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 The days of watching colleagues stalk turn-down maids have been replaced by nights searching for hotel attendees in dark, dank hallways that recall films like “Psycho” (cinematic excellence) and “Hostel” (a cinematic abomination).
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.
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.
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.)
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?