If you have the time and the stomach for it, waiting to book your accommodation is a really great way to add to your flexibility on a trip. However, it’s definitely not for everyone. Most people, even experienced travelers, have never done this for several reasons.
When I feel a little more adventurous – or when I’m too lazy to do enough research to book my accommodations in advance – I just look up places to stay within a week (sometimes the day before!) I get to a new city. There are risks, sure. So why do I wait?
Go Anywhere, Whenever You Want
Get sick? Stay an extra day. Love the food from a particular restaurant or food stall? Move closer to it. Heard about a completely new small and out-of-the-way scene that sounds perfect? Don’t even hesitate to drop by. You never have to worry about cancellation policies and getting charged extra.
Listen to Recommendations
One of the best things about talking to other travelers, especially those that are on a different path/route as you, is swapping tips! Listen to what they have to say about where they stayed, the best way to get from point A to point B, or which places to avoid because there’s no hot water to shower with. If you’re not locked into a reservation, change your plans based on the first-hand accounts of people who have just come from your next destination.
Get Better Prices (Maybe)
It’s hard to tell exactly what prices are in many places because they aren’t set. Even so, online prices can be higher for several reasons. For some of the hostels/hotels on AirBnb*, the website charges you an extra processing fee. Websites like Agoda* or Booking.com* charge a listing fee for properties, so hotels have to factor in this charge to their listings. Contacting them directly or arriving at their doorstep avoids these charges.
It’s Just More Convenient
Step off bus and look around. If you want to be next to the beach, get to the beach and pick an option there. Tailor your experience by just looking for a place to stay wherever you want to spend most of your time.
There is No Other Choice
In very small towns, there may be nothing listed online! Especially in countries that have lower standards of living, smaller areas don’t have consistent (or any!) internet access, which means that they wouldn’t be able to list themselves even if they wanted to. The advantage in this case is that the prices you see will be satisfyingly low.
You never want to be left without a place to stay. This doesn’t just mean that literally every single room in a city and surrounding area is booked. Being without a place to stay can mean that the only rooms left are out of your budget range, are completely inconvenient in terms of location, make you feel unsafe, or any other reason. I would advise against trying to book on arrival in popular places during high season (typically the summer months), when you know there’s going to be a holiday or big event (something like Cherry Blossom season in Japan), or when you can’t communicate with locals well enough to ask for options and negotiate.
[Recommended Read: Why You Should Start Your Travels with a Host]
If you’re willing to give it a try, there are three ways to go about it:
Prepare As If You Booked a Place
This is the method I recommend for most cases. Go through the motions of actually booking your accommodation – research a city, pick a place to stay. You can see my previous post about booking the best accommodation for tips about this. Then, instead of making a reservation, just jot down the information for your chosen location. Ideally, you should have the
- Location name
- Address (in the local language)
- A picture of the front of the building
- Contact information for the hotel
- Pricing and availability information
The best tools for this are Booking.com and Agoda since they have a great range of selections where you can find all the above information. You can also read ratings and reviews, which are often very helpful.
While nothing but the address is really necessary, the rest of the information can be crucial in helping you get to the right place and pay what you’re expecting the price to be. Before arriving, you should check to verify that there is still availability, either through websites or directly contacting the property.
In a sense, this method means having the best of both worlds because you haven’t yet committed to anything and can always take the other option if the need arises, but you can also capture the flexibility that comes with not reserving anything. When you arrive somewhere new, you won’t have to scramble to find a place to stay.
Follow Method #1 and go further, informally booking a bed
Do your research as outlined above. For many properties, you can contact them through the phone, social media, or email, and let them know that you’re going to want to stay at their place during your designated time. I’ve used this approach to find a more happy medium between method #1 and actually booking a bed by providing credit card. The downside is that this method isn’t always accepted, especially for larger hotels and during really busy times. Properties would much rather have the payment information for a customer than take someone’s word for it. However, in non-peak seasons or for less popular places, you shouldn’t have any problem.
Literally walk around and approach hotels and hostels
This is even more adventurous than not committing to a place, because you never know what you’re going to end up with. You could have a plethora of options and be able to pick from the best, or be left with mediocre accommodations that make you wish you had just booked a place in advance. It happens. Part of the fun is that you just never really know.
[Recommended Read: How to Pick the Perfect Travel Accommodations]
Why would you approach accommodations in person?
Why not just go with option one where you have a backup location handy?
It May Not Be Possible
I have been to several places where literally nothing is listed online under accommodations. For one reason or another, there is ZILCH online, or extremely limited options. The places that come to mind include Koh Rong Island in Cambodia, Toro Toro National Park in Bolivia, and San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. These are clearly very touristy places, but the internet access and norms mean that you won’t see options online. In some cases, there may only be one or two places listed, neither of which fit you.
Many Good Accommodations Aren’t Listed Online
This is the case more often than you might think. For one reason or another, especially in lower standard-of-living areas, you might find great deals that aren’t online.
To do this, simply get to the area/neighborhood you want (or just walk outside the bus station) and look around for something that works. It’s really that simple. If you don’t like the place, keep walking and you’re bound to find something new, or even ask the person you speak to for a recommendation. It really helps if you have some things in mind – a general area, a price range, etc. – that can help you narrow down your choices, especially if you are carrying your things with you.
The benefits to this technique are that you can find smaller, intimate places to stay, with owners that are more than happy to help you out as much as they can. You can often get a cheaper rate because owners don’t have to worry about listing and booking fees, and have a quiet place – or even have the whole hostel room to yourself!
Don’t be afraid to opt into flexibility. It can really enrich your travel experience and make you fall in love with the freedom that travel empowers you with.
[Recommended Read: When You Should Book Accommodation in Advance]
Want to Pin this post for later?
Have you ever waited until arriving somewhere to choose a place to stay? How did it go?
*If you use these links to book accommodations on your dream travels, I will get a small commission for sending you to those sites at no additional cost to you! Of course, this is only if you want to have a more defined schedule and don’t want to go with the flow for your stays. This helps me keep this website running and providing updated, fresh travel content!