What’s Missing From My Hotel Room

When I was a management consultant and clients footed the bill for my travel expenses, I had a colleague with a knack for milking his four- and five-star hotel stays for all they were worth. For example, he would request turn-down service multiple times in one night.  “For the chocolates,” he’d say.  Then he’d take a walk down the hall and raid the maid’s cart for more.

In the understatement of the century, let’s just say that the nature of my accommodation concerns has evolved. The days of watching colleagues stalk turn-down maids have been replaced by nights searching for hotel attendees in dark, dank hallways that recall films like “Psycho” (cinematic excellence) and “Hostel” (a cinematic abomination).

Hotel Room in San Francisco El Alto, Guatemala
Fisheye Hotel Room in San Francisco el Alto, Guatemala

In the midst of this lifestyle adjustment, I have found that the budget accommodation business can sometimes revolve around a slumlord-style premise: extract as much cash as you can from your property without investing a penny on maintenance, upkeep or improvement.

The upshot for us travelers: some very basic stuff is missing.

Now before we roll with the rant, take note: It’s one thing if you are paying $1-$10 a night for a double room. At prices like those, you can easily turn the other way. But it’s another thing entirely when that bare-bones room runs $20, $30 and up.

Aside: These items are hardly lavish. We know countless hotels, guesthouses, hostels and hospedajes that find a way to provide them all practically, if not elegantly. For those guesthouses who do make the effort, we applaud you. In fact, we often highlight you on this site and recommend you to others on Twitter.

1.  A wastebasket

This strikes me as a no-brainer.  It’s cheap and easy, and the self-serving benefit — to help keep the room clean — seems obvious and compelling.  Throughout Latin America, were it not for the fact that guesthouses often request that you throw your toilet paper in the wastebasket rather than in the toilet, there might be no wastebasket to be found at all.

2.  Hooks

I’m happy to throw my wet towel on the bed or drape it on the door handle. But wouldn’t a place to hang it make more sense?

3.  Sheets that actually fit the bed

There’s nothing like waking up in the morning and turning over to see a bare mattress.  If I had a nickel for every short-sheeted bed I’ve slept on, I’d be rich.

I have a theory on how these sheets end up in my bed:  somebody’s grandmother died just about the time the guest house was opened.  Grandma’s heirloom sheets were passed down just after her death.  The only problem: her bed was five feet long; ours is six. (Well, five and a half, but I’m not complaining — six feet tall, thank you.)

4.  Towels

Yes, I understand that some guesthouses and hostels don’t offer towels, and others rent them out for about $1 per day.   But for guesthouses where it’s clear that towels are included, how difficult would it be to simply place them on the bed rather than to play the game where we hunt you down to ask for them?

5. Electrical plugs, especially ones that aren’t on the ceiling

I often find myself attempting to reverse engineer the logic that placed an outlet on the ceiling or just inches below.  Maybe the building once functioned upside-down?

Gadgets on the Bed
Plug it all in. Travel Photography and Computer Gear

Why should we care?  Imagine trying to recharge all of this out of a ceiling socket.

6.  Pest control

When I’m paying $0.50 to stay with a family in Sikkim (a semi-autonomous region in Northeast India), I’m OK with a rat or two dropping from the ceiling. Really. It’s all part of the experience. Everything fits.

But when we pay $35 for a double room in Coyhaique along Chile’s Carretera Austral and our friend and neighbor is literally shaking 100s of bugs out of her jeans in the morning, there’s a problem. A huge problem. Imagine earwigs pouring forth from the kettle just as you are about to fill it with water for your morning coffee.

Remind me again what I’m paying for, exactly?

7.  Toilet paper

I appreciate the frustration hotel owners must experience with the endless cycle of stolen toilet paper.  When I’m finished traveling, I promise to fund a study examining the origin of toilet paper rolls carried by backpackers.  I’m guessing 80% have been stolen from their last hostel.

But this leaves me in a bit of a bind, particularly when I arrive at my guesthouse after a long bus ride and nature calls rather urgently.  And the roll of toilet paper nicked by the last traveler in the bathroom has not been replaced.

If you run a hotel with a shared bathroom, please stock it with more than one roll of toilet paper per day.

And to you thieving travelers, please buy a roll using the $0.50 you saved while haggling the guy down the street for that t-shirt you are wearing.

