More Adventurous Options

If you are a bit more adventurous, and willing to trade a few hours touring for a chance at a really interesting place to stay, you can wait until you get to the host country and see what you can find.

In western Europe you can find information kiosks in major train stations that can point you toward a place to stay. If it is not too crowded and busy, many times the kiosk person has been willing to call ahead for us, perhaps out of sympathy after hearing my high school French. Usually these kiosks can also find you a place based on price if you ask.

You might also check with a travel agent in the host country. We lucked into a great home stay in Prague through a travel agent in Vienna. We had somehow gotten our reservations screwed up for Prague and wandered into a travel agent near where we were staying. After some preliminaries, she suggested a home stay with a family in Prague.

It is a l-o-n-g story for another time, but we ended up in this incredible neo-Stalinist apartment house miles from the city center, though with a playground and lots of neighbor kids. They showed us a store to buy ice cream cones and a toy shop with amazing low-tech Trabant-like junky planned-economy quality tin toys. We saw a bit less of Prague-proper than we had planned but had an incredible adventure.

Your guidebooks are the best guide, but our own experience suggests that the further you get away from languages you can communicate in, and the further down the developing world food chain you go, the dicer it gets finding a place once you've arrived.

In some countries, such as China, non-chain hotels can be very hard to find, or you may be forbidden as a foreigner from staying just where you like, or you may be sized up by someone up to no good as an easy (desperate) mark. If you'll be arriving at night, or after a really long flight, about the last thing you'll want to do is bargain with an innkeeper over that last available room.

Even if we are set on a bit of exploration in a new place, we almost always reserve a room in a known place for that first night. It gives us a good night's sleep and a little less anxiety. From there, we usually feel much brighter the next morning and more ready for the unexpected.

Remember, this is all supposed to be fun. Don't let anyone look down their nose at you because you chose to stay in one place over another. You can get adopted into someone's tribe tomorrow. Plan accordingly, and with your own and your kids' tolerance for (mis)adventure in mind.

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