To Plan or Not to Plan?

The Europe Trip – Free spirit travel Vs. booking in advance

There’s a reason people are split on this issue. Half the people I’ve talked to say part of the fun of backpacking Europe is being able to go where you please, when you please. Make friends with a group of awesome Aussies who are on their way to Cologne, Germany? Join them! Hear about an 18th century castle tour two cities over? Get a ticket! The city you’re in is lamer than you thought and the hostel has bed bugs? Leave! These are the benefits of itinerary-free backpacking.

This was originally how I saw my trip going. There are hostels everywhere in Europe and people who had been told me I could easily book as I wandered. While this sounded truly liberating, the practical side of me eventually won-out and I decided to book my hostels in advance. Here’s why:

  1. I’m packing light, which means no laptop (it’s heavy and I don’t want to risk it being stolen). I know I could still book hostels at internet cafes, but if I’m only in a city for a few days I don’t want to waste time searching for computers and trolling the web.
  2. I’m travelling solo, which means when I arrive in a city I’ll have to figure out where I’m going on my own. Knowing I have a place to stay will give me peace of mind, and it means I’ll have an address I can head to when I arrive.
  3. I’m cheap, and booking in advance means I get the best deals on the best hostels. I’m budgeting about $30 a night for accommodations. If I pre-book, I can guarantee myself a cheaper room at nicer, centrally located hostel.

DSC_0028I’ve used two main websites to do all my hostel research: Hostelworld and Hostelbookers. I find Hostelworld has better descriptions of what each hostel offers, but Hostelbookers is always a few dollars cheaper. I’ll look up a hostel on both sites before I book.

Are there downsides to booking in advance? Yes. I’m already kicking myself in the but for not allocating more time in London. I found out I have family an hour outside the city I could have visited after I had already booked the first half of my trip. Most hostels have a one or two-day cancellation policy, which means I can still cancel a day here and there if I want to. The only thing you can’t get back is the 10 per cent deposit you pay to Hostelbookers when you reserve a room.

One thing I didn’t book in advance were my train reservations. I guess you used to be able to do this online, but now it’s only possible with certain routes. I booked my Eurostar train from London to Paris in advance to get the best price, but I’ll make any seat reservations I need with my Eurail pass as I arrive in a country.

Things you have to book in advance:

  • Your Eurail pass! Eurail has to ship you your pass BEFORE you leave. You can’t buy a pass once you’re in Europe.
  • Your tickets for The Making of Harry Potter – Warner Bros. Studio Tour in London. It’s a must-see attraction, so book before you leave to guarantee a spot!

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