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Do You Book Accommodation In Advance?

Sleeping When Traveling

The plan, and I use that term lightly considering that I have yet to book a flight, is to arrive in Turkey within the next ten days. Actually, before I continue writing, and this if purely for my benefit so I do apologize, I’m going to promise myself that I will book a flight before publishing this post. That should help me get my act together!

Anyway, despite not having a flight reservation at the moment, I’ve already begun the interesting process of trying to decide where I’ll spend my first night in Istanbul. Without surprise, this is the exact same conversation I have with myself every time I’m about to travel to a new country or begin a new stage of my adventures.

Usually, I spend a handful of days and nights going back and forth over my options, attempting to find that perfect balance between immediate cultural immersion and a somewhat welcome degree of comfort and ease. Often times this issue doesn’t get resolved until just hours before my actual departure and so, on this occasion, I’m determined to make a decision a few days in advance.

While the solution may appear to be simple, requiring only a hotel or hostel-booking website and a credit card, there are a few other options that I also tend to consider. And each of these options offer their own set of undeniable benefits for anyone arriving into a foreign land. Of course, they each come with their own set of challenges as well.

THE OPTIONS:

  • Booking a room in advance: I don’t do this often but sometimes I will search online or receive a recommendation from a friend and then reserve a room at a budget hotel/guesthouse before I arrive. This way, by booking in advance, once I walk out of the airport, I already have a destination and don’t have to spend any time worrying about how and where I’m going to find a place to stay. On the other hand, unless the hotel I book comes highly recommended from a trusted friend, not being able to see the hotel and its location before paying for the room is always considered a downside. We just never know what we’re going to get, especially when it comes to budget accommodation!
  • Wing it!: This is the method I use most, one that involves arriving in a new country without a reservation for that first night and then just figuring things out once I’m there. I’ll hop into a taxi or bus and head off into the city, sometimes with a particular area of town in mind. As soon as I’m dropped off, I’ll roam around checking out a bunch of hotels/guesthouses until I find a suitable (or passable in some cases) option. While this method does allow me to know exactly what I’m paying for ahead of time, it can obviously be a little challenging trying to find a hotel while staggering around jetlagged, disoriented and overwhelmed by my new surroundings. However, there’s no denying that we adjust to the cultural differences much faster by throwing ourselves right into the thick of it from the start!
  • Stay with a Friend (or friend of a friend of a friend): These days, it’s not so far-fetched to contact everyone in our email address book or Facebook friend list until we find somebody who knows somebody else living in the same city where our flight will be landing. And if we’re lucky, they just may be the kind of person who is interested in hosting us for a night or three. Of course, this would be an excellent and most comfortable way to begin one’s trip, as we’d already have a specific and welcoming destination upon stepping out of the airport. The main problem with this option (at least for me) is that I tend to feel like a burden, especially if it’s a contact who I barely even know or in some cases, don’t know at all.
  • Couchsurfing: I’ve yet to use Couchsurfing.com during my travels but I plan to use it somewhat during this upcoming trip. I’d imagine that securing a spot on someone’s couch for the first night or two would again be a rewarding way in which to begin an adventure. There’s a lot to be said for knowing where you’ll rest your head on that first night and being able to do so in a local resident’s home is certainly a bonus. Of course, as is the case with booking a hotel beforehand, it’s impossible to really know what to expect when we decide to spend the night on a stranger’s couch. However, a little extra time spent on the Couchsurfing website would hopefully help eliminate the chances of having an unpleasant experience!

As you can see, it can be a tough decision. Even after writing about each option, I’ve yet to decide which option sounds best for my arrival in Istanbul (which by the way will be on October 5th – I just booked my flight!).

So at this point, I’d be very interested in hearing your thoughts.

How do you spend your first night in a foreign country?

Do you prefer the comfort of a nice hotel, a stranger’s sofa or maybe you just head straight to the tourist hot spots and figure it out from there (ie. Khao San Road in Bangkok)?

