Photograph by Sean Pavone, Getty Images
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A doorman stands guard outside the Plaza Hotel in New York City to protect both guests and wandering visitors.

Photograph by Sean Pavone, Getty Images

5 Things to Try If You Forgot to Book a Hotel Room

Got a little too carefree with your trip planning? One of these backup plans might help.

We all make travel mistakes. Sometimes you forget to pack an important item. Sometimes you miss a train. And sometimes you show up to a new city, like Hamburg perhaps, during one of its busiest weeks and realize you’ve forgotten to book yourself a hotel.

Here are five suggestions for what to do if you’ve arrived on the first day of your trip without a place to lay your head.

Stay Out All Night

The sun has set, but that doesn’t mean you need to go down too. Sure, you’re tired. Maybe you’re in a new city or had a long flight. You want a nice meal and a comfortable mattress, but that’s not in the cards for you tonight. Buck up and grab a cup of coffee. Ask the barista for directions to her favorite bar. Ask that bartender for the name of the best club in town. Ask the doorman there what to order at the nearest all-night diner. Get another cup of coffee and watch the sunrise somewhere beautiful. This night is guaranteed to make for a better story than the one you’d tell after ordering room service at a mediocre hotel, so it’s really for the best that you forgot to make a reservation.

Try an App

Download one of the many apps specifically developed for freewheeling, irresponsible travelers like you. Traveling internationally? Find the nearest café to capitalize on that complimentary wi-fi. Hotel Tonight has made offering last-minute bookings its sole business. It pulls details on unreserved hotel rooms in cities across the world and offers them to users at a discount. There are similar sites that could also help resolve your lack of planning, including Priceline’s, Hipmunk, where a goggle-wearing virtual chipmunk will find you a room, and Stayful, which features boutique and independent hotels.

Ask a Local

If technology can’t help, you’ll have to go back to the basics and interact with real humans. Talk to the people around you. With any luck, they’ll share the details of a little bed-and-breakfast in the neighborhood that doesn’t have a website or pass along the number of a person with an empty rental room in their home. Locals often know about the area’s alternative options, so strike up a friendly conversation to get that insider info. Just be sure to keep your wits about you, and don’t take anyone up on offers that feel unsafe.

Camp Out in a Hotel Lobby

Hotel staff might not let you book a room, but there’s a chance they’ll turn a blind eye to you dozing off in one of their comfortable lobby chairs. You’ll need to be bold to pull this off—and undeterred by the shade a few guests will likely throw your way. The perks of this choice: electrical outlets, a roof over your head, and the safety of a doorman.

Widen Your Search

You might have your heart set on a particular neighborhood, but if you’ve rolled up and everything is occupied, move on to Plan B. Check out parts of the city that seem more residential or industrial to find less-frequented hotels—or try to find a place in the next town over. Opening up your search could prove to be a gift. You’ll discover a new part of the city, you might get a better deal, and you’ll probably find restaurants or attractions you wouldn’t have otherwise visited.