Road Trip: Whether or Not to Book Hotel Reservations in Advance

I am so pleased to welcome a guest blogger today. Gina Greenlee, friend and fellow author, asked to interview me about a question she had — whether or not to book hotel reservations in advance. This is a question everyone thinks about when planning a road trip. Following is one viewpoint.

GINA: When I relocated to Florida from Connecticut and contemplated a four-day, 1,500 mile solo drive, I was anxious. You helped me immensely with your stellar advice because you had driven this route many times on your own. First, you suggested a route that would circumvent densely populated urban areas along the east coast of the United States such as Washington, D.C. The drive west through New York and the Pennsylvania mountains were not only light with traffic but also scenic.

Your second suggestion surprised me: Don’t book hotels. Say what? The idea of road tripping solo and not having hotel reservations to ground me was scary. At the time I thought you were nuts. Turns out you were right! I’ve driven between Florida and Connecticut three times and each time it worked out perfectly. On the surface, it seems counter-intuitive yet…

JAN: I discovered that no matter which route you take, there are so many exits that advertise lodging all along the way; there is no shortage of options. And, I was always able to find a motel or lodge to my liking – price and cleanliness – that had vacancies.

GINA: That was my concern. Would I be able to find a vacancy if I just winged it? And what if I wound up in a location with nasty choices like a Roachtel 6?

JAN: Ah, that’s why I told you never to stop at an exit that only lists one motel, but rather choose a busy exit that has at least four options. This way, if one motel is booked, you’ll find another an eighth of a mile down the road or even next door. A couple of times an inn had a nightly rate that exceeded my travel budget. I asked the receptionist, “Do you know of a place that’s less expensive?” Each time they steered me to a nice lodging with lower rates.

GINA: I love that.

JAN: I did, too. One receptionist even took it upon herself to call the hotel first to find out if it had any vacancies before she sent me over.

GINA: What a great tip to share. That would not have occurred to me, but now that I hear it, the referral makes good business sense because over time, I’m sure it’s reciprocal. Plenty of travelers to go around.

JAN: They help each other out. So, now that we talked about not having to worry about lack of vacancies, let me remind you of the real reason I didn’t want you to make reservations.

Every winter, when I packed up my house and closed it down for the season it was a tiring affair. My first day of driving did not start out as early as I would have liked. I know my rhythm and that first day — out of three for me although you decided to take four — I’m more apt to only drive 250 or 300 miles before I tire or before it gets dark, and I never want to drive in a strange place at night.

GINA: Smart.

JAN: Yeah, well, not only do I feel safer, I can’t read the signs that well at night. So the first day, I don’t know how long I’m going to drive. Most importantly, I want to keep my schedule flexible and not pressure myself. The second day I’m more apt to have had a good night’s sleep – there’s nowhere to go at night, you’re in a motel – and so I’m inclined to get up early. That day I might put an extra 200 miles on. Why would I want to limit myself by booking ahead and having to drive a certain amount of miles that might be uncomfortable when there is no need? That’s the real reason I gave you the advice not to book reservations in advance.

GINA: So fast forward to 2008, and you’re planning a five-week road trip out west the following year. I was so excited for you! We talked about so many aspects of the trip in its planning stages, including hotel reservations. Based on your advice about road tripping along the east coast of the United States, I assumed you’d adopt the same spontaneous strategy.

Instead you told me, “My reservations have been made for all 35 nights.” I said, “How come you get to book hotels ahead of time and I have to wing it?” That’s when you shared, “There’s a huge difference between driving straight from Connecticut to Florida and touring the west for five weeks.” I said, “Enlighten me.”

JAN: Actually, there were several reasons for me to make reservations ahead. First, I didn’t think motels and hotels would be as numerous and easy to access as they are on the east coast. All that hotel signage you see on the eastern seaboard? That doesn’t happen out west in places such as Colorado, Montana, Arizona and Wyoming.

Because I had a full itinerary with planned stops each day, I didn’t want to invest any time – not even fifteen minutes – researching lodging by the internet and phone. By having a set location and a planned route mapped out ahead of time, I always knew exactly where I was going. That’s not to say I didn’t take detours and make unscheduled stops along the way, but at the end of the day it was comforting to know where I would be laying my head.

My routine was also comforting to me as a solo woman traveler. My reservations were in towns I was interested in exploring and I scheduled myself to arrive by late afternoon. After checking into my place of lodging, I immediately set out on a walking tour, stopping to glance at menus posted in restaurant windows to get an sense of where I might like to eat. My dinners out were always a special occasion since I was traveling on a budget and ate breakfast and lunch from a grocery bag and cooler. After dinner, I’d return to my lodging just as it was getting dark.

Now, I know many people who take similar road trips and choose not to make reservations ahead. They maintain that it is more of an adventure not to tie yourself down to a set route. I have also enjoyed traveling this way on occasion. But, I maintain that my method of scheduling ahead on this trip afforded me just as much of an adventure. That’s because during my pre-trip research I discovered several unique and highly rated hotels, motels and hostels that required reservations because of their popularity. Without such reservations I would have missed out on certain lodging-related attractions and experiences.

GINA: That makes a lot of sense, especially when you break it down.

JAN: The bottom line is that every trip is unique. Advance lodging arrangements worked out perfectly for this trip because it afforded me a sense of safety, comfort, and adventure.

GINA: Thank you so much for sharing the details of booking vs. not booking hotel reservations ahead of time on a road trip and why. I would love to take a road trip out west and if I do I certainly know to book hotels in advance vs. the spontaneous strategy I used when driving the eastern seaboard.

Thanks to Gina for the interview and the blog on whether or not to book reservations ahead when planning a road trip or to book them spontaneously day by day. I would be happy to respond to any readers who have comments or questions on this subject.

Check out Gina Greenlee’s eleven non-fiction books and her first novel at:
www.ginagreenlee.com