Book in advance or wing it… why both can be good

Many people that claim to be ‘real’ travelers will turn their nose up at any sign of a set itinerary or pre-booked accommodation. Whilst there is nothing I love more than the feeling of absolute freedom when being on the road and not knowing where I will be tomorrow, sometimes a bit of planning and booking is necessary.

The trip we are embarking on this coming August is a real mix of planning and winging. I don’t particularly like being tied down to an itinerary however for the first leg of our journey it seems like it’s going to be required. We are interrailing through Europe for a month before entering Russia. The pass we are going for allows us 10 travel days within 22 which we are activating after we leave Paris. This option was a fair bit cheaper than a continuous pass (and considerably cheaper than individual journeys – we researched every single leg) and we need to start as we mean to go on; sticking to the budget. So, given that we have to travel on 10 days, and are going in the busier period, we are going to book our accommodation and seat reservations in advance. I know some of these trains only have X amount of spaces for interrail pass holders and if we don’t get one we will be presented with a significantly priced bill, something we definitely want to avoid. Secondly, we have to arrive in Russia on the day we say we will, and leave when we say we will. I have researched the rules and regulations behind the Russian visa and it does not seem uncommon to be chucked off a train if you arrive at the border on the wrong day… (All trains in Russia run to Moscow time too, despite spanning a load of time zones, so even more careful planning here). Lastly, because we are taking the transsiberian from Moscow to Beijing, via Irkutsk and Ulan Bator in Mongolia, we need to book this up before. This is mostly to do with the Russian visas, price and the time we are traveling. If it was low season where tickets would be available at the station for that day or the following, I would be happy to take the risk. However, reading has led me to believe that during summer season (albeit it will be toward the end of this season) you need to be there a good few days before to secure tickets. If something goes wrong and tickets aren’t available for however many days, we could over stay on our Russian visa which could in turn screw up our Chinese visa. Once we are cleared of all that and in Beijing we can slow down the pace again and take it as it comes, just knowing that we need to be out in 30 days!

I must say it does irk me somewhat when I come across the affectionately named ‘travel snob’. A bit like a music snob, or a snob in general. No one should say what you should or shouldn’t do in travel! If you want to book ahead go do it. You will have a different experience to winging it but that might be the experience you are after. Or, like us, you may need to have a decent plan in place due to the season and prices. It’s a bit like the whole tourist vs. traveler debate. And to be honest I really couldn’t give a monkeys about that or about being ‘right’. As long as you appreciate the people around you and the country you are in, and don’t actively damage it then it doesn’t really matter if you are with the hordes of people queuing to go up the Eiffel Tower or jammed on the bus with all the other tourists to see The Great Wall (our attempt at trying to avoid the masses ended up in no Great Wall…). After all there must be a reason why so many people are flooding to these places. With that said, I do think a bit of reading and research is a great start to any trip, as you can avoid being ripped off (note: all the reading still doesn’t always stop this…ie.Shanghai, tea scam. Woops) Ultimately the most important thing is that you enjoy and appreciate your surroundings, and leave no trace. Whatever you chose is up to you.

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