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November 23, 2011 5:48 AM   Subscribe

An urgent question for a friend: your favorite survival tips for an awful hotel/motel?

A friend of mine booked a one-night reservation for tomorrow (Thanksgiving) night, the only one both reasonably close to the train station he's heading over to at 5am Friday morning, and within his budget.

I checked the online reviews for it, and it's a 1-2 star (not for amenities; for customer reviews) hole. The seedy side of a big urban area (not funky authenticity seedy, but troubled high-crime area seedy), reports of dirty sheets and linens, bugs, the occasional hooker in the hallway or dealer in the vesibule, etc. Rebooking elsewhere is not an option. He simply needs a place to sleep from about 7pm to 4am.

Veteran travelers: what are your favorite travel tips in a worse case scenario like this, for maximum safety and comfort?
posted by availablelight to Travel & Transportation (33 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Don't sit or put your luggage on the top cover of the bed. Immediately remove it and put it in the corner away from your stuff. Those things don't get washed as often and are more likely to pass along bedbugs.

Likewise, don't put your clothes in the drawers.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 5:58 AM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 1. Find a local convenience store and stock up on snacks (or better yet, a sandwich for dinner) so that he doesn't have to leave the room once he's checked in. Bottled water, etc.

2. Most hotels have a secondary lock on the door besides the one in the latching mechanism. Use it.

3. Leave your luggage in the bathroom with the bathroom light on. Most bugs generally don't like light, so they will be less likely to hitchhike in your bags. If your friend is really squeamish, pack a couple of trash bags and pug the luggage IN the trash bags at the hotel. Super-ultra-squeamish: Put all clothes in trash bags and hang the bags above the floor.

4. Bring a sleeping bag and sleep on top of the bedsheets or on the floor.
posted by DWRoelands at 6:00 AM on November 23, 2011 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Nthing the comments above. Also, bring ear plugs.
posted by anya32 at 6:02 AM on November 23, 2011

Best answer: Use the luggage stand - the bugs can't climb up chromed legs. That's what they are for. Make sure it a bit away from the wall so they can't use that route. Close your suitcase when you are not actively looking in it.
posted by srboisvert at 6:02 AM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is he able to start calling places right now and begging for a room? Otherwise, bring your own sheet and sleep doubled up in that. It's probably going to be loud and he might not get any sleep anyway.
posted by dawkins_7 at 6:03 AM on November 23, 2011

Don't use the coffee maker as it probably has (not really) been used as a meth lab!

Seriously though, earplugs above all, and remember that negative claims in online travel reviews are usually at least 40% worse than the reality.
posted by oliverburkeman at 6:06 AM on November 23, 2011

Keep suitcase in the bathroom and only open it to take out what you really need. If he has time, put the outfit that he plans on wearing the day he checks out in a gallon ziplock bag so he only has to take that item out of suitcase. Keep suitcase really well zipped. Don't hang anything in closet, put anything in drawers or place suitcase on bed. All of this is to avoid bedbugs. He could also put luggage in a giant garbage bag and knot it closed.

Don't leave any valuables in room. Try to leave room as little as possible by getting food beforehand. Put chair under doorknob when in room. Note what can be used as a weapon in the room. (I'm a looney tunes about noticing potential weapons in unfamiliar places - lamps, heavy candlesticks, bottles. I used to always carry my fancy French Laguiole knife, handy and a weapon.)
posted by shoesietart at 6:06 AM on November 23, 2011

when he sleeps have him tuck a sheet under his body. if there's bug in the bed or get in the bed at least they wont be touching him.. eeeeerie to think.

i second the sleeping bag or liner idea.

i stayed in a pretty sketch hostel in SF one time and resorted to putting the dresser behind the door.
posted by melizabeth at 6:08 AM on November 23, 2011

Pay in cash.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 6:10 AM on November 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I worked as a maid in a seedy hotel for a year when I was about seventeen - my favourite tips:

Wear shoes/slippers at all times - the carpets are only ever lightly vacuumed and never ever shampooed. The bedspreads aren't washed anywhere near as often as the sheets, so pull them off right away (and if it's the type of hotel used for business...most of that's done on top of the bedspread, not between the sheets, which are at least cleaned in an industrial machine with bleach).

Buy a cheap, practically disposable sleeping bag and sleep in it on top of the sheets - be prepared to leave it if you find bugs - or when you're done with it, wrap it in the plastic bags you're going to be using around the suitcase until you can get it home and deal with it properly.
(Don't sleep on the floor due to vermin - mouse traps are usually hidden under the bed and dresser so as not to freak out the guests.)

