||VAWN HIMMELSBACH, Chic Savvy Travels
I realize an hour has passed, as I search online for a hotel in San Francisco for an upcoming trip. A whole hour has passed, and I’ve come no closer to finding a room — unless I’m willing to pay more than US$300 a night or stay in a 12-person dorm with a shared bathroom.
There’s also that added pressure of “37 other people are looking at this hotel right now!” and “only ONE room left at this price!” flashing at you from your computer screen, leading to panic and impulse online bookings.
Photo Credit: iStock
Then there are all those reviews, which I find overwhelming — especially when one person raves about a place and another rips it to shreds. I’d rather get a recommendation from a traveler I’ve met on the road — someone I feel I connect with and shares a similar travel style.
A person who is repulsed by the idea of using a squat toilet, for example, is going to have a very different opinion than I do of a simple guesthouse in Phnom Penh.
Sure, the Internet has made travel easier in some regards — I love language translation apps, for example — but I also miss the days when I could just show up somewhere, leave my pack at a café and look around for a room (sometimes with other travelers I just met on the bus).
I’ve been traveling this way for years — and only a couple of times did I arrive somewhere on a 12-hour overnight bus at 4 a.m. and couldn’t get a room until someone checked out in the morning. And sure, that wasn’t exactly fun. But I’d also argue the freedom and flexibility this gave me far outweighed the occasional inconvenience.
It allowed me to change my plans on a whim — sometimes hopping on a plane/train/bus to another city or country that wasn’t on my original itinerary. Or to discover a hidden gem that isn’t in any of the guidebooks. Or to stay with other travelers I met along the way.
If you’ve booked all of your accommodations, transportation and events in advance, it doesn’t leave any room for spontaneity — and isn’t that the whole point of travel? As Paul Theroux once said, “Tourists don’t know where they’ve been. Travelers don’t know where they’re going.”
Personally, I don’t like to know where I’m going — at least not down to the last detail. For me, travel is about getting out of our highly scheduled lifestyles and, as cheesy as it might sound, trying to “be in the moment” or “go with the flow.”
And sure, sometimes going with the flow means scrambling to find a place to stay or ending up somewhere you don’t want to be. But most of the time it leads to adventures you couldn’t possibly have planned in advance.
After looking at hundreds of hotels and hostels and B&Bs in San Francisco — reading countless reviews and scanning endless photo galleries — I succumbed to panic and booked a room online (one that looks pretty crappy, I might add).
I’m not thrilled about it. Maybe I’ll have to stick to places that don’t have easy access to the Internet, like the remote western regions of Mongolia. I’m sure most of those yurts don’t have websites and online booking systems — yet.
Date Added: April 19, 2012 | Comments (2)
I know what you mean about the pressure of the “20 other people have looked at this hotel room” flashing at you as you search for accommodation. I had that experience recently booking a hotel for New York City. I tried Expedia first as I’ve had luck with the site before getting cheaper hotels and a friend advised booking NY last minute with Expedia was a good plan even with the big hotels. But on a whim I decided to check the web site of the hotel I had my eye on in Midtown. Sure enough it was the same price and even a few bucks cheaper than Expedia and by booking through the hotel site I didn’t have to pay the full amount up front or risk losing any deposit if I cancelled. If I wanted I could chance up to 24 hours before arrival.
Comment by Jennifer B — April 19, 2012 @ 4:28 pm
I was rescued this summer by a website as I was anxiously searching for affordable accommodation in Penticton, BC, on the August long weekend. After getting lots of mixed prices and hotels out of my price range that I set on the sites, I finally saw the tiny posting for the International Hostel in Booking.com, the only site it showed up on. It didn’t come up in a Google search. What a relief! (Although I did panic when it said “one bed left” but it was true!)
Cheaper than camping in the area, great facilities and location, amazing guests and super staff. I couldn’t leave and kept booking for another 3 days!
The internet has so greatly improved my travel experience time and again. Especially when I arrive somewhere without a reservation.
Comment by Lori — September 2, 2012 @ 2:24 pm