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Further questions to Reserve or Not to Reserve?

My wife and I are travelling on what is roughly a 20-stop, 35-day, 7 country trip mostly via train in April and early May 2023. Because I am now about 5 months out, it is becoming more imperative that I begin to book some rooms. However, I am nervous about committing to rooms in the event that pleasant, or not so pleasant, surprises arise and I don't arrive at cities along the route at the time I expected. On the other hand, I don't want to spend half of each day on my phone booking rooms on the fly when I arrive in each town. I have read Rick Steves' article To Reserve Or Not To Reserve* a hundred times each time hoping that some illumination will strike me and provide the magical answer. Meanwhile time is passing. Does anyone have any tricks, tips, or thoughts that might help me in the indecision?

I have been encouraged to elaborate further on my initial question so I will. First of all, my wife and I will each be travelling with a small (35litre) backpack, nothing else. We will be flying into Berlin for 2-3 nights, on to Krakow 2 days and night train to Vienna. 3 days in Vienna, 1 day in Steyr, 2 days in Nurnberg, 1 day in Munich, 1-2 days through Black Forest, 2 days to several brief visits in the Mosel, a couple days with friends in Wiesbaden, a day up the Rhine to Koln. Staying with friends in Koln for a couple of days. A brief stop in Aachen and Liege on our way to Lille. Round trip to Lille to spend an afternoon at the Beaches of Normandy. On to London for 4 days and Edinburgh for 4 days. Train back to London, then fly home.

Posted by
1550 posts

Again, if you don't care where you sleep, then probably you can wait for a little while. I am also going to Germany and since I want certain hotels I reserved now since one of my hotels is already filling up. How much chance can you live with? I'm a planner and nothing makes me happier than to know everything already taken care when I go on vacation. You milage may vary.

Posted by
473 posts

We find booking a hotel room you can cancel using booking.com works for us and gives flexibility about changing plans.

Posted by
22262 posts

We have traveled for 40+ years without reservations and still do. Will reserve the first and last couple of night because of the transportation situation. But after that is a day or two in advance and it is very easy now with hoteltonight and other web sites. We used to hit the TI, and sometimes we still do, when we hit town. We are 80 now and slowing down a bit but we would would only have advance reservations (more than a couple of days) in critical areas. It works for us because we have been doing it for a long time. Never had to sleep in the train station.

Posted by
5666 posts

I agree with Frank about reserving your first and last nights, when you know where you'll be sleeping. I usually reserve most other nights on a trip because I know where I'm going on a day-to-day basis. But I never prepay for a room if I can help it, other than those first and last nights, because my plans could change. That means paying a higher rate but I can cancel on short notice.

If you'll be traveling by train, you may want to save on fare by booking those ahead. In that case, you will know where you're sleeping each night (or most nights), so you might as well reserve accommodations too. If you want to be more spontaneous, you might consider driving, the ultimate in flexibility outside big cities. On a US road trip I'll generally reserve online the same day or the day before, unless I'm going to a "destination" where I know I'll need to book ahead.

Posted by
3652 posts

"If you'll be traveling by train, you may want to save on fare by booking those ahead. In that case, you will know where you're sleeping each night (or most nights), so you might as well reserve accommodations too. "

This^^^^. We just book rooms that can be cancelled at (relatively) short notice.

Posted by
1290 posts

With only two people, and traveling in shoulder season, it’s much easier to travel with no reservations. Unless you are very picky about lodging, have a very limited budget, or intend to stay in a tiny village during a festival weekend, you will find somewhere to sleep. You can always go to booking.com and see what is available for tonight or tomorrow in any of the places you plan to visit. That will give you an idea of availability and prices at short notice.

Posted by
7401 posts

Long trips are very difficult to plan because as you travel you may want to change your schedule. And you don't want to prepay or make reservations that are not cancellable.

I like to have rooms reserved for the first day of any trip and the last day before departure. I no longer carry a laptop, but a small lightweight tablet is great for trip planning and making reservations on the fly. Smartphones are more difficult to deal with.

