When the Shit Hits the Fan
Well, I’ve discovered one downside of my ultra-cheap travel style: when the shit hits the fan, you’re really SOL.
Today is one of those times when the shit hit the fan and all I could really do was stand by and watch my trip get covered in poo. Figuratively, of course.
Originally, I was supposed to stay with a blogger in Montpellier. Then, that fell through so I found a couchsurfing.com host. Upon arriving yesterday evening, I found that she could only host me on one of the three nights in my request. It was an understandable misunderstanding, but no less problematic.
Thus, I found myself in France, in August, without a place to stay the following night and if there’s one thing I hate when I’m traveling, it’s to not know where my next bed will be. I am not a planner, but I do like to know two things when I travel: where my next bed is and where the closest restroom is. If I know those two things, you can throw a surprising number of obstacles in my path with little effect. If I don’t know those things, you can expect a very stressed Kelsey.
As soon as I realized that I had no room for the following night, I immediately hopped online and opened up several sites: couchsurfing.com, tripping.com, hostelbookers.com, and hostelworld.com. I left messages on the “Last Minute Couch” boards on couchsurfing.com for Toulouse, Beziers, Nimes, Montpellier, and Carcassonne. Nothing. I sent CS requests to at least 5 people in each city. Nothing. Tripping.com yielded nothing as well. A search of both hostelbookers and hostelworld showed me that every hostel within a 200km radius of Montpellier was booked solid. Even many of the cheaper hotels were full or only had multiple-occupancy rooms available.
One hostel in Toulouse had a room available on Saturday night (which I promptly booked), and that was the only place in any city I had found that had any availability whatsoever, so I decided that Toulouse would probably be my best bet. It’s supposedly a nice city, but it doesn’t have much of a tourism draw, so I figured that it would probably be easier to find a place there. I resigned myself to paying upwards of €50-€60 for a room and decided to head to Toulouse and just stay in the first reasonably-priced hotel I could find. I went to bed but didn’t sleep well.
The next morning I searched again and found even less availability. I went out into town for a few hours and saw a Brassai photography exhibit that I was barely conscious of because all I could really think about was the fact that I was heading to an unfamiliar city without a place to go once I got there.
Thank god for knowledgeable locals, because after I returned to my host’s apartment, she told me about booking.com, a British-based site that often has last-minute rooms for very cheap. I immediately hopped on the site and within 2 minutes had found a hotel, close to the train station, that had ONE single-occupancy room left for just €25. I snatched up the room for tonight and tomorrow, and on Saturday I will be at the hostel. Now I just have to hope that I’ll be able to finally get through to Marc’s cousins in Bordeaux so that I can make my plans for next week!
Part of the problem is that with my current budget, blowing €50 on a hotel would have been blowing my entire budget for 4 days on one night. In a pinch, I’ll do it if I have to, but then I have to figure out how to make up for the loss later, and I’m not a fan of leveraging the future for a better present.
While I can’t fix my budget, there are some other things that caused this situation which were avoidable:
1. I underestimated how crowded France is in August. I knew that France is the most-visited country in the world, and I knew that August, especially early August, is peak season, but for some reason, I ignored that knowledge and it came back to bite me in the ass.
2. Even though I had at least a vague idea of my schedule, I didn’t start contacting potential couchsurfing hosts until only a few days before I would need them. In reality, couchsurfing requests should be done at least a week out, if not more.
3. I didn’t look at hostels until after my initial efforts left me empty-handed. This should have been my first move, and I would have realized the direness of my situation much earlier.
Thankfully, I was able to find a place, and a good one at that, but I definitely learned some things from this little escapade!
Overall, the lesson from this seems to be that if you’re traveling with a very low budget, there is little room for error. You really need to plan ahead and book ahead or risk being let in a lurch. Also, when your travel relies on the kindness of others, a backup plan is absolutely essential.
Have you ever suddenly found yourself without lodging while traveling? What did you do?