One of the first things people do when they decide to go somewhere is book a place to stay. But there’s a lot to be said for waiting until you arrive at your destination to book accommodations, because it gives you so much flexibility. But not securing a place to stay has downsides, too.
The upsides to traveling without prebooking
You can decide how long you want to stay once you’re there
When you’re doing a multi-city vacation, you have to make a decision about how long you want to spend in each city before you get to each one. This poses an obvious downside: that you don’t know ahead of time how much you’ll enjoy any one particular city. I, for one, would have definitely left Phuket after one night, but when I arrived, I already had three nights booked. On the other hand, if I didn’t have the entire trip booked in advance, I might have chosen to stay an extra night in Florence instead of going back for a 4th day in Rome.
You can take advantage of things you didn’t know were going on
Sometimes, no matter how much you research, there are things that come up when you arrive somewhere that you had no way of finding out about in advance. That museum you really wanted to see might be closed because of a national holiday. Or there may be a parade or concert the day after you planned to leave. Seeing interesting celebrations and festivals around the world is one of the coolest things about traveling. If you’re flexible about your itinerary, you can take advantage of that.
You benefit from knowing the city a little better
There are places that I’ve definitely hated in part because I was staying in the wrong area. You can research the best neighborhoods online for weeks and you still won’t have a good idea about which are the best neighborhoods for you to stay. That’s because something might be really popular and safe, but also end up being super loud, preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep. If you wait until you arrive, you can get a better feel for what part of the city you’d like to spend more time in.
The downsides to traveling without prebooking
You run the risk of having nowhere to stay
Of course, there are definitely some downsides to this style of travel, and the fear of getting stuck with nothing is probably the biggest one of them. Some popular destinations, especially during peak season get fully booked up. So if you’re trying to enjoy a major festival or sporting event or traveling anywhere in Europe in the summer, you probably want to secure your accommodations in advance.
You may end up paying more
For the same reason, waiting until the last minute can be more expensive. Hotel prices are extremely variable, and they vary depending on demand. While it’s possible you may get a last minute deal because of low demand, you may also get stuck paying $200 a night because there’s barely anything left.
You may get stuck with something terrible
Another potential downside is that you may end up staying at some dirty place in a bad neighborhood because there’s nothing better available. Or because you can’t afford anything decent that is still available. If you want your pick of all the best accommodations, it’s best to book in advance.
So to wait or not to wait?
It seems the best answer to this is dependent on a couple of factors: the destination, the time of year, and of course, on you. If you’re the type of person that would have a panic attack arriving in Bangkok without having a place to sleep for the next 5 days, then traveling without prebooking is probably not for you, no matter what the upsides are.
On the other hand, if you’re more likely to enjoy the flexibility, traveling without prebooking accommodations is probably a good idea, especially when you’re taking a trip off-season or when you’re going somewhere that’s not incredibly popular all year round.