And if you’ve yet to do some traveling, which of these options do you think you’d prefer to use?

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48 Responses to Do You Book Accommodation In Advance?

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  2. peter hsiung says:

    Hey Earl,

    When it comes to accommodations, I almost always have a reservation or a place to stay in advance when I arrive at a new city.

    Some reason when I have met travelers who wing it, I do not quite understand. Traveling into a new city or place without reservation can be more stressful. After all traveling is already tiring and stressful, I would not want to add any more.

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Hey Peter – It’s definitely different for everyone. I guess some people get stressed when arriving in a new city and others find it exciting…but whatever works for you, that’s what you should do!

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  4. Aaron says:

    I’m also in the wing it category, which unfortunately makes CouchSurfing kind of hard, despite the fact that I absolutely love it! It requires a certain degree of pre-planning your departure and arrival days, which is something I hate to do! The only times I tend to CouchSurf is if there’s a flight involved, as I know I’ll be in a certain city at a certain time. Likewise, the only time I’ll bother booking accomodation in advance is if I have a late arrival into a big city.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Aaron – I agree that Couchsurfing can be difficult without planning and I actually plan to write a post about that very topic quite soon. Winging it has worked for me so far in Syria and Turkey, so I’ll probably stick with that method for the duration of my trip…

      I appreciate the comment!

  5. I am of the “wing it” school of thought. I usually ask around at whatever place I am leaving for ideas and suggestions to where I am going. I’ll do a little internet research and write down a few places. Then get into town and go check a couple of them out and choose.

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  7. Hogga says:

    I think it can all depend on the Country and what kind of accommodation they offer as well. I tend to book ahead of time when I am flying in somewhere, or if I know the Hostel is high in demand. But when it comes from city to city by bus or whatever I just hope off and check out my options.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Hogga – There are plenty of factors to consider in the end. After a long flight it does often seem best to have something organized. But after a bus ride, we tend to still have enough energy to explore and find a suitable place upon arrival. It also depends on the city as well…huge cities offer a much bigger challenge to find accommodation than smaller towns, especially if there is not one main area where most of the accommodation is located.

      Thank you so much for commenting!

  8. Aaron says:

    I usually book all my accommodation waaay in advance, for two reasons.
    I’m kind of a control freak (or so I’ve been told) and like to know what I’ll be doing beforehand. Age may have brought this on.
    Second, I only get one vacation a year and like to splurge when I do get to go. So I start booking hotels 6 months in advance so that I can pay for 1 or 2 each month and spread the cost out over the year.
    I guess I’m not very adventurous…

    • Earl says:

      Hey Aaron – Your hotel booking method makes a lot of sense. Every style of travel is different and as a result, what makes sense for one style, may not make sense for another. With only one vacation each year, booking ahead sounds quite wise to me as I wouldn’t want to be spending any of that time wandering around looking for a place to sleep! The priorities are much different.

      Thank you for the comment!

  9. Since I have to carry about 50 lbs of technology I always try to reserve an apt in advance, but if Im going on a weekend trip then i definitely will just wing it!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Marcello – 50 lbs of technology would certainly change things! I wouldn’t want to be winging it with that kind of weight at all. Lugging around that weight must be challenging enough when you have a room reserved, never mind when you’re wandering around trying to find a place upon arrival…

  10. Hey Earl,
    I try to use couchsurfing as much as possible when I know where I will be going and have enough time to arrange. Couchsurfing has been hugely rewarding for me so far. If couchsurfing doesn’t work out, I’m with you in winging it!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Mark – I could see myself getting into that very same pattern of Couchsurfing when I have time to plan and if not, then just showing up and figuring things out. The stories I’ve been hearing about Couchsurfing lately, especially since this post came out, have really made me want to give it a try as soon as possible!

