I’ve already talked about the 5 best places we stayed on our Western American road trip. Unfortunately, it wasn’t all yurt glamping and cosy cabins in the mountains.
Most of our accommodation probably came somewhere in the middle. If it was a school report, it would be under ‘satisfactory’. But there were a few that were definitely ‘needs to do better’. Three, to be precise.
I actually debated over whether to share this post at all. After all, nobody wants to read a blog post that’s too moany. But sometimes I think it’s too easy to only post about the picture-perfect happy side of travel, and leave the negative stuff to get swept under the carpet. In the end, that just paints an unrealistic picture of travel, because as anyone who’s ever travelled anywhere knows, sometimes travelling just throws you a curveball. Or more accurately, it throws you terrible hotel neighbours and a dodgy hostel.
1 // VANCOUVER BACKPACKER HOUSE, VANCOUVER, BC
Ok I admit it. Vancouver Backpacker House didn’t cost us all that much, so we were never expecting a 5* resort. For $92 Canadian (about £54) between 3 people, you don’t get to stay in the lap of luxury. But Vancouver Backpacker House was without doubt the oddest hostel I’ve ever stayed in.
We drove into Vancouver following the satnav, with the address of the hostel flashing on the screen as a little blue pin. We expected it to be out in the suburbs. We didn’t expect to be driving down a quiet residential street with nothing but houses in sight. Definitely not the kind of place you’d expect to find a backpackers’ hostel.
We found the address – but it looked for all the world like just another house. No sign announcing it as a hostel. Nothing but a blue arrow sketched on a bit of card, pointing round to the side of the house. It was already starting to feel a bit dodgy.
We checked in – all fairly normal. We arrived early so the room wasn’t ready for us, so we went to explore Vancouver and arranged to come back that night. That would be fine, we were told.
Well, even aside from the fact it took about ten minutes to find anyone to actually show us to our room, it was weird. We were told to get in our car and follow a black jeep (driven by a guy who worked in the hostel), which led us to a different house a couple of blocks over, and a ground floor apartment, which it turned out we would be sharing with an English couple. Again, no signage to indicate this was a hostel (I’m guessing they didn’t do a very good walk-up trade).
Our ‘3-bed room’ turned out to have one double bed and a single camp bed. There were only two pillows, so we had to ask for an extra one so that we could have one each. (Is a pillow really such a luxury item?) And there was a funny smell in the air, which we thought may have been coming from outside. But nope – once we got into bed, we realised that not only were there actually two smells, but they were coming from our bedding: the camp bed smelt of poo, and the double bed smelt like cat pee.
Oh, and as if there weren’t enough bad smells kicking around the place, the toilet wouldn’t flush and we had to wait till morning (when we were leaving anyway) to fix it.
Needless to say, we left first thing.
2 // DAYS INN FLAGSTAFF – WEST ROUTE 66, FLAGSTAFF, ARIZONA
Another place we left early was the Days Inn Flagstaff – West Route 66.
This may be a little unfair, because a) we planned to leave at 3:15am anyway to catch the Grand Canyon sunrise, and b) the problems here weren’t entirely the fault of the hotel. It was more an issue with other guests.
We’d planned to have an early night to compensate for the next day’s early start, but as usual, that didn’t really happen. When we finally did switch the lights off at around midnight, we’d all just started drifting off when we were woken by a loud banging on next door’s room, and a woman yelling.
‘Marcus! Marcus!’ bang bang bang ‘Marcus! Marcus!’
Then there’d be a brief pause, when we’d think it had stopped, before: bang bang bang Marcus! Marcus!
After about half an hour of this, she finally gave up and went away, and we fell into an all-too-short sleep. Because the next thing we knew, less than a minute before our alarm went off at 3:15, a car alarm was going off.
Now I’m not normally bothered by the odd car alarm going off here and there, as long as it’s silenced pretty soon-ish. But I can honestly say that nothing is more annoying than a car alarm going off for 45 minutes at 3 in the morning.
By the time we were all dressed and ready to leave at 4am, three police cars had arrived to fix the problem. Turns out that Mrs Marcus, having locked herself out of thhe room and being unable to wake her drugged-up husband, had decided to sleep in the car. Being a bit under the influence herself, she didn’t wake up when her own car alarm was going off, and ended up being woken by the police.
Ok, so this wasn’t exactly the hotel’s fault, but it didn’t make for a great stay either.
3 // SAN SIMEON LODGE, SAN SIMEON, CALIFORNIA
San Simeon Lodge is a bit of a sore point. It’s also a bit of a lesson well learned. Namely: if you’re travelling up the Californian coast in August, book accommodation in advance.
When we were stranded with nowhere to stay the night, and a lot of places fully booked, we had a decision to make. Try to sleep in the car (not easy when it’s a little car and there are 3 of you), or bite the bullet and pay through the nose for a room.
As it happened, the only places with rooms were fancy resorts (or one motel, which was only about $10 cheaper than the fancy resorts). We decided to make this our luxury night. If we were going to have to pay a lot of money, we might as well stay somewhere a bit fancy and make the most of it.
So we went for San Simeon Lodge: the cheapest of the fancy resorts – though still eyewatering at over $300 for a night. At least, we thought, we could have a bit of luxury experience.
The hotel had a gym, which my friend Lizzie was determined to use and get her money’s worth – although 4 out of the 7 machines weren’t working. It also took us ages to work out that the shower control had been put on upside-down, so that the water was hot when it pointed at cold, and cold when it pointed at hot. There were chips in the bathroom tiles, and dirty sealant around the shower, and the towels had holes in them. Maybe, we thought, we’d feel better when we woke to the Californian sunlight streaming through the windows – except that we quickly realised that the sun was actually streaming through a network of holes in the curtains. Honestly, I think they’d have kept more light out if they’d been made of lace.
Looking back on this experience, it’s just one of those stories from the road, of a time when everything didn’t go to plan. At the time, we were devastated that we’d spent so much money on something so sub-standard. So much for a night in the lap of luxury!
^ this is San Simeon Lodge, pretending to be a luxury resort
Have you ever stayed anywhere that didn’t come up to scratch? Let me know – I’d love to be reminded that it’s not just me!