Bathroom With A View - Suchitoto, El Salvador
Toilet with a View – Suchitoto, El Salvador

8.  A mop

No, I have no interest in a mop.  But I do have interest in hotel owners getting their hands on one so that our floor is not an encrusted Petri dish whose corners are cobwebbed with decades-old dead bugs.

Bonus:  Add a little bleach or disinfectant to the mop.  Absolutely revolutionary.

9.  The truth about hot water

By no means do we need hot water all the time.  But when it’s offered — or worse yet highlighted — as a benefit to staying somewhere, it had better work — and it had better be more than just barely lukewarm.

Electric Shower Head - Concepcion, Paraguay
Ah, the electrical showerhead of Latin America. You may get a trickle of hot water…and a shock.

And if you are listening India, I better not have to flip two switches in my room, one in the hallway, beg to have another flipped at the front desk, and pay your cousin to turn something else on down the street.

True story.

10.  The truth about internet

“Wifi in room.”  Here’s me laughing.

If I have to hover over your 10-year old router with my laptop to battle for a fraction of a dial-up connection circa early 1990s shared with 30 other guests, guess what:  YOU DON’T HAVE WIFI. Please don’t advertise it in your services list.

—-

So while I’ve traded turn-down service for those small victories when half the things on this list appear in any given guesthouse, I still wouldn’t exchange places with my former self.

Why?  Life happens outside the hotel room.

Now my question to you: What’s missing from your hotel room?

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Comments

  1. says

    Hilarious. Love your snarky side.

    Also, Coyhaique has the worst selection of hotels of any town I’ve ever been in in Chile, plus it’s hard to navigate. I stayed in someone’s attic on a day when the mercury hit body temperature. I cooked myself that day, and the night was not much better. Was not allowed in the common area either, and charged money for washing a garment out in the bathroom. And she stole my jackknife. Fun times.

    I like a chair sometimes in my hotel room. Don’t often get one though. Will be interested to hear what others say, too.

  2. says

    @Nicole: Yay, someone picked up on the earwig photo. After we decamped Hotel Earwig with our travel companions from France and Switzerland, we found a marginally less ghastly bargain at $28/night. There, our Swiss companion dropped her bags on the floor and in a matter of seconds the floor was vibrating with earwigs. And we were all doing “The Bug” (think Hairspray).

    @Eileen: Thanks. A chair — I like it. But I think we’d have to move up to one star accommodation to avail ourselves of such an option.

    “I like a chair sometimes in my hotel room.” Audrey and I are crying with laughter. Look at what travel has done to us. Well, I guess we have all learned to appreciate the pleasant surprises, the little things.

    I’m sorry you roasted, were thieved and overcharged in Coyhaique. I think it’s par for the course. I’d like to think the town has potential, but the accommodation is prison-like. Fortunately, there is one good (very good, actually) restaurant that redeems it a bit.

  3. says

    Love this and completely empathise. In a post about Why We Travel we wrote that we love how it takes you back to basics and makes you appreciate little things. Here’s a quote:

    “We were in the Andaman Islands looking for a cheap place to stay. We had been to a number of beach shacks, but none of them had really felt like home until we walked into the ones at Pristine Beach Resort and found ourselves getting giddy because there were protruding nails that we could hook wet towels on to and a set of small wooden shelves.

    Yeah, forget your fluffy white towels. Keep your little bars of soap and hot running water. This shack’s got NAILS. That PROTRUDE. Where we can HANG SHIT.

    …When tiny things like this make you happy, you end up being a lot happier a lot more often.”

  4. Paul says

    Based on the photo, I was going to guess a table or a lamp before I read the article. Possibly a clock. If I were you, I’d have complained that someone did that to the floor!

  5. says

    @Erin: Nails — bent, crooked or otherwise — qualify as hooks in our travel book. I agree that the sort of travel we are engaged in underscores an appreciation of the little things. But when those earwigs spilled forth from teapot, our appreciation of those little things was temporarily suspended.
    @Paul: Terrific that you took a close look at that photo. That floor is an eyeball-bender, isn’t it? Next time, 3-D glasses on the nightstand to truly appreciate it!

