We’ve all been there, usually someplace in Oklahoma. You’re off on last-minute business or visiting relatives, and the only place left in town to stay is a cut-rate chain hotel where the amenities list ends at “Irons available at front desk.”
With a little advance warning—and yes, a little budget—you can make even the dumpiest hotel into a home-away-from-home.
At fancy hotels, you’ve got to deal with the cold marble of the luxury bath. In other places, you’re dealing with carpet the shade of old bus upholstery. Better bring some slippers. The minimalist-chic Muji makes comfy ones, and they aren’t so expensive (from $6) that you’ll be heartbroken if you lose them under the bed. Or feel the need to burn them.
If the sheets feel like sandpaper—or you’re concerned that when the sheets are changed they are merely changed from room to room—consider bringing your own. A full set of Frette is impractical, but you can rest easy with a Silksak ($58 for single, $115 double). Although designed as a sleeping bag liner, it’s pure sumptuous silk that works just as well in dodgy lodgings.
You can set up your own media server, Wi-Fi network, and photo library with the HooToo Tripmate ($44). It will stream movies and music from any connected USB storage to all your personal devices, as well as to smart TVs and TV sticks like Chromecast, should your motel TV have a USB port. Because it only weighs half a pound, it’s worth carrying just as a portable router and power bank.
It may look like a can, but the JBL Charge 2+ ($120) is one of the few inexpensive Bluetooth speakers that doesn’t sound tinny, thanks to “dual external passive radiators,” which can bring the bass. It’s splashproof, in case you want to use it in the shower, and it has a speakerphone mode, in case you want to have a conference call from the shower.
While you’re in the shower, do yourself the favor of getting a close shave without leaning over a tiny motel sink. The Shavewell shaving mirror ($10) is lightweight, instantly defoggable, and distortion-free. You can also use it to signal passing planes, should it come to that.
Chances are, if a hotel skimped on the towels, it probably skimped on the soundproofing, too. Though some nice silicone or soft foam earplugs may be necessary, you can also drown out noisy neighbors with a white noise app, streamed from your smartphone to the aforementioned speaker. The obviously named White Noise app ($1) serves up loops of atmospheric sounds—including “City Streets,” should you be a Brooklynite trapped somewhere bucolic.
You can pack light and still skip the questionable laundry room; just wash in the sink and hang to dry. Keep your underwear off the upholstery with a travel clothesline ($17). Simply tuck your wet duds into the braided rubber strands, and let the overactive furnace take care of the rest. Half the fun is finding a place to attach it, so pros bring along a cheap carabiner and some zip-ties.
If you are making coffee in your room with hotel provided appliances, it is probably crap, whether you are at the Ritz or Rusty’s E-Z-Rest Motor Lodge. Pack your own beans (which will also keep your clothes smelling fresh), grind them with an ISHSON ceramic burr mill ($17), and then send it through the traveler’s best friend, an AeroPress ($30). You should be boiling the water anyway, so you might as well make good coffee.
When you settle into your hotel home, be sure to bring something subtly scented—perhaps with your own scent. A familiar bar of soap will help, but you’ll be more at home if you’re dressed in some pajamas that you’ve worn a night or two since the last washing. And don’t underestimate the power of a familiar and not-freshly-laundered pillowcase to cover the hotel’s. Stealing your significant other’s as you pack is also a fine idea.