Years ago when I traveled, one of the first things I did was book my hotels. It just seemed natural; without a reservation, after all, where would I stay? I think a lot of of people, maybe most people, travel this way.


But then in my case I went to Europe for a few months and, because the trip was so long and I wanted to be flexible, I set out with almost no reservations.

That was a paradigm changing trip, and ever since I’ve usually traveled sans reservations. That means I typically show up in a town, find a cluster of good, independently owned hotels, and pop into a few to ask about rates. I love this method, and if you’ve never given it a shot, I highly recommend trying. Here’s why:

1. It gives you more flexibility.

The most obvious reason you don’t want reservations is because traveling without them makes trips spontaneous. When Laura and I drove through Michigan last fall, we never really decided where we were going until we got there. Finally, we ended up in Mackinaw, thought it seemed cool (and beautiful), and booked a room at a charming mom and pop hotel.

The Rainbow Motel in Mackinaw City

I’ve had similar experiences in Europe, South America, Africa, and Asia: I decide last minute where to go, then pick out a place that seems charming and fun.

2. You end up making more personal connections.

When you don’t have a reservation, you’re forced to talk to more people as you look around for lodging — often with rewarding results.

We arrived in Selçuk earlier this year without a reservation and followed DIY signs in the street to find lodging. Ultimately we settled on Homeros Pension because of the extremely warm welcome we received from the proprietor that involved warming up at the wood-burning stove, chatting about the town, and being offered tea.

Homeros Guesthouse

Had we booked in advance, we A) might have missed out on that experience entirely, and B) would have had little reason to strike up a conservation to gauge our interest in the guesthouse.

Similarly, in Germany last fall, we arrived in Oberammergau without a reservation and popped into a few hotels to inquire about rates. Ultimately, we based our choice on the fact that we had a humorous conversation with a guesthouse owner about driving on the autobahn.

3. You get better deals.

When you show up last minute to a hotel or guesthouse, you have the upper hand; if there are rooms left, they’re going to really want to sell them and so you can score great deals. IMG_6171

Showing up last minute also means you have access to a multitude of hotels that don’t show up on Expedia or Hotwire or whatever.

I can’t even count the number of times I’ve checked these travel websites, found a bunch of boring chains at not-so-great prices, then showed up without a reservation and found better, cheaper places to stay.

4. You usually don’t end up in a place that isn’t great.

Deciding where you’re going to stay after arriving in a town means you can base your decision on how long it takes to get around, how friendly the neighborhood feels, and how cool the hotel itself is.

For example, the first time I went to Paris, I booked a six night stay in advance. But when I arrived, what had seemed like a good location turned out to be relatively boring and a very long metro ride from any sites.

The second time I went to Paris, however, I showed up without a reservation and walked to a neighborhood a friend had recommended. I popped into a few hotels until I found one I liked, and ended up with a fantastic stay.

I often stay in this hotel, or in one near it, when I’m in Paris.

The point is that you never really know what a place is going to be like until you arrive, so waiting until the last minute to make a decision means you’re acting with all the available information. If you book a hotel in advance, you’re kind of flying blind.

— Jim Dalrymple II


Written by Jim Dalrymple II

Urbanism and travel writer. Also a journalist covering the news.


  1. Definitely some good advice, but it is probably a good idea to know if there are any large events going on during the time that you’re travelling, otherwise some places are sold out.

  2. but you would have to be prepared to pay more for something less if it doesn’t work out. Nevertheless it’s really fun not booking hotels in advance because you never know what you’ll get!

  3. this is exactly how I feel too! When I first started travelling years ago, I’d always book my hotels even on a road trip when I would have preferred not to commit. For places like London, England and Zurich, Switzerland I also booked ahead because I heard that hotels were very expensive (for the time pd I was there) and I panicked and booked just to be safe. But then I started to realize that in most places, esp if you can go off-peak times, there are always lots of hotels avail and I’ve hardly ever had trouble finding anywhere to stay. There were a couple nights that I spent hours driving/walking around because nothing was avail but those were very rare. I love talking to locals too and getting recommendations from people when I’m there. If I’m staying for several days, I may book the first night to be safe (esp if I’m coming into town really late) but I like to leave it open to stay somewhere else.
    Great post!!!

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