A suggestion would be to go on Wikipedia and Google Maps and get a general idea of where you want to go and study the cities you want to visit. We like to stay in one place 4 days and then move on to the next city/place. The large, major cities are often worthy of a full week. After 50+ years of European travel, we now travel slower and better.

We often will take a train from city to city--3.5 hour maximum. Any longer and we'll be looking for a budget European airline. When we travel to very scenic places like Tuscany or the Austrian Alps, we will rent a car to do day trips.

We are also big on renting apartments with washer/dryers because having a laundry allows us to travel lighter. We can go indefinitely with a 31" rolling suitcase and a day backpack.

Posted by
29202 posts

If you are checking in and checking out 20 times in just over a month that's pretty much a month of one night stays. wow.

Have you worked out how much of you precious holiday time will taken up moving in and moving out and moving between?

I know you want to get the maximum value from your expensive railpass (based on your other thread about railpass validity on what you called milk run trains) but in Germany that isn't the best way to get best value. Those little trips can be covered by inexpensive day tickets in each Land or federal state. Railpasses give value on lots of long distance usually high speed travel within the validity period.

That said, with so many one night stops for hotels it is like a house of cards. One delay, one strike or other cancellation, one change of plan and the whole thing falls down.

I rarely plan more than a few days ahead for that very reason, and I often return to favourite areas. I always know my first stop, probably the second, and always the last night.

The other thing that you get with a railpass - and which you sacrifice with all the overnights booked - is flexibility and ability to respond to serendipity. It would be a shame for you to pay so much for that flexibility and not use it.

In your position I'd probably plan every couple of days for the next couple of days. You'll have all that time on the trains - perfect planning time.

Posted by
392 posts

No matter what you decide to do about reserving lodging, 20 stops in 35 days is crazy. Have you traveled like this before?

At a minimum, book your rooms for the first 2 to 3 days and the last 2 or so days of your trip to line up with your arrival and departure from Europe.

Back in the day, pre internet when there weren't all of these online booking platforms, it was far easier to travel without reservations. In addition, you could show up in a town, go the the TI, and they had room finding services. I did this all the time in the 80s and early 90s when I did a lot o solo traveling and rode the rails.

No longer do I travel like that - I prefer staying in one place for at least 3 days, usually longer, and day tripping with that home base. But now all of us are competing for rooms with more people traveling than ever, and they are booking rooms online well in advance, and if you forego reservations you are putting yourself at a huge disadvantage. Make refundable / cancellable reservations whenever possible to give yourself flexibility - you will almost always pay a higher room rate, but at least you can keep your options open longer.

Good luck.

Posted by
1868 posts

Richard, have you made your itinerary? Why don't you book cancellable rooms now? Since you don't pay upfront, as long as you cancel according to hotel's policy, you are not locked in. I will never prepay a hotel room this far out especially when there are still health and political concerns.

Booking is easy using the hotel websites. Some people use Booking.com, but I prefer to book directly with the hotels. If there is a problem, I can contact the hotel. I am going to Germany and Austria in June. All my hotels are booked along with my flights. I will confirm all hotels via email prior to leaving home. I know how I'm traveling and where I'm staying; those are my most important requirements.

I posted a couple weeks ago on the forum to carefully review your hotel confirmations. I had one hotel who's website booking site said one cancellation date but the confirmation said another. I cancelled that hotel and booked another because the hotel's policy was unacceptable.

Have a very enjoyable trip.

Posted by
5120 posts

For a 35 day trip, I’m assuming you have your first and last destination set. Would you like to reserve lodging for your first and last seven days since you would have a better idea of where you would be on your route? Then that would leave your middle 21 days to have more flexibility and just have about 10 places to reserve in-route.

Regarding the 20 stops, I am totally fine with traveling that way. But, if my husband is traveling with me, we stay 3-4 nights at one place because that’s too much movement for him (and adding a person can become less efficient). Just make sure you’re both okay with that many location changes…and that you both are very efficient at packing and acclimating to the next location.

