ACCOMMODATION

We almost never book in advance. Very occasionally, this has got us into trouble. The only time we couldn't get a room at all was in Florida, when we were there for Daytona Bike Week. Fortunately, we were in a hire car -- we'd flown in to Miami and were on our way up -- but unfortunately, this was when robberies from, and murders of, tourists asleep in their cars in Florida was making headlines in Britain. The second-worst problem was the time that both of us had to share a single bed in Paris, but we were younger than, and hadn't been together long, so it wasn't all that great a hardship. The third worst was in Mexico, where we got up and left at five in the morning, because the room was stifling and the (extremely inefficient) fan made an ever- increasing variety of irregularly spaced and curiously piercing squeaks and chirps.

Apart from that -- and we're talking about well over 20 years here, and (including journeys by car, where we do the same) at least half a million miles -- the worst that has happened is that we have ended up in a room that was more expensive than we wanted; or in a room that didn't have a private bathroom; or in a room that wasn't actually worth even the fairly modest amount we paid for it. Over the years we have had more problems, and worse, with rooms that were pre-booked, such as the place in Prague that was filthy (the floor actually felt gritty underfoot) and where the superb view over the river was somewhat mitigated by the fact that the windows had no curtains, so the bright May sun made it hard to sleep much after five in the morning. Or the hotel in the Canary islands (not on a motorcycle) where again the room was filthy and the whole place stank of the bleach with which they hastily slopped out the rooms between batches of tourists.

ALWAYS CHECK THE ROOM

This is why we almost never book, and always check any room before we take it. Actually, it is almost invariably Frances who checks it. I stay with the bike. It's part of the deal. I ride the bike: she checks the rooms.

We have a standing joke that there is always something that you can't foresee. I've already mentioned the Mexican room. I didn't add that there were no curtains, only wooden shutters, which contributed to the stifling atmosphere, or that there was no lock on the bathroom door, which fell slowly and majestically open as you sat on the loo. It was too far from the loo to block with your foot, and besides, it opened in the wrong direction.

Beware of hotels on corners or at the foot of a hill. Headlights from passing vehicles, or the roar of vehicles changing gear to tackle the hill, can diminish your chances of a good night's sleep. Look out for flashing lights on or near the hotel as well: unless you have very good curtains or blinds, these can be a serious impediment to a peaceful night.

Here are just some of the things to check:

Some of the above are more critical than others: they would be cause for rejecting a room early in the day, when you can afford to be more choosy, but when it's late, you may have to put up with any or all of the above faults.

WHEN TO START LOOKING

This is a really tricky question. Start too early, and find the right room, and you can feel like you've wasted half the day. Start too late, and you may feel like you've wasted the whole day. The later it gets, the greater the chance that any hotel will be full, but equally, the greater the chance they'll quote you a better price in order to have a full house and stop worrying. It is not particularly unusual for an hotel to lop five or ten euros off the price if you are wavering, or off the price posted outside the hotel (or in the room) even if you're not wavering.

Very broadly, we start looking idly at some time between 5 and 6, but stop only if a place looks really attractive. Between 6 and 7, we'll stop anywhere that looks reasonable, but we're still fairly picky. From 7 to 9 we are steadily less choosy, and if we haven't found somewhere by 9 we'll generally take whatever we can get.

On average, we probably check two hotels in order to find one, but this is very much an average. Some nights we're lucky first time, and on other nights we've checked as many as five before settling in the fifth.

POSTED AND SEASONAL PRICES

Many small hotels vary their prices according to the season, and if they are required by law to post their prices in the room (as they are in some countries in Europe) it is quite usual for the price you are quoted to be two-thirds of the maximum posted price. It may be as low as half.

BARGAINING

Don't be afraid to ask for a lower price. The worst they can do is refuse. If they look offended, whose problem is that? As Frances says, you never have to go in there again. The only time when trying for a lower price is a really bad idea is when they have you over a barrel, and you both know it: late at night, miles from anywhere, take it or leave it. If it's half tolerable, take it.

GARAGING

Surprisingly many European hotels make no charge for garage accommodation for the bike, even when they charge for cars. Some, indeed, are more solicitous of the bike's welfare than you may be yourself, and all but insist that you garage it. Sometimes, this is carried to remarkable lengths. We have put the BMW is a restaurant's vegetable store; in a wine-barn; and even, on one memorable occasion, in the restaurant itself, after they closed up for the night.

On the other hand, we have also been charged 1.50 euros for parking the motorcycle out of doors in an hotel car park in the Czech Republic, which struck us as a bloody good way to irritate potential customers and make sure they stayed potential rather than becoming actual customers.