  11. Jenny says:

    I usually do some hostel research in advance, but don’t book anything.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Jenny – Doing some research but not booking can definitely be useful. At least you don’t show up in a new place without any idea of where to start the search for a room!

  12. Dina says:

    Hi Earl! Turkey is it? Congrats for finally moving on! I think you win our moving on competition ;)
    We don’t usually stay with friends because we in most of the time don’t have relative in those places (or sometimes we arrived in location without notice at all, since we plan only little).
    We usually do combination between having the accommodation booked for the night, especially when Ryan find a good deal on it (Price Line, etc), and not having accommodation pre-searched at all, and just search when we are there. It’s kinda fun to do that, just arrive there and don’t have anywhere to go.
    We think we want to try CS one day. I even have an account there already, but keep getting deactivated because we haven’t used it yet.

    • Earl says:

      Haha Dina – I guess I will win our ‘moving on’ competition! How are your plans going???

      Sounds like you use a combination of methods to find accommodation…I agree that its fun to wing it, especially when you arrive after only a short journey and aren’t too exhausted! If you’re going to be traveling for 20 hours before arrival, then having a pre-booked hotel will certainly be most welcome…

      • Dina says:

        Also we love to have it booked if we arrive late at night. That reminds me that most accommodation in NZ closed early off season. We arrived at 8 pm in Ohakune, a ski town, but it was in summer time, just barely made it before the only cheap place with available bed about to close.

        Yeah, you win, haha. We are thinking to visit Ryan’s side of the family in Canada for Christmas, after that, we had several different scenarios. But I guess not SEA right away as I thought before we would have been around now.

        • Earl says:

          Hey Dina – A trip to Canada, apart from being absurdly cold, sounds like a good way to spend the holidays. And it’s always exciting not knowing where you’ll end up afterward. I’ll be looking forward to seeing which of your possible plans you end up choosing :)

  13. rose says:

    If I don’t have friends, or friends of friends, wherever I happen to be heading to, then I ususally just wing it once I get there. I suppose I might not do that if I were heading to a big European or American city, but certainly in any country that gets a fair share of “backpackers” I have always found a good choice of guesthouses, and if I am arriving in the middle of the night in a new city, well, I usually prefer to wait it out a bit in the aiport and leave at sunrise anyways, rather than have to deal with night taxis, extra fees at the hotels or hotels that are simply closed for the night.

    I am more and more curious about Couchsurfing though, and would love to hear about your experiences should you try it – I have heard lots of good comments!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Rose – The destination certainly does make a difference. I had to laugh for a moment trying to imagine someone showing up in a place like NYC and trying to wander around looking for accommodation. That would be a nightmare! Good call with staying in the airport when your flight arrives late at night. I should probably follow that solid advice more often!

  14. AdventureRob says:

    I usually book in advance when I first arrive in a country/city, and then wing it once I’m there, like find a cheaper or nicer place as required. I also never seem to find the places cheap accommodation is when I attempt to wing it, they are usually together though so if you have one place in advance then you spot where all the others are heading there.

    Couchsurfing 95% of the time doesn’t work when you’re trying to wing it, there are emergency couch required section but no host seems to check there in any part of the world. The busy places (capital/state cities) hosts constantly are booked and rarely take people in after a while as it makes them feel like a hotel.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Rob – Thanks for that info about Couchsurfing. It makes sense that last minute requests aren’t often accommodated as it is someone’s home after all, and not a hotel. You’re also right about budget accommodation usually being clumped together in one particular area, so if we know that area ahead of time, it does remove much of the potential hassle involved with winging it. On the other hand, if we don’t know where those places are located, then we could be in for a long and frustrating search!

  15. Normally I try to book in advance but I’ve had awesome luck with just winging it. I’ve been told on several different occasions that I “fly by the seat of my pants to often” lol. I haven’t used couchsurfing.org yet but I’ve meet a few people from there and everyone has been super super nice. I can’t wait to give it a try!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Adam – If that’s what people tell you, then I’m sure you don’t worry too much when you don’t have a plan in place! Winging it can often lead to some memorable experiences, usually without too much hassle. I’m looking forward to trying out couchsurfing at some point as well, perhaps at the very start of this trip. Your trip to Mexico would be a great time for you to try it out as well!