    I can’t imagine a clock in many of the places we stay. If there were one, it would be bolted and cemented to the wall.

  6. says

    I tend to make the guesthouse owners feel better about the lack of toilet paper by leaving the center cardboard carton when I take the roll… going to be removed so it can smoosh down anyway, and that way it looks like I just used it up. ;)

  7. says

    Earwigs…ugh. My wife and I spent the night in Marvão, Portugal and had a similar problem. I’m not sure if it was earwig breeding season or what, but earwigs were pouring through the streets of the tiny, ancient town. In the rooms, in your clothes. Just awful.

    What’s my hotel room missing? A bathroom door.

  8. says

    @Craig: Do my eyes deceive me or is that a confession I’m reading? First data point for my study, I guess.

    @Keith: Laughing. Bathroom door? Positively luxurious.

  9. Bill M says

    Not in my hotel room:
    1) Almost all of that huge pile of must-recharge stuff;
    2) (Double negative), never no toilet paper–considering lightness and squishability (cardboard liner or none), it’s easy to pack a spare unstolen roll—especially if one puts it in a ziplock, compresses it under one’s thigh, and then zips it closed: voila, vacuum-packed! Stealing toilet paper is inconsiderate. And leaving the cardboard core when the wastebasket is empty suggests the alarming possibility that some idiot has doomed the plumbing by flushing it all.
    3) Too many things to complain about; cause if they’re there, it ain’t gonna be my hotel room.

    I was in a place with earwigs once–I asked the front desk if I could pay only one one-thousandth of the tariff because I had at least nine-hundred-ninety-nine roommates I hadn’t agreed to. Not a good move: while I was grabbing some dinner, granny came in and sprayed the hell out of the place. I didn’t sleep there, but paid anyway, because the difference between their well-intended action and my perception of the results would have made no sense to them. I shook out my stuff before repacking, and didn’t find any stowaways when I got to my alternative lodgings.

    But, given that the accommodation does not overrun my thresholds of revulsion and horror, the one thing I hate to not have in my room is silence. Steal my stuff and I’ll be angry for a little while–steal my sleep and I’ll go way past postal. One nice thing about appearing easy-going and kind is the effective contrast when I turn hostile and beady-eyed (though I suppose the large machete adds a smidgen of impact, too).

  10. says

    That’s one of those posts I could definitely nod along with.

    And I’m not sure of anyone else but I prefer to have a bathroom door. In Central America I was surprised by how rare this was in budget accommodation as usually it was just a thin curtain separating the bathroom from the sleeping area. And most of the bathrooms even lacked full walls. When I’m on my own, that’s no problem but when traveling companions are involved, a little privacy is generally welcomed.

    I also wish many places would invest in mattresses instead of throwing down a layer of foam thinner than my passport. After all, the main reason we book rooms is to have a place to sleep so I’ve never understood why a hotel owner would cut corners on the mattresses themselves.

  11. says

    We stayed in a couple of really nice hotels lately — really, four star places — and had anyone walked in on us, they’d have found us staring at that outlet in the upper right corner of the room, yes, in the ceiling. Why is it there? What is it for? How do we plug something into it? Again, WHY IS IT THERE?!?!

    We also stayed in a very posh place where, when I got into the shower, I tossed my towel on to the back of the loo. No hooks. We’re talking lux accommodation here, WAY out of my usual budget, and there’s no place to hang my towel? What’s up with that?

    Yeah, what you said. All of it.

  12. says

    Oh I love this piece. The thing that gets me is the sheets. I just can’t deal with waking up touching the actual mattress with my face!

    As for my hotel room? Curtains. I just like to know that I won’t wake up to two peeping eyeballs or the 6:15 am sun :-)

  13. says

    Ha Ha Ha Hilarious !!

    I fully agree with you.
    I want to add a few more things…

    1. Frog in bathroom.
    2. Also many other creeping creatures sneaking in ur hut. I had freaked out on my recent backpacking trip when I saw a small snake wanted to share room with me. Come on ! I am not desperate to have a male company !! :P
    3. Lack of door latch of a shared bathroom in a hotel in Paris made me & my husband guard it whenever one of us wanted to use it.
    4. Once the natural call was so urgent, I forgot to take toilet paper & also check its presence before the business. I was travelling alone. Don’t even think of asking me how I cleaned myself that day. Grrrrrrrr…

    Oh, I have many such feats. I am a pro !

