Stylish hotels and tiny budgets? Why not?
Accommodation costs are a mixed blessing for a traveler. On one hand, with a bit of creativity, you can score great deals and save a huge amount of money. After all you don’t go on vacation to hang out in a room – you just want a safe, clean bed.
On the other hand, if money is no object, a hotel room can be the absolute luxury retreat. Why spend a fortune on spas, restaurants, and clubs when you can melt into the incredible wonder that is high thread count, top end toiletries, bathtubs you can swim in, and impeccable room service – all with a view.
What all great hotels have in common is that they appeal to all five senses.
I've thrived in both extremes before. While living in Malawi, I stayed in rooms that cost $1 a night (and basically got what I paid for). I also stayed in a gorgeous safari shelter on the water with canopy beds and amorous hippos. I lived in a hostel dorm rooms of 20 people in Dublin for a month and slept on a love-seat in Edinburgh.
In Flagstaff, AZ, we spent $35 for a night in a Days Inn (with breakfast!) and in Vegas we got a “You wouldn't believe it” deal on the penthouse at the MGM Signature – easily the nicest hotel I've ever been in, and it’s TripAdvisor ranking reflects it.
And while I loved the camaraderie and independence of hotel and budget travel in my 20s, I’m slowly entering the point in my life where travel needs to be soft bed and bathtub equipped. I’m married and our dog often joins us. The hostels don’t work so well for our family, yet experiences like the MGM are exceptions and not the rule for our budget. I still want to relax and enjoy my time in the hotel room -I just can’t always afford to pay for the high-end experience. So what can a coffeecan financier do to live large on a tiny budget?
Signs and Senses of a Great Hotel
They sound great- quiet rooms, nice music in the lobby, good jazz in the evening bar.
They smell great – I’ll never forget the subtle cinnamon spice in the air at the MGM Signature in Las Vegas. The air at this non-smoking hotel was a dream, and the tiny traces of potpourri have never been so welcome to me.
They look great- clear, spacious, well organized, far more stylish than our usual houses. They taste great – Starbucks coffee in the room, fresh baked pastries with breakfast room service, complimentary welcome punch.
And most of all, they feel great- smooth soft sheets, perfect mattress, huge fluffy towels. Deep tubs, hot water, Crabtree & Evelyn toiletries. And yet our upcoming travel plans are based around Days Inns and Comfort Inns. Economical, bland, predictable, unremarkable. While I’m sure they will be clean and safe, I doubt they will come even close to the MGM. So how can I create luxury on my own terms and my own budget?
Sound is a funny thing – you can’t make the hotels play nice lobby music or sound proof their rooms. But I always request a quiet room away from any visiting school or children’s group. I actually write that directly in the comment or special request box on an online reservation form! I always bring along ear plugs (and eye shades too!). I always park the car in a well lit area near the front so, if we hear inevitable parking lot noise, it will be a little less stressful. People who are more passionate about music could bring along travel sized speakers. And if there is loud, continuous hallway noise, I call the front desk. They will either intervene to solve the problem or, at worst, give me grounds to complain to management and ask for a refund.
Smell is both the easiest and trickiest. It’s horrible to have a bad smell in a room. But as I learned in smoke-filled Vegas, I open all the windows as soon as I arrive, I give everything a good spray with travel Febreze, and I will add something to the room to make it smell more like a spa. It might be a travel candle (as always, observe hotel rooms and be very, very careful). I might take a bath and use a huge, fragrant bath bomb from Lush. I always have baby powder with me and, in the hotel, I’ll sprinkle it on the sheets and pillows, and maybe even a little on the window sills to make the room smell a bit more like home.
Looks are perhaps the hardest – there’s not much you can do to improve your ugly hotel with its 70′s decor, horrible floral bed spread, and slightly stained carpet. But there are a few things to make it less hideous. Ask for extra pillows – they’ll look luxurious and help cover the bed. Keep your luggage organized so your own junk won’t be cluttering up the room. Buy a cheap bouquet at the supermarket and put it in the bathroom. Gather up all the booklets, folders, and misc papers they put in the room and put them in a drawer - who needs so much clutter? Fill your room up with cheerful, disposable items you love - a few trashy magazines, samples of high end makeup, a plastic bowl filled with candies.
When it comes to taste, look to maximize the resources that you’re given. We always bring our own high quality coffee and hot chocolate from home – and we make sure to learn in advance if there will be a coffee maker in the room. If not, we bring along an immersion coil heater to boil our own water (Flamingo Hotel in Vegas – you prompted this purchase!). While I normally never agree to buy bottled water, we usually do for staying in hotels. A case of Fiji water, normally way too expensive for me at $10, now seems like a small price to pay to make the chlorinated hotel tap water seem like a distant memory. And while a lot of people complain at the lackluster continental breakfast served at these pedestrian hotels, we consider ourselves to always be “breakfast free” and anything edible we get included is a huge bonus. In other words, even if it’s included, we never count on getting a decent breakfast and always budget as if we will have to buy a real breakfast elsewhere. This way, if the buffet is ghastly, we are not disappointed and always have money reserved for real food. But if it’s acceptable food, we react with glee for the free food and for the breakfast money we will save.
It’s true that no one really goes on vacation to stay inside a small hotel room – you’re there to explore and enjoy! On the other hand, vacation is all about relaxing. One of the best nights I had in Vegas involved sending Ryan out to gamble while I stayed in and enjoyed a great bed and enjoyed the beautiful nighttime views. I think it’s always worth a little bit of extra planning and effort to turn your 2 star box into a little piece of paradise – or at least a 2 1/2 star!
As always, I welcome and encourage your comments. How do you get good deals on hotels?
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