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If you’re about to embark on a backpacking trip, should you book your hostels in advance or book them on the road? The savvy backpacker can at times use a combination of the two. But for everyone else, this could be a question that could cause some anxiety. It seems like many think that in order to do backpacking the “right way” you need to have some sort of serendipitous attitude when it comes to making plans. While this method works for some, it shouldn’t make others feel like they have to do things a certain way. This carefree life also comes with some risks. So while there may not be an exact answer to the question “is it better to book hostels in advance or as you go”, we decided to weigh the outcomes for those strapping on a backpack in the coming months. Keep reading for our advice.
Pros of Booking in Advanced
Perhaps the greatest advantage of booking in advance is guaranteeing yourself a little peace of mind. There is something to be said about knowing you will be able to go from an airport directly to somewhere that can serve as a home base. It is an intimidating prospect to not know where you are going and all the while having every one of your possessions strapped on your back.
That is why we think it is wise to book in advance for your first couple of nights in a new city. You can arrive at a new destination and you can immediately drop your bag before heading out and exploring. It is tough to arrive in a new city, full of excitement, then have to try to understand the geography of a place, get a feel for a neighborhood by word of mouth, and then go door to door looking for the right hostel. It sounds stressful.
We believe that if you’re headed to an entirely new and unfamiliar country, you’ll want to book at least a week’s worth of accommodation at your hostel of choice. Consider what physical state you’ll be in upon arrival – jet-lagged, fatigued, disoriented – and consider how overwhelmed and culture-shocked you might feel, and whether language barriers will be an issue. Especially in countries where you can not speak the language, planning ahead is crucial.
You’ll also want to book in advance if you’ll be traveling in high season. Research your destination prior to going. Traveling to places like Western Europe, New Zealand, or Australia in the summer calls for prior booking. You’ll probably even want to book the whole stay. Competition in certain destinations is a real thing and you don’t want to be on the losing side. Being homeless for a night might build character, but it is inconvenient, uncomfortable, and at times dangerous.
Pros of Just Going For It
While booking ahead may make a bit more logistical sense, it can also be very limiting. Confident travelers may enjoy the thrill of walking from hostel to hostel to find out where they’ll get lucky. This method can also work well in cities where there are well-known tourist centers. Instead of wandering around looking for a hostel, it will be easy in a place where there will be a ton of them centrally located.
Another advantage of embracing the vagabond life is keeping your options open. A traveler can try an “accommodation sampler”. By not committing to any particular hostel, backpackers can judge places to stay on visits and their vibe, and not by pictures on booking websites. By staying in multiple places during one trip you can also maximize social potential. Social butterflies will love being the uniting force behind a cross-hostel party crew made up of the new friends they have made at each place they stayed. This method needs to be embraced by long term travelers also. Book your first week, feel out your location, and then decide where you want to stay past that.
In cheaper areas of the world, like Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and Central America, where hostels are abundant and backpacking is common, not booking ahead won’t mean a hit to your budget. Showing up to a city somewhere in the US or Western Europe and trying to make a reservation for the next few days can be expensive. There is sometimes a “night of” discount, but for the most part, the best prices are found months in advance. Sure, booking when you show up in somewhere like Chiang Mai might cost more than booking ahead, but the dollar difference can usually be measured on your fingers rather than with a calculator.
The ultimate answer comes down to individual situations and travelers. There is only one way to truly know yourself and your preferences, give both a try! Our ultimate recommendation: travel more and perfect your travel style.