Keep everything in the car/bag unless you're actually using it, or in the bathroom, with the lights on if you're not using your own transportation. Keep your bag wrapped in anywhere from one to a few layers of contractor's plastic garbage bags, depending on your level of anxiety. Leave the bag when you go.

If you must shower, wear shower shoes or stand on a washcloth or towel (or even plastic bags on your feet). Don't use any glasses provided unless they're wrapped plastic/paper cups - I didn't every do it myself, but it would not be unlikely that the glasses get a wipe with the same towel as the counter sometimes. Check the bathroom window to make sure it's somewhat secure, if it faces the outside.

A door wedge like this - if not this great one from Lee Valley can buy you a minute to call 911.

And whatever you do, don't use a UV light in there.
posted by peagood at 6:12 AM on November 23, 2011 [14 favorites]

Bring flip flops. Always.
posted by Big_B at 6:21 AM on November 23, 2011

Sleep on the floor up against the door. That's what I did when we accidentally booked a night in a dump owned by a sex offender.
posted by michaelh at 6:38 AM on November 23, 2011

If the hotel has any reports of bedbugs and he absolutely can't stay anywhere else, check out this FAQ on Bedbugger. Get giant ziploc bags if you can, put your luggage on the luggage stand, and wash and dry everything thoroughly - on high - the moment you get home.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:40 AM on November 23, 2011

In addition to the above suggestions, buy a six-pack of beer to drink as you sit contemplating the horror; it will help you sleep once you work up the nerve to go to bed.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 6:43 AM on November 23, 2011

Best answer: I got one of these seedy places in San Francisco once through Priceline - $50 a night or something ungodly cheap in the Tenderloin. The reviews online were horrible and I was worried sick about it ruining our vacation. But it turned out just fine! We put luggage on the desk, pulled the sheets off to check for bedbugs, and brought along earplugs for the street noise. The staff turned out to be really pleasant and most of the other guests were fine. Sometimes the only people who write reviews are the ones who had high expectations. One night in a seedy place won't kill your friend but will provide a lifetime of let-me-tell-you-about-this-dump-I-stayed-at stories.
posted by jabes at 6:46 AM on November 23, 2011

The worst thing about the worst hotel we ever booked - in which we managed to stay for a grand total of twenty minutes - was the horrible, stagnant, Brylcreem-mixed-with-gin-mixed-with-death smell. I'd bring some form of air freshener or employ the old mortician's trick of Vick's vaporub under the nostrils. Also: do not look under or behind ANYTHING. Nothing good will come of it (in Rochester, NY, we found two crack vials and a few heroin spoons behind the bed. Also a dropped Klonopin, which I GUESS could be seen as a bonus).
posted by julthumbscrew at 6:52 AM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Be careful about turning on the in-room heater/air conditioner. Look in the grates first and turn on the blower *slowly*. The worst room I stayed in was in a nonsmoking hotel. Apparently a prior guest either mistook the air conditioner for an ashtray (how do you DO that?) or dumped out their ashtray in the grates. When we arrived & turned on the blower, it puffed out great disgusting clouds of ashes all over us and our stuff. It was horrible. Just awful. The pillows also had hair on them and the shower was uncleaned.... When we asked for a new room they gave us one with broken windows that wouldn't close & had no screens -- totally open to the night sky but we took the room anyway because it was a higher floor & we'd rather risk bats or owls visiting us, than have to sleep in that filthy cell they first put us in. Oh yeah, we found a crack pipe behind the TV in that 2nd room too. Can't say I'm ever eager to stop in that town EVER again. I'm lookin' at you, Rochester NY.
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 7:16 AM on November 23, 2011

Wow, just noticed the other report above about a Rochester hotel.... looks like there's quite a pattern there - or we stayed in the same hotel!
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 7:20 AM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh yeah, 2nding don't look under or behind things. Found dead mice on sticky mouse pads behind the furniture at a hotel in Daytona Beach once and it gave me epic heebie-jeebies for the rest of the vacation.
posted by jabes at 7:21 AM on November 23, 2011

I have worked in/stayed in awful hotels and am still very much alive. We could all use a little more germ exposure. The psychological creep-out is worse than reality; even the worst hotels use harsh cleaning chemicals and detergents. I agree about the comforters - we didn't wash them after each guest. If yours looks or smells gross, ask the front desk to bring you a fresh one. The only time I personally encountered this was if a comforter from a smoking room wound up in a non-smoking room and the guest was sensitive to the smell. My particular hotel had fewer hookers and more long-term guests, such as people unable to rent an apartment or, say, cable installation crews on a multi-week contract.

