every night was in September 2008 in Portugal, and even then we had a reservation for every night but one. The question suggests that you don't want to research and plan in advance, please consider then why you would want to do that when you are actually on your trip instead. It will take valuable time from sightseeing and the real purpose of your trip to do the planning while you are actually traveling. But especially if money is no object, go for it.

Posted by
13933 posts

Joann posted this question 4 months ago and hasn't come back.

Just sayin' . . . . .