  14. says

    let’s see, we are in Hue, Vietnam and I think it would be great if this guesthouse had a lift. After a few beers, it’s darn hard to walk up the 80 steps to our lovely room. Looking around, I think I would add a fan that didn’t make a ton of noise, an a/c that actually worked, a shower head that I can get under (it’s perfect for someone who is 4.5 ft. tall) and a remote control for the t.v. that actually worked as well. But, hey, we are so thankful to have an extra comfy bed, spotless bathroom, gorgeous view of the city and friendly staff. So, this room is worth every penny of the $10 per night we’re spending.

    Love your website!!!

  15. says

    I don’t get the electronical sockets on the ceiling either. When we have a room with multiple outlets we get so excited. Great article!

  16. says

    @Bill: I definitely get the silence thing. But there are ways to mitigate the problem, like earplugs (see #7 here:
    http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/2009/01/two-years-on-what-have-we-learned/
    Having said that, there are more natural interruptions (e.g., roosters) that I learn to accept. Or the old Vietnamese man with his 5AM throat-clearing morning constitutional. It’s the other guests who are getting up for a tour at 6AM who behave like they are the only ones who exist…all that travel is supposed to have taught them some courtesy.

    @Earl: 2nd vote for a bathroom door. Keying off the rest of your comment, perhaps I should have added “walls” or at least “walls that aren’t paper thin.” Just yesterday, I killed a mosquito on the wall of our room and nearly knocked the entire thing down into the next room next door.

    The reason hotel owners are cutting corners on the mattress: it’s probably the most expensive item in the room.

    @Pam: I’m afraid these are the questions that define our times, define our lives.

    @Shannon: Especially when that mattress might have….bed bugs!!

    Curtains — good one. “Peeping eyeballs?” Eww.

    @Nisha: Does this mean you would actually like a frog in the bathroom? Reminds me of a bathroom in Paraguay with dozens of frogs lining the window panes.

    @Christine: Shower head that you can get under — absolutely love that. Accommodation throughout Southeast Asia is a dream. I’m recalling perfectly good double rooms for $5…a far cry from what we’ve seen lately in Latin America. Always good to have the experience to compare.

    @Akila: Multiple outlets? Now that’s the stuff of dreams.

  17. says

    the chair is to hang/put stuff on. I hadn’t thought about protruding nails!

    Oh, the indignities. It’s too bad about Cohyaique because it’s the jump-off for the Carretera Austral, which means I probably will be going back one day. I might have to ask for your recommendations on where to stay because I just bought a new knife and I’d like to keep it another day. Plus I might still have heatstroke (it was the heatwave of the century or something, it’s normally quite temperate/cold.

  18. says

    Haha, this is an excellent and fun post and so true! I agree with all your points. And know just how you feel. While you love your life, it is great to have a good rant once in awhile. We just had a good rant on our blog the other day as well.
    #1. So true, where are you supposed to put your toilet paper when you don’t have a garbage can. We kept our garbage in a plastic in India and when we put it outside our room because it was full, the owner walked by and asked if that was garbage. She then got her guy that cleans to take the garbage away. You know what he did? He picked it up and threw it into the field! The then gave us a big smile and walked away as we stood there dumbfounded.
    #5 Agreed. I never understand why they put the plugs where they do. While they are building it do they say “oops we forgot the plugs” just as they are finishing or putting on the roof and then throw them up as an afterthought?
    #6.Bugs, we hate the bugs.
    #8 I agree, I can’t understand why owners don’t want to give their rooms at least little clean before a new guest arrives. In India we splurged on some more expensive rooms and they were still dirty. Like you, we can understand it when the room is $1-$10, but when you are paying over $50. It is just unacceptable.

  19. says

    Love it!

    I had a hostel with one plug! ONE PLUG!!! I also once had a place that also said “hot water” but only during the day it seems, when the sun heated the water tank. Another pet peeve is when the water dribbles out. I hear ya on the wifi too

  20. says

    It’s amazing how little small investments would make places so much better. I still haven’t understood why some places just don’t splurge a dollar or two for these things.