UNNECESSARY EXTRAS

India is the great place for this: for reasons we have never fathomed, a room with a television can cost 50 to 100 per cent more than a room without. In other countries there may also be an extra charge for a telephone (not for using it, just for having it in the room), for a water-bed (I prefer a real bed any day), for a jacuzzi, etc. If you think they are trying to sell you a room that is more expensive than you want, just ask if they have any cheaper rooms.

Sometimes they'll show you something really nasty at this point, in the hope of frightening you into taking the more expensive room. If you then look as if you are about to walk out, they will either find a room that is more to your liking or offer to knock quite a bit off the price of one of the rooms that you have already seen.

BEFORE YOU LEAVE

Make any checks on the bike (oil, coolant, tyres, clean headlight, etc.) before you check out. That way you can wash your hands in your hotel room. I generally do this while Frances is packing.

We have a ritual as we leave a hotel room. First, we pack everything, and stack it on one chair or table, or in the corner of the room. Then we check the bathroom, to make sure we haven't left anything in there. After we have checked it -- and we each check it in turn -- we say 'bathroom clear'. We do the same for the wardrobe -- 'wardrobe clear' -- and drawers ('drawers clear') under the bed: 'clear under the bed'. Finally, we check the bedclothes to make sure there is nothing left tangled in them. Then we leave.

WHEN WE DO BOOK

In London and Paris, we book. Otherwise, the likelihood of paying a fortune or failing altogether to get a room is altogether too great. We also book if we are going somewhere for a particular occasion, and know exactly when we are going to be there: Cologne for photokina, the big German photo fair, for example.

YOUTH HOSTELS

These were invented to provide cheap accommodation for walkers, and were one of the best ideas of the 20th century: cheap, basic accommodation for young people, to encourage them to see more of their own country and indeed the rest of the world. Today, despite the name, they are usually open to all ages, though Bavaria does operate an age limit of 26 and in a few other places oldies will only be allowed in if there are no young people waiting. In the old days, there was a clear hierarchy of worthiness, with walkers holding the highest place, cyclists second, and anyone arriving with their own powered vehicle being a pariah. This has almost completely vanished.

You do not necessarily have to belong to your national Youth Hostel Association, though it often helps (and gets you a discount) if you do. Many hostels require no membership at all; others sell 'membership stamps' (one per night) and when you've got a set number -- six, in all the cases I have been able to discover -- you are a member.

What you normally get is a bed in a dormitory-style room, usually single-sex, though you may (for a supplement) be able to get a twin-bedded or even single-bedded room. What you normally won't get is private bathroom facilities: toilets and baths (or more usually showers) will be down the hall, and shared.

Some have a curfew, so if you aren't in by (say) 2300 or midnight, you're locked out, and others -- relatively few, nowadays -- have a daytime lock-out when you must be out of the hostel: 1000 to 1600, say.

There are countless web-sites dedicated to youth hostels. I have listed some of the national sites in the country-by-country guides, but a web-search with Google or anything similar will turn up numerous leads.

From all that I have heard, they are usually safe (in the sense that you won't be mugged or raped) and reasonably secure, though petty theft can apparently be a problem in some. Bed-linen is usually supplied, though there may be a small charge for this. Breakfast is often included too.

If two of you are travelling together, you may find that an inexpensive hotel is only a little more expensive, and a lot more pleasant; but if you want to meet people on the ground, youth hostels can be pretty good.

All right, I'll be honest: I've never stayed at one in my life. But I know a lot of people who have, and if you are on your own and trying to keep costs to a minimum, they can be unbeatable. In some European countries they are under 10 euros (call it US $10) and include breakfast even at that modest price, and they rarely if ever exceed twice that much.

CAMPING

As with youth hostels, so (almost) with camping -- though the difference is that I have tried it, and hated it. But once again, I have many friends who do camp, and love it, so I have given such information as I could muster in each country-by-country section, along with guidelines on 'wild' camping (away from authorized sites). Again, web searches turn up all the information you could reasonably want, except (usually) whether 'wild' camping is legal or at least tolerated. The communist-era Bulgarians were particularly emphatic on this one when I was researching the original Motorcycle Touring in Europe. "Legal?" They laughed. "No, but everyone does it."

DISCLAIMER

This information has been verified as far as possible but should not be taken as definitive. You alone are responsible for your safety on a motorcycle (or elsewhere) and should always ride and behave accordingly. Click here for the Official Health Warning].

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last updated: 04/11/03

© 2003 Roger W. Hicks