As of writing this it’s been 56 days since paying for a hotel and our next many weeks are covered as well. Okay, honestly there were some costs in getting our Club Carlson points and IHG points. But I’ve posted all of our year’s stats, and broken down how we average $20 to $30 a night for 4 and 5 star hotels, and I just wrote 6 ways to get amazing hotel deals.
There’s no shortage of ways to get deals for chain hotels, or to get points for cheap. The end result is that we live out of 4/5 star hotels. But you know all this.
But what you may or may not know, is that it wasn’t always that way. When we first started traveling we had millions of miles. It was absurd. In 2011 we booked a number of flights for friends to come visit us around the world (China, Easter Island, Peru) in business class. And yet, we didn’t even have hotel points at all. I saw it as a waste.
Over time I began to transition for a homeless nomad to a guy who worked online a lot. So the expense eventually was often justified to get a hotel with good internet, and at that point I started running numbers on how to live out of hotels on the cheap.
Even today, hotels are mostly pragmatic. Good work space and central location. This might surprise all the people who ask what the wife think about all this, but Caroline actually prefers roughing it more often than we do. We both like adventure, hiking, camping, and weird cultural experiences.
All that to say, I thought I’d share some pictures of old and stories of old. Us roughing it.
7) Rental Car in Guam
We landed in Guam with the same plans as always: none. I had a free night cert for Marriott for our first night and that’s when I began to look for hotels around the area. It seemed any hotel near the bay was extremely expensive, and the alternatives were still $50 a night.
So I called some local rental car companies. When I say local, I mean that I’m pretty sure that the guy rented me his own personal car. Anyways, the car was something like $15 a night… which seemed a lot cheaper than hotels, plus we could explore the island. After all we had two weeks. I didn’t want to stay in the hood for two weeks, and honestly couldn’t afford a hotel anyways.
One small thing that was a big problem: mosquitos.
Goodness, I itch thinking about it. Yet, we couldn’t leave the windows up or we’d sweat to death.
The other funny thing is that the police were going around the parking lot at K-mart looking in cars at like 3 am. Don’t know if someone saw us and called the cops or if other people in Guam live out of their cars at K-mart. Soon as we saw the lights we left. But this happened two nights in a row.
We went down the road to a church parking lot. My guess was that police don’t need to check church parking lots. But that’s where we stayed until we woke up, usually with the sun. And we were of course grateful that the beach had showers so we’d usually head there soon after sunrise.
Side story. We didn’t stay in the car the entire time. On week two we were browsing a market when we met this guy, he’s 38 and already retired from the navy. He had a 3 bedroom house and my guess is that he was bored if he’s at that market. We ended up spending the last week with him and we toured the entire island with him. Crazy off roading through the bush in his jeep, hiking waterfalls, taking his dingy way out (and getting towed by a yacht), and what not.
It ended up being an amazing time, and I have very fond memories of Guam… but when I see the picture of me in the car… I itch.
6) My first class experience (Sri Lanka train)
In early 2012 we went to Sri Lanka and wow, what an amazing country. Luckily our train experience was much much smoother than the train story in India from last year. Yet… it wasn’t the luxury experience you’d think of when you hear the words “first class”.
Even though we were on a very tight budget the fact that first class was like $5 instead of $1, or whatever it was, was incredible. I had read View From The Wing for a while by this point and couldn’t wait to try my first class cabin. 😀
The good news is that we had a bathroom. The bad news is that it leaked and flooded our entire cabin. Looking back, I have to laugh. What did I expect for $5? Dingy as it was, it felt great.
The key to great travel is low expectations.
5) The gated-community Thai beach
The reason our expectations were so low in Sri Lanka was probably because of our Thailand travels before.
We met a Malaysian guy in Bali awhile before and ended up backpacking from Langkawi, Malaysia up through Thailand to Bangkok. I remember getting into Phuket town at 4 am or so on a bus. The options were simple, get a $10 hotel for the night. Or not waste the 10 big ones on a hotel we’d only use for like 6 hours before checkout.
I decided I didn’t want to bother with a hotel since it was already so late and… not sure what the plan was. Just walk. I remember all the rats and packs of dogs. We just started walking towards the beach – seems like a good place to sleep. At this point our Malaysian friend was still with us and as we headed towards this gated community our friend went over to the security guard to explain that we were going to sleep on the beach.
At first I thought he was blowing our cover… but I guess Thai security guards are cool with that?