    My favorite is when they advertise hot water, but then don’t tell you that the hot water comes from a communal bucket in the hallway and only after 9 pm. I guess they didn’t lie…

  21. Olivia B says

    I just love you both! Nothing is missing for me as I sit on my own sofa and still travel around the world with you! I truly appreciate the high quality in everything you do. The Antartica slideshow was really nice.
    And the picture of your equipment was awesome, lol. How an earth do you communicate with an apple and a vaio and all the other stuff?
    I was going to leave my sofa for a while, but happily there was a volcano on Island…
    Keep going, regards
    Olivia from Norway

  22. says

    The wifi is so true. I have spent more than one skype call with a $2000 MacBook Pro balanced on a toilet, because that was the only place in the room I could get a signal. Good times and good stories for the folks back home.

  23. says

    @eileen: Only after responding to your comment about the chair did I realize that the chair was for hanging the towel! Funny. I have thought about protruding nails and I have to say they deliver great satisfaction to those of us who need somewhere to hang our hats.

    Regarding Coyhaique, we can recommend the place we stayed. It was overpriced and basic (like every other bit of accommodation there), but it was slightly less expensive, had wifi and was right across the street from FullFresh, supermarket. I think the name was something as straightforward as Hostal Coyhaique.
    @Dave and Deb: A good rant that resonates and adds a little dose of humor. No garbage can + no toilet paper in the toilet = catastrophe. The cleaning guy throwing the bag of trash into the field is too typical, and very sad.

    Regarding the plugs, I think it’s more like “Oops, I don’t want guests to use electricity.”
    @Andy: Thanks. It needed saying.
    @Matt: Oh, the sun-warmed “hot water” tanks. In my experience, they almost never work, at least for me. I’m not the kind of guy to take a shower at high noon.
    @Kyle: Hot water = communal bucket after 9PM. Any chance this is India?
    @Olivia: You absolutely made our day! We love getting your comments. Thanks for all of your thoughtful compliments.

    Regarding how we communicate, it was a challenge, but we exchanged text files and Word documents for writing. And all our other files were stored on external hard drives. However, I’m happy to announce that we are now both Mac. My Vaio died last year and I decided to replace it with a Mac. Am glad I did.
    @Josh: I think we could do an entire slideshow just on the Medusa electrical shower heads we’ve found in Latin America.
    @Keith: Funny that you mention Skyping on a toilet. Apparently we’ve stayed in some of the same accommodation.

  24. says

    You’re frightening me, not just with the list, but, “When I’m finished traveling..” Please don’t EVER stop, not when I’m about to get going myself. That would just as sad as no wifi. :)

  25. says

    This is great. Especially regarding the hot water,

    “I better not have to flip two switches in my room, one in the hallway, beg to have another flipped at the front desk, and pay your cousin to turn something else on down the street.

    True story.”

    Haha, superb.

  26. says

    @Nomadic Chick: Consider it a slip of the online tongue. Perhaps I should have said, “When we settle down to a travel schedule of 8-9 months out of the year.”

  27. says

    The shower head! oh my how I loved a good jolt of electricity in the morning to get you going. Especially when you reach up to adjust the heat and end up with a shock that makes your legs go weak and you on the floor. hehe good times.

  28. says

    @Cornelius: My question to you: if you had to decide between a) taking a shower with something other than an electric shower head, or b) having hot water, which would it be?

  29. says

    I love you for writing this. This is my favorite travel post ever, basically. I could not agree with you more!
    I have been standing in a room needing 2 or 6 of the above things desperately at least 20 times. Don’t even get me started on wifi in South America and electric showers.
    Can I just say how much I love you for writing this again? I love you for writing this.

  30. says

    This. Was. Perfect! I found myself nodding with every item listed. Lack of hooks are my biggest hang up (No pun intended!) The only thing missing I would say would be a bath mat of some sorts. When you have a shower that is part of the bathroom, you know the kind when it’s right over the toilet and water goes everywhere? After you are done showering, water gets traipsed everywhere and it drives me nuts. Your feet are always wet, you slide around on the floor in flip flops and when you add in shoes, voila mud!

    Here’s to traveling!

    Johanna

  31. says

    i would also have to say the bathmat, why does one of the few clean towels you get, have to be spread on the floor to prevent it turning into a wetroom.