Posted by
6104 posts

I would book accommodation with a flexible cancellation policy. Many more people are travelling than a few years ago, as they are all in catch up mode with their travel plans being shelved for 2 years due to Covid. Look at dummy bookings on a platform such as Booking.com to see how busy places are for your given dates. Weekends in certain locations maybe an issue.

You are going to need a holiday after this one to get over 20 destinations in 35 days!

Posted by
6021 posts

richard, you may get even more good replies if you come back with a rough itinerary, luggage size, and some budget information.

Posted by
286 posts

Seems like you have a fear of something getting in the way. Maybe needing some other accommodations different from a pre book plan. You have to figure if at that point you can modify, or want to modify your preplan. Can you afford it? Because such a thing would involve perhaps losing the pre book if you are inside a window of cancellation, and to book another unplanned stay somewhere.
Overall I feel I could afford that should it happen. Because most times I am in control of the trip. If some outside overwhelming influence should occur you would do this. Otherwise your trip is your discretion. To simply stay another day or two, or change cities in regards to a preplan pre book is well within your own control. Your decision at the time.
What you could do is to pre plan some days and wing it on others. We have done it that way. Sometimes the wing it means a lot of time on the web looking for your lodging or what to do because it is all up in the air until that time. And that can be very tedious. In your hotel looking at the next stay or place instead of being out and about where you are.
There is a certain resignation in traveling, accepting these things. The plans, the no plans. If you see this as, “it is what it is”, then you begin to worry less and go with the flow a bit more. Even if the flow is not exactly what you want at the time.

Posted by
826 posts

Hi Richard, I found myself wondering where you’re planning to go in those 7 countries in 35 days. If you could post your itinerary, more helpful recommendations could be made.
You might be able to base yourself in a city for several days and daytrip to others on your itinerary. By staying in a base city and visiting some of the other towns on your itinerary as day trips, you don’t need to overnight at every destination. Using base cities to visit other towns saves hours each time you check in to a new place after checking out of the place you just left. Keep in mind that every time you change locations it costs at least a half-day in time. By staying in a base city it’s possible to get an apartment on VRBO ( Vacation Rentals By Owner) or elsewhere. I make cancellable reservations at hotels, guesthouses and apartments often months ahead of time with a few guidelines: Two-night stays are the minimum- otherwise see that location as a daytrip from a base city or stop-over for a few hours and store your luggage in a train station locker when it’s possible to see the destination on the way to the next overnight location. Deutsche Bahn allows stopovers on train tickets in Germany for several hours in any intermediary town between the departure city and the destination city at no additional cost if you let them know at the time you buy your online train tickets. On the way from Hamburg to Wismar, we stopped over in Lubeck for six hours this way.
We also stopped over in Dresden while traveling from Berlin to Prague. I make cancellable reservations way in advance because prices go up the longer you wait and the more interesting properties get booked up and usually are not available the week before—or even the month before arriving. I have a few guidelines in making room reservations: It is impossible to see everything- so be selective when choosing what cities to go to. Book for at least two nights in a town or see that destination as a daytrip or an intermediary stopover. If the destination seems worthy of a 2-night stay, extend it to a 3-night stay, if possible. If the destination seems to merit 4 nights, reserve 5 nights. Adding one extra night slows down the pace so the experience can be a bit more spontaneous and I can take time to really enjoy where I am. It also builds in a buffer in case the weather is not cooperating, or someone’s not feeling 100%, or a logistical problem comes up, or the trains are not running, or we just need a vacation from the vacation. Travel is supposed to be fun. Adding extra days to destinations helps prevent the exhausted feeling that sets in after overscheduling an entire month in order to tick off a bunch of boxes on the bucket list, as though traveling is a task to be endured.
Keep in mind the Italian saying “Dolce far Niente.”
“The Sweetness of Doing Nothing.”
Set aside time for that as well.

Posted by
449 posts

Just wondering what you are going to do in all these towns? Travel is exploding and wondering if all the people posting have travelled post Covid?
To see key museums and sites in most of the larger towns you need reservations.