  16. Erin says:

    We don’t usually book in advance unless arriving in the middle of the night or after an international flight. When you are dealing with jet lag and potentially cultural shock it’s good to have a comfortable room booked for a few days to help you ease in. I think couchsurfing is a good option generally, but wouldn’t go for it for the first night after a long flight as often I just want to sleep!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Erin – It makes sense…the longer the journey/flight, the less appealing it is to wing it, especially if that flight arrives after sunset. And that’s a good point about Couchsurfing, one that I didn’t think about. I’m definitely a person that loves to sleep for many hours when I’m tired, so a hotel room would be much more suitable than a person’s couch!

  17. For me, it depends on where I will be landing. After extensive research, I usually like to book a hostel in advance for the first night, unless I’m going somewhere like Southeast Asia where the best deals are found by walking around. But after a long flight, the last thing I want to do is lug my bag around, especially if it’s hot and humid, trying to find a place to stay. I have had good luck with the places I’ve booked online by reading reviews. I also know it’s only for one night and I can move on the next day if I want.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Christy – That’s true, booking for one night can’t lead to too much disappointment. We can always have a wander and change places the following day.

      I’d say that the long flight issue is probably the most important factor in deciding which option to use. As for my flight to Turkey, it will be a 12 hour journey which I think is long enough where I’m going to arrive quite tired!

  18. Andi says:

    I either CS or splurge on a nice hotel room, depends on how far I’m traveling. OMG, I’m soooo excited for you!!!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Andi – Now there’s two opposite methods – splurging on a nice hotel room or crashing on a couch!! :)

    • Phil says:

      Andi, YES. I do the same. I just couchsurfed for a month in Abidjan, and then shelled out some cash for a decent hotel room in Bamako when I arrived. I usually hole myself up in the hotel room for a day, get lots of sleep, watch football if possible, and clean the inside of my nostrils, which have probably turned black.

      Earl, you should definitely couchsurf!! I have been doing so for a few months and have had an inside look at the places I’m visiting, not to mention I have made incredible new friends. Another tip for CS besides looking at a person’s reviews, join a group for the city or country you are traveling to. Look for active members in the group. You can often tell by how people interact with others in the group whether they will be a good host and whether they will be someone you get along with. Watch how quickly you become a CS fanatic. B well, Phil

    • Renata says:

      Andi – Do you couch surf on your own or with a friend/partner? I want to try it but am not sure what it would be like as a single female.. Any advice?

  19. Ozzy says:

    After reading your post I would cast my vote for CouchSurfing. You have done all the others and you said yourself you plan on doing it at some point. Why not start your new adventure off with a bang and try something new. You have been in Mexico for a fairly long time (or at least a long time in your given reality) thus why not start this new segment in your life with the most spice you can and try an entirely new way of doing things instead of the tried and true methods that you have used in the past.

    Ozzy

    • Earl says:

      Hey Ozzy – Thank you for your vote! I’ll admit that it is quite tempting to try Couchsurfing from the start, although I’m not sure if I’ll get much of a good rest after my long journey. If I don’t use couchsurfing on that first night, I shall use it shortly after…

      I do like your reasoning though. It’s quite a convincing argument :)

  20. Sabina says:

    Hi, Earl. I always have my my rooms booked before I get there. I learned on my first trip abroad that, in my case anyway, booking rooms as I went along was a very time consuming hassle that wasted lots of precious time that could be used absorbing the sights. I’d rather spend all that time on accommodations in front of my computer at home, when I’m not missing anything! Plus taking my time in booking accommodations while at home allows me to find a room that is almost always just perfect for me. This is very important, as I spend a lot of time in one place, usually. If someone’s just going to stay for a couple of nights, all of the research I do probably isn’t worth it. But if you’re in it for the long haul, I say pin down the right spot before you hit the road.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Sabina – You’ve made some excellent points that are certainly helpful to any traveler. As far as saving time goes, searching for a room beforehand is by far the best option. I’ve just always been the kind of person that prefers to see something with my own eyes before forking over any money. While some of my pre-booking experiences worked out perfectly fine, others resulted in some utterly disappointing surprises! Perhaps I haven’t done enough research before making a decision….

