in: Featured, Leisure, Living

• Last updated: June 5, 2021

How to Make the Best of a Bad Hotel Room

A man and woman watching with surprise illustration.

The days of online travel booking have made it far, far easier to ensure that you’ll get the accommodation you’re expecting. Review websites, traveler photos, and social media combine to give you a virtual look at the exact room you can expect to find yourself in when you book your next trip. But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t surprises now and again. Penny-pinching travelers, especially international ones, are far from immune to landing in unexpectedly bad hotel rooms. For some, a crummy room is never worth the savings. For others, it’s a value they’ll never pass up. Season yourself to fall into the latter category with tricks for turning your bad room into a bearable abode.

Start at the Desk

Chances are, you’ll know you’re staying at a bad hotel the minute you arrive in the lobby. The lobby is a reflection of the hotel’s overall quality and should give you a pretty good idea of what your room will look like. If you’ve arrived unexpectedly in a bad hotel, talk to the front desk about your room’s location to ward off potential issues from the outset. Ask for a room near the end of a hallway and away from elevators, ice machines, lounges, foot traffic, and other annoying noise creators.

Check Before You Unpack

Before you unload your stuff, thoroughly check the room to make sure it’s equipped with standard supplies like towels and toilet paper. Also check to make sure that all the lights and other amenities work, including the shower, air conditioning, toilet, and TV. You’re more likely to be able to switch rooms without a fuss if you alert the hotel staff of any missing items or malfunctioning amenities before you get the room messy.

Mind the Dirty “Danger” Zones

Illustration of a bed room.

Researchers who tested surfaces in different hotel rooms found that 81% of them contained some fecal bacteria. When a toilet flushes, it sprays bacteria around the bathroom, and dirty hands spread contaminants into the room itself. The dirtiest surfaces were:

  • TV remote (the #1 dirtiest)
  • Light switches
  • Toilet (duh)
  • Bathroom floor
  • Bathroom sink

Other especially dirty surfaces were the hotel phone, the carpet (though you’re probably not going to touch it with anything but your feet), drinking glasses (which often sit near the toilet and don’t get disinfected after use), and bedspreads. This test was done in average hotels, so you can imagine that the surfaces in a dive will be even grimier. Bring some disinfecting wipes and wipe off some of these surfaces before you touch them. Bring a pair of flip-flops you can wear in a grimy shower. Consider removing the bedspread altogether; if you get cold, use the bathroom towels for warmth.

If the bed sheets look dirty, ask the front desk for a replacement set. If none are available, lay the bathroom towels over the dirty sheets. Consider bringing your own top sheet with you; it packs small and guarantees you a clean surface to roll up in.

You should examine your bed for these signs of bed bugs offered by the EPA:

  • Rusty or reddish stains on bed sheets or mattresses caused by bed bugs being crushed.
  • Dark spots (about this size: •), which are bed bug excrement and may bleed on the fabric like a marker would.
  • Eggs and eggshells, which are tiny (about 1mm) and pale yellow skins that nymphs shed as they grow larger.
  • Live bed bugs.

If you do see signs of bed bugs, you should really high tail it out of there. Saving money on a hotel is not worth bringing a crazy-hard-to-eradicate infestation home with you.

Create Your Own Comfort

Once you’re resigned to your less-than-ideal room, it’s time to make the best of it. If your mattress is too soft, consider putting it on the floor for a fast firmness fix.

Also consider taking a shower in the evening (or very early in the morning). The morning rush of other guests — generally 7-9am — could leave you without adequate pressure or hot water.

If your window curtains won’t close all the way on their own, jerry-rig them shut with a binder clip, tape, or pins/needles.

If for some reason your smartphone isn’t of use, check that the alarm clock isn’t set for the middle of the night, and that it’s working, period. You don’t want to trust a hotel wake-up call, which is almost guaranteed to fail in an establishment that can’t manage to keep its rooms well-stocked and tidy.

If applicable, take all the in-room hotel brochures, literature, and advertisements, and throw them in a drawer to hide them and make the place less like a billboard and more like a cozy home.

Bring your own snacks; a dive hotel is unlikely to have a restaurant, room service, or even a vending machine.

Finally, if you find yourself stuck in a crappy hotel room, just make a point to spend as little time there as possible. Instead of staying in for a movie, find a theater. Instead of reading a book in bed in the morning, head to a coffee shop. Make it the place you simply sleep and shower.

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