I know it is shoulder season but I don’t think travel is slowing down. You will be spending a lot of time just trying to find a bed. If that is how you want to spend your vacation enjoy. I would find that stressful. It does take half a day each train ride and changing of hotels min. You lose a lot of time on both ends.

Much harder these days to wing it. Even restaurant. reservations are much more a thing. We saw it up close on our visit to Italy a few weeks ago.

Posted by
5120 posts

Hi Richard, the nice thing about posting on this forum is that you will get a wide variety of comments from us because we have a lot of different travel styles represented here. I even traveled differently last June than last September.

As a retired engineer who analyzes everything, if the train ride time between the two cities is longer than it takes to pack up plus the time to check out/leave off my suitcase at the new hotel and be outside, then go ahead and move to the next location. If not, consider doing a day trip. For me, I’m very efficient with my lightweight packing organizing, and I always pick a hotel in the center of the historical area, so any place with a train ride longer than 45 minutes becomes a new place to stay. I will even do a series of 1-nights where it makes sense. I love being in a new place in the evening and not thinking about catching a train back to a base. But, 3-nights stops also make sense in other locations. It’s my travel style, and I absolutely love it! So, just determine what works best for you and also what’s least stressful so you enjoy your vacation! If needing to reserve places during your vacation is stressful, then organize & plan a nice itinerary and enjoy where you’re at, not thinking about “what might have been.”

Posted by
421 posts

We travelled for 42 nights - in Sept /Oct and only booked the first city - 5 nights in Budapest and the last 2 nights in Barcelona - those were destinations we were flying in/out of so were locked in. The rest of it we booked a few days or 1 day ahead. I like booking .com because I can see where places are on the map - location is my #1 ciriteria along with price. Most places allow your to cancel within a few days of arrival - but if I book very last minute I'm not worried about having to cancel.

I don't spend anytime on the phone booking hotels overseas - doing it online gets rid of the language barrier and is very quick - I tended to do it lying in bed in the morning, or on a train the previous day.

I would say depending on where you are going Easter may see some local areas booked up - there is often holidays in early May too - Labour Day or something similar .

Posted by
13530 posts

I mostly reserve since I am picky as to where I stay. Those towns/cities you listed...Aachen, Wiesbaden, Krakow, Berlin, .Vienna, Nürnberg, Munich, Lille I am familiar with, have visited once or a zillion times. No problems here. To get the max advantage in terms of travel days, I would suggest doing the night train option, I do that on all the post-retirement trips. That's up to your travel style. Using a rail pass on a 35 day trip is very doable, basically what I do plus a couple of adv. purchased discount train tickets too.

You can visit Aachen as a day trip when staying in Cologne.

Keep in mind that going from Lille to Normandy is pretty far. How do intend on reaching Normandy? From where?

Posted by
2123 posts

As others have posted, a lot depends on your comfort level when it comes to reservations. And a lot depends on the locations. Considering you are spending most of your time in Germany and taking trains throughout, unless you want to pay through the nose for train travel, you will need to buy your tickets in advance. This means, of course, that you will be somewhat locked into a destination. So why not book the room ahead of time? You can find plenty of rooms with liberal cancellation policies and no prepays. That's what I did for my 30 day trip throughout Germany this year.

The only time I prepaid for a hotel was my my first stop in Berlin, and I was so glad I did. I got a great deal on the price and my flight wound up being delayed, so I didn't get into the city until around 9 pm. I was exhausted, had jet lag and the idea of looking for a room at the last minute would probably have pushed me over the edge. I was so happy that all I had to do was show up and head for my room. I will say the most places I booked ahead of time, I researched extensively (mainly through this board and also Trip Advisor and Google) and I had no surprises.

Posted by
526 posts

I travel in Europe with and without hotel reservations.

Book reservations with cancellation. Doesn't cost so much more, sometimes the same, and then if your plans change you can just cancel and do something else.

As someone else noted previously, book all your reservations through one website like booking.com or similar. Much easier to cancel and keep track of various cancellation dates.