If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that in late October last year I found myself unexpectedly without an apartment. The story is a long one (and you can find it here), but the end result was that I became yet again untethered—no permanent address, nothing holding me back from travel.
I had already planned a trip to France and, once I arrived, I decided to extend the trip for another two weeks. I mean, when you don’t have a home to come home to, why not travel a little more? And so I bounced around France—from beach to mountains—before taking a pretty train ride back into the Swiss Alps.
Of course, when I returned, I still didn’t have an apartment. And so I found myself living in a hotel, something that I’ve done a few times since leaving the US to travel full-time.
Then, a week or two into my stay, I stumbled upon a question about hotel living on a travel forum. What’s it like to live in a hotel, the asker wanted to know. Should she do it?
I answered her question there and started thinking that maybe it would be a useful one to address here as well.
First, I should tell you what I told her: I don’t recommend long-term hotel stays. Apartment rentals (through services like Airbnb) are so much cozier, more homey, and usually more spacious. They also tend to run cheaper.
That said, sometimes a hotel is the only or best option. And if you are going to be living in a hotel for a week or longer, there are ways to make it feel very homey indeed.
1. Ask for a sunny room.
Because I was really living in the hotel—working from the little desk, reading, making small lunches—it was really important for the room to feel sunny and welcoming. For a day or two, a dark interior room in a big hotel might be okay, but for a week or two weeks or a month? Living without windows makes me feel like an extremely depressed troll. So when it comes to long-term hotel stays, I say the more sunshine, the better.
2. Ask for an end/corner room.
The other thing that can make or break a hotel stay? Neighbors. I learned this the hard way on this last stay, as I was surrounded by amorous couples and/or noisy, drunk athletes on both sides for at least 50% of my stay. Hotel walls can feel thin, even in really nice places (and especially in places with character, which are the hotels I like most). Which is why it’s really smart to ask for an end or corner room. Even if you get the occasional noisy neighbor, the noise will only be on one side, which means 50% less chances for noisy neighbors…better odds.
I’ve talked about this before, but I think one of the most important things anyone can do to feel at home anywhere (be it a holiday rental, a hotel, or a friend’s guest room) is unpack. I don’t know about you guys, but I hate living out of a suitcase. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t mind making sure all my things fit into a suitcase. I don’t mind being a bit of a minimalist. But I do mind always having to dig around my bag for things, not having easy access to everything. And so I unpack. I arrange my clothes in the closet and my toiletries in the bathroom. I spread out. I make the space my own. This is the first thing I do when I arrive in a new place (assuming I’m staying more than a day or two) and it’s always a massive relief.
4. Don’t be afraid to shop at the supermarket (and bring a few kitchen items with you).
One of the big reasons living out of a hotel gets really expensive and feels very not-homey is the lack of a kitchen. Living in Switzerland, for example, the minimum amount you could pay to eat out would be around $10 per meal, which turns into $30 per day and $900 per month. And that’s eating chicken nuggets and soup all the time.
Shopping at the grocery store can easily chop that number in half (if not lower). Which is one of the reasons I’m so in love with renting apartments or even staying in guesthouses.
Still, though, when I’m in a hotel, I’m not totally screwed, especially when it’s winter. There are ways to get creative.
First, as you know, not everything from the grocery store is immediately perishable. Canned tuna, bread, fruits and veggies, dry cereal, and even certain cheeses don’t require either cooking or refrigeration. And in the winter, it’s possible to keep even things that do require a fridge. Last winter, I kept milk, cheese, jam, and lunchmeat on my windowsill, since the daytime temperatures in February in the Alps stay pretty low. And this time, with less of a windowsill, I stored my perishables in a plastic bag hanging from a nail just below my window.
And as for warm meals? I borrowed an electric kettle (something you could also easily buy in many countries for $10 or $15…and which would quickly save you that much, even if you’re only using it for a couple weeks). If you aren’t familiar with electric kettles, they are kettles that plug into the wall and boil water. You can, of course, use them to boil water for tea or coffee, but you can also get creative and use them for oatmeal, instant noodles/rice dishes, and soup.
5. Do something frivolous.
Finally, I sometimes do little things specifically designed to feel homey and be a little necessarily frivolous. I buy a scented candle (something I won’t be packing when I leave) and spend the night in reading. I move the desk to a sunnier spot or a better view. I set up a little plush floor seating in a cozy, sunny corner with extra blankets and pillows.
And you could also buy yourself flowers to brighten the room or carry something that reminds you of home, like a photograph or a book that you set up on your desk wherever you are in the world.
So, this is how I make my way through the occasional month or multi-month stay in a hotel.
What about you guys? Any tips for making a hotel feel homey?
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I really liked this post! I am one of those people who has to unpack straight away when I’m staying somewhere, even if I’m only there for a night! Maybe I’d be good at hotel living for a little while (although I’m sure the novelty wears off) – wherever I lay my hat, that’s my home!
All good advice. I traveled for 3 weeks with a friend, by car, through Spain and Portugal, and whatever hotel we were in the desk or table or whatever was always covered with our fruit, snacks and other foodstuffs. If you buy in small quantities cheese is easy.
I do wonder a little where your readers come from that they need to have “electric kettle” explained, but I suppose you wouldn’t have clarified if you’d not had the question. I use my kettle for hot cereals, rice, etc. even at home. It’s just easier…
How you’re traveling is also important. If traveling in a car a pot, bowls, hotplate, kettle and traveling box of food is totally practical. Traveling with a backpack – less so. Although I have been seen walking along with backpack on and bag(s) of food carried by hand.
The psychological aspects of living in a hotel are super important and I think you’ve nailed them. Make the space your own, and it won’t feel like a hotel. :)
Ask them not to clean your room. I hate hotel staff cleaning my room even for short term stays because they move stuff around but long term it really adds to the temporary stay feeling.