Don’t Make This Travel Mistake

Let me relate a situation which has repeated itself literally dozens of times for me. I’m in a train station, let’s say for this example it’s in Monterosso, a small town on the Italian coast, popular with travelers. It’s September and the late afternoon sun is still warm, the beach is sprinkled with sunbathers, and the gelato shops are crowded. I’m waiting for some of my clients to arrive on the next train, and want to meet them and walk them back to the hotel. While I’m waiting, I notice a middle-aged couple on the platform, lugging their bags, (usually WAY too many), and looking harried, weary, and lost. Generally they spy me and correctly assume (given that I’m wearing a Go Get Lost shirt, scanning the crowd, and usually carrying a notebook), that I’m someone of importance…(at least in my own mind). What they’re really hoping for is someone who speaks English.

What happens next is very predictable…they’ll approach me and ask for assistance. The story is always the same, I know it even before they explain…they’re working their way around Italy, on their own, no plans or hotel reservations, just “winging it”, as they often say. How romantic! How adventurous! How 1960s! How naive! Their problem today, as they relate, is that they’ve arrived in on the coast this morning, have been going from town to town, and are unable to find any hotels with vacancies. Now it’s late afternoon, they’re tired, discouraged and getting desperate for a place to stay. In fact, their entire vacation has been similar…not much time for having fun or seeing the sites, as the entire day is consumed with logistics, transfer issues, and lots of stress. They couldn’t find the hotel, there was a bus strike, they didn’t understand how to read the train schedule, etc , etc.

It’s truly heartbreaking to see this situation. For a couple to have saved, planned, and dreamed for months, maybe years for their big traveling adventure, only to have it turn in to something of a nightmare, is very sad. I can see it in their eyes…they’re 5 days into a two week vacation, and they’re ready to go home.

Unfortunately at this point I find myself in the unenviable position of having to break the news to them that it’s very doubtful they’ll find ANY rooms in Monterosso this evening. Not in this town, at the height of the tourist season, with no reservations. Of course there’s a chance that they could lug their bags from hotel to hotel, and hope to stumble on one that just had a cancellation…but the risky part here is that if this plan fails, they better be prepared to sleep in the train station tonight. (Not an option for most folks, unless they’re eighteen, with a backpack and youthful sense of adventure.) Their best bet, I’ll tell them, is to get on the next train for La Spezia, which is much larger and NOT a tourist town, and hope for better luck there. If they move quick they just might find a room for the night.

The moral of this travel story:
Don’t expect to travel to a known tourist destination, (in this case, Europe) during the travel season, and find empty hotel rooms waiting for you. This is a sure recipe for a hellish trip. If you think pre-planning takes all the romance out of it, be sure to explain your “romance theory” to your spouse while you snuggle into to your comfy sleeping spot on a train station bench.