Hi, I'm an aspiring backpacker and I plan to go as far as I can take myself on my student loan in the summer. I'll be starting in late may and I've never travelled for longer than a few days by myself. I've been researching hostels and rail passes, and decided on a month pass for the whole of Europe, which would give me the most flexibility, which is what I'm aiming for.
The problem I'm facing is hostel booking, I don't want to tie my self to staying in certain cities for certain dates by making reservations that I might have to stick to, can I just stroll in and ask for a place to crash? is it more expensive? Someone tell me this is more common than I think, and I'm worrying about nothing :D
No, you should be fine and yes, it is more expensive to turn up and book hostels but you can haggle and get the price down if you know the on-line price.
I tend to book hostels on-line the night before. Book two or three nights initially then go to reception and extend if you like. You are not always guaranteed a bed though. You don't have to book on-line, you can just turn up at a hostel but that is risky for me. You don't want to be lugging your heavy backpack from hostel to hostel looking for beds especially on weekends.
This is more common than you think, though it does depend a little on the time of the year how many problems you will face doing this Late May is still pretty low season, so you should have less trouble getting a place with short notice. If you are planning to be anywhere when a major event is going on, obviously then you'd want to book in advance. Weekends are the other potential hassle.
Booking a night in advance like morro suggests can be a good compromise and saves you wandering around town too much.
If you end up in a city with nowhere to stay, consider Travellerspoint's mobile site (http://m.travellerspoint.com/) and hitting up the budget accommodation section there. You can do a search based on your location showing you all budget properties that have available beds/rooms nearby you. Of course you can also just use it to find and book hostels the night before in a different city
I think it's what you are comfortable with and how picky you are. I've never tried the last minute bookings because I want the lowest price for a decent room in an ideal location and don't want to wander around a city with my pack looking for a room and finally settling for something that costs more than I wanted to pay in a location I don't like. I like knowing I have somewhere to go straight off the train. Plus, I always travel in June/July high season. But yes, it would be nice to have more flexibility without losing money on rooms you've already booked. On the other hand, I'm not much for rail passes. Used one once and it was fine but whenever I price it out it never really pays to have one. But, I do plan on buying my expensive train tickets ahead of time to save money ($50 vs $118). Guess I like to plan and save money
One time I drove to Pensacola, Florida to have a beach weekend and didn't book a room ahead of time. I drove and drove, stopping at Holiday Inns and such and they all said no vacancy. Finally I ended up at a seedy motel with people fighting in the adjoining room. I also didn't feel too good about the cleanliness of the sheets so I didn't get much sleep that night. Turned me off from not booking ahead.
A few years ago I was in Manarola, Italy (Cinque Terre) and they were having train strike issues. A couple guys from my hostel had to check out but couldn't get to their next destination so they wandered around and around with their big packs trying to find somewhere to sleep in hopes the train strike would end the next day. Manarola is hill city so it was exhausting. Our hostel had a "no mixed sex rooms" policy so we couldn't let them stay in our room. I was trying to help them with my phone but there weren't many options and the one vacancy I found for them was expensive. They finally ran across some Canadian girls renting an apartment who offered them a place to crash. But it was another reinforcement of my book ahead policy.
The "book a night ahead" strategy would be better than just showing up.
can I just stroll in and ask for a place to crash? is it more expensive? Someone tell me this is more common than I think, and I'm worrying about nothing :D
True, but it depends upon whether or not the area is in the middle of a vacation attraction. You might want to check that out a day or so in advance. In general, not to worry too much!
Thanks for the replies you guys, helped me plan my trip a bit better, my budget for the trip is about £1200, but to make sure my money lasted I decided to settle on booking hostels in advance and only staying for 2 days in each city. I know it isn't a long time to do much but this trip is more about seeing what I can do on my own, I'm waiting to see if i can rely on myself to travel this distance. I settled on the route:
Istanbul (purely because I went to turkey several years ago and I cannot wait to eat more lahmacun and kofte.)
Paris (for train back to London)
I think I'm settled on that route, it costs the least and will take me 16 days to do, but any advice or alterations are more than welcome, I'm looking forward to your feedback!
also, lahmacun lovers unite!
I think you'll be happy to have your beds settled ahead of time, especially it being your first solo trip. If I were you, I would do a reality check on how much real time you've given each city. The travel time eats up more time than you may think so simulate how much time you actually get in a city between the time you get there and the time you have to leave. I don't have a problem with a whirlwind tour to find out where you'll want to spend more time in the future but you also don't want to constantly be moving and not be able to stop and enjoy something. Based on RailEurope, Paris to Berlin is 7 hrs, maybe make that an overnight trip and save one hostel night? Berlin to Prague looks like 5 hrs. Prague to Budapest also 7hrs so another overnight? Plot it all out and see how it really goes. You might want to whirlwind cities that are closer together.
wow, that is such a bad itinerary. Have you considered transportation costs? As laurim said, the transportation will take up a lot of time. Also, travelling can be very tiring especially when you are spending 7 hours on a train and are constantly having to switch beds every two nights. I absolutely don't recommend you go ahead with this trip. You have two options, either spend more nights (i would say at least three for each of the places you mentioned) or narrow down the geographical area of the trip. Two nighters aren't too bad if the travelling time is only two or three hours.
Furthermore to my previous post, this is what I recommend (based on 16 day itinerary)
Fly back to London or make your way back to London via Austria and Switzerland.
Fly to Istanbul
Trogir (Croatia) --> either fly or spend a night or two somewhere in either Serbia or Montenegro
Either fly to Paris or make your way back via Slovenia, Austria and Switzerland
[ Edit: Edited on 05-Apr-2012, at 18:41 by morro ]