I'm a connoisseur of cheap hotels. And I'm not just talking about the inexpensive kind. In fact, nowadays I don't mind paying a little extra to get that cheap feeling in my overnight accommodations. It's the ambiance of sleaziness that I crave.
In my younger days, a fleabag hotel was an upgrade in my travels, particularly during cross-country bicycle trips, when sleeping under bridges or stealthily setting up my pup tent after dark in a city park was the norm. At that point in my life, finding free -- or at least dirt cheap -- lodging was a necessity.
But somewhere along the line I developed a true passion for seedy hotels, to the point where now, when I could afford something nicer, I find myself seeking out those places that make a Motel 6 look like the Waldorf Astoria. You know, the kind of hotels where you need to put down a $20 deposit to get the free porno movies turned off in your room.
Holiday Inn, I believe, used to use the marketing slogan "Expect no surprises." Well, when I travel I want some surprises. I want to get to meet people and see things I wouldn't otherwise experience. I want to have some adventures -- even some misadventures. I want to have some good stories to tell when I'm an old man. That's why I gravitate toward lowbrow lodgings and away from national chains. And if I save money because of it, I can travel even more.
Just two weeks ago I stayed at a particularly slovenly hotel (actually a "motor lodge," which is a sure sign that you're in for a treat) during one of my book-tours-by-bicycle in the Pacific Northwest. It was so rundown and derelict that I was shocked to find a mint on my pillow in the evening. When I asked about it the next morning at the front desk, they assured me that it had probably just fallen out of the mouth of the guy who slept there the night before.
In fact, I'm so enamored with cheap hotels that I'm thinking about writing a book on the topic, including my own rating system to replace the five-star system used to rate fine hotels. Under my system, hotels would be rated by the half-inch, from zero to 2.5 inches, based on the thickness of the Plexiglas between you and the guy checking you in at the reception desk. The thicker the glass, the higher the rating. Add an inch if you're greeted by an odorous tsunami of curry when you check-in, and deduct half an inch if there's a paper belt claiming recent sanitation on the toilet seat.
I saw an article on the Internet a while back that professed to identify the top-ten sleaziest hotels in all of America. I held my breath as I scrolled down to #1, and sure enough, there it was, my home-away-from-home when I'm in New York City, the Hotel Carter near Time Square. Now, in my travels I've seen worse (or is that better?), but the Hotel Carter has a national -- indeed international -- reputation among cheap hotel aficionados like me.
Bargain-priced at $99 a night (roughly the cost of a draft beer in Manhattan), at the Hotel Carter you get what you pay for. And sometimes even more, like the time in 2007 when a corpse was found under a bed. I would love to have heard the call they placed to housekeeping.
In fairness, I've never encountered anything that bad at the Hotel Carter. Sure, the last time I stayed there the sheets on my bed looked exactly like the Shroud of Turin, but that's the way I like my hotels -- cheap and filled with surprises, just like me.
If you're looking for inexpensive accommodations during your travels -- but you don't have the need-for-sleaze like me -- check out these sources for clean, safe, economical accommodations:
Jeff Yeager is the author of The Cheapskate Next Door and The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches. His website is www.UltimateCheapskate.com. Connect with Jeff Yeager on Twitter and Facebook.
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