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Footloose Travel - Tips for Flexible Travel to Europe

How Much Travel Planning Should You Do?

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sheep italy footloose

The footloose traveler stops for a picture of sheep in Italy.

James Martin
Over-plan a trip to Europe and you're left with someone else's idea of a good time. Under-plan and you might have to go without a bed for a night. So where's the best middle ground for the adventurous traveler?

"Sempre diritto" - Always straight ahead, sometimes followed by "poi, chieda a qualcuno" then ask somebody --not such an unusual reply when asking directions in Italy.

If the above sounds like an Italian runaround to you, let me put a different spin on it--travel holidays should be a time for discovery, a time set aside for seeing things that are contrary to the traveler's own experience. Otherwise, why go? Shouldn't we travelers plow straight ahead until we're so hopelessly entwined in a different culture that our minds open to possibilities previously hidden from us, only asking directions if we get hopelessly off track?

Planning your Trip - Hotel Reservations

Read many Internet travel forums or newsgroups and you'll come across people who insist on reserving a hotel in every city they plan to visit. Overkill? Perhaps. Here's the level of planning I recommend and stick to on my own trips:

  • Reserve your first night's hotel --and be sure to get explicit directions to it from the airport. This one's a no-brainer. You're going to be tired from the flight, no matter when it arrives. Looking for a hotel in a strange city may be easy if you're arriving by train, but figuring it out from a foreign airport can be a daunting task.
  • Reserve any weekly apartments you may have planned for. These are harder to rent on a walk-up basis, and are often reserved well in advance.
  • Reserve any specialty accommodations. If you're set on staying in one of our unusual lodgings, you'll probably want to reserve in advance.
  • Reserve hotels a day or so in advance if you expect to arrive at a particular hotel in late afternoon during the summer season. You can sometimes ask the hotel you're staying at to call ahead for you, if language is a problem.

What I leave to chance:

  • Hotels near a train station. These are usually plentiful (most guidebooks will mention if a station is outside this norm). Europe is pretty well equipped for the train traveler. Not reserving allows you to change your mind if you hear of a better destination from other travelers, or you've read about a special festival on a billboard. And staying near the train station, while often not the most romontic of locations, allows you flexibility in travel. Besides, you won't have to worry about lugging that baggage around.
  • Hotels in the off season. You can pretty much get what you want in the off season, unless there's a special event going on in that location.
  • Country Inns on a driving holiday . Who knows how far you'll want to drive on country roads? Unless I've heard a particular inn is special (perhaps it's built around a bargain Michelin three-star restaurant) I would rather take my chances and enjoy the freedom to go where I want on a whim. Europe, like the US, has motel chains that offer reasonable priced accommodations outside larger towns if I can't find that cute country inn.

But what if I'm left out in the cold without a hotel?

It seldom happens that every hotel in a city is full, but you're never guaranteed a room when you walk up to a hotel either. If you're near a train station, ask at the visitors information booth--they can often tell you where the nearest lodging is and how to get there--or seek out the tourist information kiosk that you'll find in most tourist towns.

What's the worse thing that could happen when you haven't reserved? Well, stuck on the island of Corsica on a gusty day with seas so high the ferries couldn't take us back to Sardinia, I rented a cheap Fiat to check out every hotel and inn within range and ended up sleeping in the car. There are risks for unplanned travel.

Go on to Page two to see how the footloose traveler decides on modes of transportation, by rental car or train.

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