Surprisingly it was a great night’s sleep. The grass was soft and there were no mosquitos. I suppose wind is key for that. Maybe it was dry season.
The views that sunrise were incredible.
Also, the gated community had a gym with showers that we used. In hindsight… wow, we were really homeless.
4) The banana boat, Langkawi
Same trip: but if Thailand’s beach was a success story, Langkawi was a fail.
The two of us found this little shack that someone probably stores their boat in. We tried sleeping on the steps of that, but the mosquitos were killing us. If there was skin showing, it got bit.
So instead of using our tarp as a bed to lay on, we decided to move over to this banana boat and use the tarp as a tent like thing to cover us up, and the boat would be our bed.
… it’s hard to take myself seriously when I share things like this…
It was still a terrible night.
3) Chinese sleeper bus / bus station
Yangshou is a beautiful town in China, so picturesque that it’s printed on Chinese currency. After a week there we decided to get a bus to Hong Kong. A lady with a booth that sells bus tickets sold me on the overnight bus, I’d have a bed. A bed sounded like a good idea for such a trip.
I’ve never seen this before, but turns out the bus has two isles. A 1-2-1 seating configuration. It was odd, and really thin. but the scary part was that the “beds” were like 4 feet long. How in the world? They had like a little bump for you to bend your knees, but even so, I really didn’t see a seat that wouldn’t have resulted in my feet on someone’s head.
But the bus driver took us to the very back where there was a spot without seats and there was just a pad on the floor.
5 or 6 of us slept on that pad for the 6 hour bus ride. This felt like a legit Chinese experience. But I was relieved that it was a space long enough for me to fully lay out. At the time it felt like Cathay First Class.
The craziness continued when we got an hour from Hong Kong where we were herded off to wait at this… concrete office space thingy, to wait for the next bus. It had to have been something like 4 in the morning, so I slept there as well before being woken up to be pointed to the right bus.
2) Tokyo Airport
Turns out, Tokyo is really expensive. Like, really expensive. Way out of budget. We not only slept at the HND airport we flew into, we later came back just to sleep there. No flying that day or the next, just liked the sleeping spot so much that, given the opportunity, we decided to come back.
Then the day before we flew out of NRT we went to the airport to sleep yet again.
Our first time in Tokyo was only 4 or 5 nights, and 3 of those nights were at the airport.
1) Asuncion Airport Floor
I wish so bad I had pictures. For whatever our ticket to Buenos Aires was, it had a 6 hour, overnight layover in Asuncion. Not worth getting a hotel for what would be 4 hours, and definitely not worth the $160 visa (each).
Then again… No one could have guessed how crappy the airport would be. It was one tiny concrete room with 3 or 4 gates. Each gate was just open air, so all the cold air, all night long was keeping us nice and icy in their “winter”. Not freezing but with the wind, it was sure cold.
But there’s no other way to describe it other than a concrete room with 3 giant wholes in the wall where people could walk out to get to their plane. There was also no one there. It’s just us in this tiny, tiny airport terminal.
The best part is that the few benches there all had arm rests, preventing even Caroline from laying down.
Although it was at night, it wasn’t exactly a night’s sleep.
Unfortunately, I can’t think of an adventure quite like this within the last 3 years. We’ve gotten too boring. The biggest contributor to a full night’s sleep now is hotel points. Rocking big promotions, great rewards programs and big deals.
While sleeping outside can be a wonderful experience, the banana boat nor the car was actually a good experience in any way. And while sleeping at HND wasn’t that bad, going back out to the airport to sleep there doesn’t make any sense. I’m not sure how we did that either given that roundtrip train tickets to Tokyo are super expensive. I’m pretty sure my average $30/night would be cheaper than two train tickets, by a lot. Although, maybe we had some sort of pass.
Either way, that kind of travel isn’t sustainable, and while it is adventurous it’s not exactly the adventure I’m looking for. Staying in a local families’ home on the other hand is super awesome.
My stance now is that I will continue to have adventures, but sleeping at the airport isn’t wise or an adventure. That being said, I’ll totally sleep at the airport again. Even the Asuncion airport; I’m not paying $320 + hotel + taxi to have a bed for four hours. But, I’d probably make more of an attempt to not have that layover. :-p
You live, you learn.
To this day, I’m not too concerned about the quality of the hotel. No trip is dependent on a hotel. My trip to any city won’t be ruined or made because of the hotel (or lack there of).