What to do When your Hotel Room Plan Falls Through

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woman sleeping on a beach

‘Homeless in Hawaii’ was my Facebook status more than once during my extended stay on the islands at the end of last year. Whether your travel plans have failed or, like me, you’ve failed to make any plans at all, there are times when you might find yourself in a place with no hotels or rooms available, especially if you are on a long-term trip.

Based on my experience, here are a few alternative ways to spend the night.

The ‘No Hotels = No Sleep’ Options

First, the reality sinks in that you’re going to be homeless for the night, but this is often quickly followed by a boost of adrenaline. Use that surge to your advantage and you should be able to survive the occasional room-less night without any sleep at all.

Before you head out into the city streets, secure your belongings at your last accommodation or the one you plan to check into the next day. Otherwise, find a secure left luggage at a bus or train station. Also, try to find accommodation with an early morning check-in so you can crash once the sun is up.

1. Find a nightclub


If you’re in party central and have the stamina, put on your glad rags and hit the local nightclubs. Partying until dawn, I was able to deal with the fact there were no hotels available in Bali. Leaving the club at 5 a.m I had breakfast before grabbing a few hours sleep on a sun lounger at the accommodation I was due to check into that day. Keep alcohol intake low or you might find yourself craving that room you just don’t have.

2. Loiter in an all-night diner

Have a book to finish (reading or writing) or postcards to craft? Find a local diner or an all-night café where you can linger. If the town is big enough, you may be able to split your time between a few. McDonald’s may not be your ideal choice for a night without sleep, but if it comes to it, many are open 24/7 and at least the drinks and snacks won’t kill your travel budget.

3. Track down a 24-hour gym

I’m not for a second suggesting that you spend the entire night on the treadmill, but split between a workout, swim, sauna, shower and stop at the café, you can certainly burn through a few hours as well as calories in this healthier alternative to clubbing and dining. Try and find one with plenty of extra facilities to maximize time-wasting. Anytime Fitness is a good place to start your search – they’ve got over 2,000 clubs in the USA, Mexico, Europe, India, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

4. Go online at a late-night internet café

Internet cafes are dwindling, but if you are in a town where they are still a common utility, take advantage. Use the time difference to catch up with family back home or fix your problem for the coming night. In Japan,  although for comic reading, not web surfing, Manga cafés are open all night and many include a reading cubicle you can book for the night for a small fee.

The ‘No Hotels But I Still Need to Sleep’ Options

Simply can’t face the idea of having to push on through the night? It’s time to get a little more creative and direct with your room booking skills.

5. Exhaust every contact – even if they’re not yours

woman sleeping on a beach with zzz sign

Whether it is someone you met at the airport or someone your aunt’s cousin used to go to school with, open your contacts and get dialling, emailing, text messaging and begging. You may be surprised to find that, in some very tenuous and vague way, you know someone in or nearby with a room to spare for the night. Remember: six-degree of Kevin Bacon, you could end up at his house for the night!

6. Make new friends

Renting a room from a local can be a good cheap, last-minute option, especially if all the traditional booking options have expired (standard hotels tend to sell out first). Sometimes the pavement pounding method can lead to the genuine kindness of strangers – I was offered a concrete floor for the night by a local when the entire town I turned up in was booked. Comfort wasn’t on offer, but at least it was a roof over my head for the night.

7. Pavement pound

Believe it or not, full doesn’t always mean full. Even when all the online booking sites say there are no rooms left and phone calls and emails don’t get you much further, it is still worth turning up. First, there is the possibility of chance. Bookings change all the time and if a cancellation comes through at the exact time you’re standing there, you’re in luck (this has happened to me more than once). Also, some places keep one or two beds spare for emergencies, which they might hand over to people who turn up without any other booking options.

8. Camp

Camping can be a good alternative for the standard traveler. Whether you find a place with permanently pitched tents or head to your local camping store and pick up a cheap tent (which may well be cheaper than a room for the night) or simply throw down a sarong, sleep sheet or tarpaulin on the beach, at least you’ll catch some sleep. Of course, the weather may be against you but if you have the right equipment or the thermometer is pointing in your favor, camping can make for a memorable night.

9. Locate a hammock

Hammock on a beach

Who said that not having a room had to mean no sleep? Snoozing in a hammock is one of my favorite ways to get some shut-eye and if all else fails, locating a hammock for the night isn’t a bad choice. Whether it’s in the gardens of a hotel or hostel (ask…or beg to borrow it for the night) or, if you’re lucky, there may be one on a beach. Of course, if you’re in Siberia in winter, this is unlikely to be a winning solution.

The ‘If All Else Fails’ Options

There comes a time when you need to think even more radically. If you’ve reached this stage, there’s likely to be a little more cash involved, but that is usually the case when you reach last-resort options.

10. Hire a car

Were you thinking of taking a road trip anyway, or getting off the public transport route to explore some wilderness, then consider taking your car rental a little early and using it to double as your bed for the night. Do be aware that sleeping in a car isn’t always legal so check the country you’re in before you go ahead, and if there are no rooms available because there’s a big event on in town, there’s likely to be car unavailability issues too, so this won’t always be a reliable back up.

11. Hit the road – bus, boat, train or plane

If you’ve found yourself in a town with no hotels free and no prospect of any accommodation for several days (this happened to me when I hadn’t realized a marathon was on in the town I’d turned up in), then consider leaving. Provided your travel plans are flexible, you may find it more cost-effective (and comfortable from a sleeping perspective) to move on and return at a less busy time. Plus, booking a night bus, boat, train or even plane will mean you can get a restful night’s sleep en route.

12. Dig out your credit card

wooden statue with 'the last one' sign

Sometimes you just have to suck it up. Regardless of it being Thanksgiving in the USA or Golden Week in China, most towns will have at least one or two beds spare even at the busiest periods – they just tend to be at the higher end of the price spectrum. However, if all other options have reasonably been explored or if safety is a concern (I think back to an expensive hotel booking I made in India), swiping your credit card and biting into your buffer budget could be money well spent if it provides you with a restful night’s sleep – hey, you might even have penthouse views.

Let me know in the comments if you have any other recommendations for dealing with a no-hotels dilemma. I’m sure it won’t be long before I find myself in this familiar situation once again.

Read more about finding accommodation 

Photos by: ShutterMothmessycupcakesTravis HornungMicky**Maldita la hora.

Author - Jo Fitzsimons

Hi, I'm Jo, the writer behind Indiana Jo. In 2010 I quit my job as a lawyer and booked an around the world ticket. As a solo female traveller, I hopped from South America to Central America, across Asia, the Middle East and Europe. It was supposed to be a one-year trip but over a decade later, it's yet to end. I've lived in a cave, climbed down a volcano barefoot, spent years as a digital nomad, worked as a freelance travel writer, and eaten deadly Fugu. Now I'm home, back in the UK, but still travelling far and wide. You can find out more About Me.

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