Cheap hotel rooms – avoid the pitfalls

Don’t you just feel great when you score a good bargain?

A cheap hotel need not be a nasty hotel, though some of them are.  One expects clean bed linen and a well presented room as the very minimum.  This is not always the case, though.  Pictures on the internet for hotels, hostels and guesthouses can often be dated or even deliberately misleading.

Photos of Generator Hostel London, London
This photo of Generator Hostel London is courtesy of TripAdvisor

An experience I would not want to repeat, that I had at a hostel in London, will help us to illustrate the pitfalls.  To be honest, in retrospect there were clues available.  The Generator hostel’s web site has only one picture.  It appeared to have been taken at night.  Also the cheap plastic garden-furniture should probably have been a warning to us.

Advertising photos of accommodation that are taken at night (even if there is fancy neon lighting) can mean that the area is dodgy or that there are things you would see in harsh light of day that might otherwise put you off.

My sister and I arrived just before 8pm to find that our beds had been given away.  (Reports at Tripadvisor indicate that this was not an isolated instance.)  While we arrived later than planned because of a delayed connection, that is not what one expects from an establishment that claims to be a 24 hour operation.

The lighting was poor at night, though security was tight for getting into the hostel.  On arrival we had to present our booking confirmation to the doorman before we could enter.  However, the impact of this was spoiled by the very unconvincing-looking appearance of the doorman.

After they found other beds for us, we discovered that we were now in a mixed dormitory and not ‘all females’ as had been strictly specified on the booking.  There was a very strange smell in the corridors and people walking around in various states of undress between the bathrooms and dormitories.

Our booking included a free cocktail.  That turned out to be a either a fruit juice with vodka or a Coke with vodka.  Apparently, if you put vodka in it, anything can become a cocktail.

Breakfast was what one could expect for the bargain price (currently starting at £15 a night): bread that had to be toasted before it was palatable, orange-flavoured mixer drink and watered-down, seemingly World War II army-surplus coffee.

The beds aren’t made up daily, only once the guest checks out.  If you have a long stay there then the linen is changed once a week.

The undoubted low point was having a young Australian backpacker who overdosed after having her drink spiked, allegedly (according to her companions) in the hostel’s own bar.  The drama and commotion surrounding this, which happened at 2 in the morning, was enough to traumatise the most hardened intrepid traveller.  It need hardly be stated that it was also not good for one’s beauty-sleep.  Fortunately, she survived, which wasn’t a certain thing until the medics arrived and pumped her stomach – right there in the room.

Photos of Generator Hostel London, London
This photo of Generator Hostel London is courtesy of TripAdvisor


When you find a hostel or budget hotel for a really good rate, be sure to do extra homework and check out the area, reviews of the property and area.

Use the Streetview facility in Google Earth to look at the building and the neighbourhood.  (It is not available for all countries.)

If you are prepared to do the homework, then that is great, go ahead and book.  The main thing to remember is that there are risks to booking the cheapest hotel you can find.

Use to check out the accommodation.  While it is known that unscrupulous proprietors “stuff” Tripadvisor with good reviews, either by entering them themselves, or by bribing guests to do so, negative reviews are more often genuine.  We suggest that you do not just look at how many “excellent” or “very good” ratings there are.  If there is any significant number of “poor” or “terrible” reviews for a property then this is a strong indication that you do not want to stay there.

As an example, the Mount Nelson (“The Nellie”) in Cape Town, South Africa, has  200 Excellent reviews at Tripadvisor, 31 visitors rated it as Very good, but only 4 each for Poor and Terrible.  From our experience it is a very fine hotel.

Of the 556 reviews of the Generator, fully 289, over half, are Average, Poor or Terrible.  That sounds about right.  Cheap hotels can bite.

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