  32. says

    @Johanna: Love the pun! I haven’t seen a bathmat in so long, I wouldn’t know what one looked like. The only problem with a bathmat is that it would be a magnet for all the crud tracked in from flip flops and shoes. Now I’m having second thoughts. Maybe a bare floor isn’t so bad after all.

    @Rich: What would be your second choice?

  33. says

    A friend of mine while travelling in Asia met a guy (I think he was an Aussie) who was so obsessed about the lack of hooks in hostels/hotels etc that he was going to open a hostel called Hooks. Yes you guessed it. It would be a hooked themed hostel. There would be hooks everywhere in this place. This post reminded me of that story! :)

  34. Becki says

    So, this tale of ours involving hooks proves that it’s not just budget accommodations without them! Each year for the past 14 years, my family has attended a retreat at an Adirondack great camp. It’s wonderful and though we pay a pretty penny for the “rustic” level rooms we wouldn’t ever dream of not going. One of the charms is that you are able to have the same room year to year. However, the old style rooms with the bath down the hall, have dressers and even a chair- but no where to hang anything except over the old style metal bedframes. About 10 years ago during our stay, a flooring nail from the old wide plank flooring began working it’s way out over the first few days. I asked for someone to look at it but was told it would have to wait until the weekend (after we left of course.) I kept stepping on it as you couldn’t avoid it to get into my bed. So the next day I asked someone at the desk for a hammer, which they handed over with batting an eyelash (but try getting another towel!) I pulled the nail up straight and nailed onto the back of the door. Voila! A hook. Fast forward to this past summer. I left my bathrobe in the shower stall and a kind young housekeeper found it. Knowing it belonged to me, she returned it to my room and told me such at lunch time. After lunch I peeked into my room but didn’t see it. When I asked her where she had put it – you guessed it- she said “Why on the hook, of course!” And yes, that was the nail I put on the back of the door 10 years earlier- now called a hook by the staff!

  35. says

    @Becki: Great to see you here and thanks for your comment. Your story is terrific and so relevant. I can see your description. From the nail in the floorboard, to the hammer request, to the housekeeper and the hook. Sometimes, we humans (and our guest houses) are slow to evolve — but where would we be if things moved much faster? Without our stories, I guess. This is travel gold.

    I cannot help but wonder if your room is the only one with a hook/nail on the back of the door.

  36. says

    Outlets are huge! Especially if hosteling it, nothing like getting a room with multiple room-mates and one outlet to be had – bonus points if it’s squarely behind someone’s bed!

  37. says

    I loooove the electrical sockets… what I do is charge my laptop and then charge as much as I can off of my laptop with usb’s. It minimizes what I have to charge on the wall.

    Also have a buuunuch of extension cords and the plugs that turn 1 wall outlet to 3 or more!

    cheers great post

  38. says

    Hmmm. Rats falling from the ceiling. Not something I think I could get my husband to overlook on ANY trip. I love to read about your experiences and in this case, especially, because they’re YOURS. ;-)

  39. says

    The sheet thing would drive me crazy. I’m sure that when you wake up in the morning and see the uncovered bed, that piece of bed that is uncovered doesn’t make you feel really good about where you just slept. “Ignorance is bliss,” as they say…

  40. says

    @Tressa: We’ll have to visit when we’re passing through the U.S. again. Until then, maybe we can meet somewhere on the road. Would look forward to it. Happy travels and may your hotel rooms always be well-equipped!

  41. says

    Eurgh I know what you mean about the water! When a certain hostel in Kuala Lumpur has a 91% rating and a) the showers barely worked during a 4 day stay and b) you had to press like a million different buttons in order to get them working….well, that hostel isn’t a 91%.

    The staff were pretty much non-existent (despite everyone praising them on the site??…) and seemed pretty put out when I wanted to check in at the almighty hour of 5pm.

    The entire second floor reeked of chlorine. The beds creaked like hell. The WiFi had terrible coverage and not strong enough to maintain a Skype conversation.

    The only positive was the location! Sigh.

  42. says

    @Tom: We hear you. Online accommodation ratings are a sketchy and often rigged business. It’s easy to influence those indexes if you happen to be a property owner. Kuala Lumpur, by the way, is one of the more notoriously difficult locations to secure budget accommodation. We can commiserate!

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