When staying in these places, however, I have had things disappear from my luggage (a nightie, some makeup - basically whatever the cleaning person felt I wouldn't notice missing) so I'm sure to bring a padlock for my suitcase when I travel.
posted by theraflu at 7:55 AM on November 23, 2011

Yeah, bring in sandwiches/snacks/bottled water so you don't have to leave the room: check in, enter room, don't open door until checkout. Use all doorlocks plus hopefully there'll be a door chain. The chair jammed under the doorknob might be a good thought, too. Especially if on the ground floor: CHECK THE WINDOW LATCHES.... I'm somewhat paranoid even in a *good* hotel, and it's amazing how many hotel windows don't lock and/or have broken locks.

Oh, and if possible: get a room on the FRONT of the building --- even if it's noisy, it's safer than at the nice, secluded rear.
posted by easily confused at 8:05 AM on November 23, 2011

Nthing the sleeping bag idea. The worst hotel I ever stayed at, I got lice from the pillow.

The seediest motel I ever stayed at, at least the sheets were clean, so I locked all the doors and propped chairs under them (there were two), and slept as quietly as I could. I needn't have worried. Turns out there were a great load of weekend bikers staying there that night on a road trip, and they had pretty much booked the place out.
posted by LN at 8:07 AM on November 23, 2011

nthing the fact that the comforter/bedspread RARELY gets changed, so take that off immediately and either ask for a new one, or bring your own.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 8:12 AM on November 23, 2011

I had one night in a similarly seedy motel (not in Rochester, though) where the chairs were too short to prop under the doorknob. I put the floor lamp and the table in front of the door - would not have kept out a very determined bad guy, but would have given me some notice he was there, at least.

In general: go straight to the room and don't show off any flashy stuff that would be worth stealing (including smartphone or laptop). Nthing the "get snacks" advice. Don't bother any of the other guests and they'll probably go on with their (possibly seedy) lives and not bother you.
posted by shiny blue object at 8:35 AM on November 23, 2011

You can also get a travel size of disinfectant wipes.
posted by annsunny at 9:12 AM on November 23, 2011

One thing I don't see here: I always wedge a towel in at the bottom of the door to keep out light, noise, and anything else that could get in (even in good hotels).
posted by Xurando at 10:24 AM on November 23, 2011

I'd bring Febreze to minimize the stink factor.

The rest of this comment is non-responsive.

1) Please update us with stories of what worked for your friend. This thread is a highly enjoyable read.

2) As a Rochester native, my heart is breaking. julthumbscrew and cuddles.mcsnuggy, if you decide to give the actually quite nice City of Rochester another chance, please let me know. I can direct you to several nice hotels. Or you can stay with my parents.
posted by slmorri at 12:31 PM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Get a Cocoon travel sheet - an REI or similar oudoor/camping supplies store should have it. Then there's a nice layer of ilk between you and icky bedding.
posted by jetsetlag at 1:15 PM on November 23, 2011

Best answer: Bring your own sheets, towel, pillowcase, and maybe pillow. Bring some baby powder to sprinkle lavishly; it smells nice. Door wedge - great idea. Ask to see the room, and ask for another if it's genuinely vile. Or, get a rental car you can sleep in.

stayed at a place in NYC years ago with a condom on the teevee antenna. Swanky.
posted by theora55 at 2:51 PM on November 23, 2011

Awww, slmorri, we wound up LOVING Rochester - so much, in fact, that we took our kids back there six months later for a family trip. It was the friendliest, warmest, nicest place. We didn't let one awful, awful hotel (The East Avenue Inn, which may have changed since then) reflect on the city. :-)
posted by julthumbscrew at 2:53 PM on November 23, 2011

Also: it may not be as bad as he's expecting! I didn't actually MIND Crack Pipe Palace - my boyfriend did, however. If your friend has relatively low standards (and/or a poor sense of smell), he may be a-okay. Unless there's a dead tourist stashed beneath the mattress, which is relatively rare, to the best of my recollect, there's only so bad it can BE.
posted by julthumbscrew at 3:00 PM on November 23, 2011

Best answer: It might not be that bad. People posting reviews online get a little hysterical. Just lock the chain/bolt locks on the door. I would be more concerned about how exactly your friend plans on getting from the hotel to the train station in a sketchy part of town at 4am. I assume he will call a cab and not walk out until it arrives?
posted by citron at 8:14 PM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

In the motel where I worked, we'd always find porn stashes slipped into the phone book and between the bible pages in the drawer, and often under the mattresses (which never get flipped - so you might want to go to the effort to flip your mattress) (and check for free porn).
posted by peagood at 8:00 AM on November 24, 2011

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