      That was a great comment you left, thanks so much!

  21. Dave and Deb says:

    We usually wing it, but this summer when we went to Paris, a friend found us a great hostel. It was such a joy to land and go straight to a place rather than having the hassle of looking for accommodation. We are going to book more often now I think. When we were in India and Sri Lanka, with the popularity of cell phones, everyone was booking in advance. We would arrive at a town, go to our place of choice and they would all be reserved. People now phone ahead. So we really have to catch up with the pack and plan better to enjoy ourselves more.
    Now, you go book your flight!:-)

    • Earl says:

      Hey Dave and Deb – That’s an interesting observation you made. I’ve also noticed (but didn’t really think about it) that more and more travelers of all budgets are starting to call up and book rooms in advance, even at cheap hostels and guesthouses. And there’s nothing worse than wandering around a new place only to find that every hotel and hostel is already booked up. Hmmm…that does make booking in advance seem a bit more appealing :)

  22. Sam says:

    I’ve used most of these methods at one time or another. On a trip to South East Asia last year, I was glad I booked my first couple of nights in Singapore before I left since it’s a reasonably expensive city and I didn’t feel confident I’d be able to find a bargain on the ground. I also knew I’d be jetlagged, and didn’t want to deal with searching for accommodation at the same time.

    Later in that trip, I winged it when I arrived in the Philippines, without so much as a guidebook or map. I relied on the fact that almost everyone there speaks English and on the general helpfulness and kindness of people. It worked out fine.

    This time, on my upcoming trip, I’ll be using Couchsurfing for my first few nights in Athens, which I’m hoping will prove a rewarding experience of this new (for me) city. Let us know which you choose, Earl!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Sam – I can understand booking a place in advance in Singapore! I once spent hours roaming that city trying to find a place that wasn’t booked after a long flight from the US. And please share your couchsurfing experiences after your visit to Athens as I’m always curious to hear how these experiences turn out.

  23. maryanne says:

    I lived in Turkey for 6 years- 4 years in Istanbul itself until I moved to China a year and a half ago. I wish I could offer you a couch to crash on (I used to live so centrally there!!!) but, alas, I’m in Shanghai. If you have any questions about Turkey, do feel totally free to drop me a line.

    • Earl says:

      Thank you so much Maryanne!! I appreciate the couch offer if you were still over there :) I guess it’s safe to assume that you thoroughly enjoyed your time in Turkey if you stayed for so long!

      And I’ll be sure to get in touch with any questions that pop into my head. I have no doubt that you’re a great source of information…

  24. Jason Dudley says:

    Hey Earl,

    The decision of whether to have a plan or not whilst traveling is something that’s been on my mind lately. Personally, I like the stability of having a plan myself and what I’ll do is stay open to the possibility of diverting from it if I should so desire.

    It’s interesting that you should write about this now because I just wrote an article on my own experience of how not having a plan ended up with me being broke and homeless just 5 weeks into my trip :P If you want to you can read it here: http://is.gd/fwTd6

    As you can probably figure everything worked out for me in the end cause I’m still here, but it was certainly hair raising at the time :D

    Love your blog,
    Jason

    • Earl says:

      Hey Jason – That’s a crazy story about your experience in Canada! I can see what you’d be interested in having a plan :) Usually things do work out in the end but I can see how sometimes it’s not worth the potential hassle involved with winging it…

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