Dirty Lodging: A Survival Guide


I’ll never forget my hotel horror story…

In 2009, my girlfriends and I spent a nearly perfect week in Italy, staying in a beautifully modern apartment on Florence’s artisanal Oltrarno. From there we flew to London to meet up with a few more friends for one epic night of international fun before flying home.

In London, we ended up at one of those characterless über hotels where every tour group either starts or ends their journey, and little did I know that it would turn out to be the grossest hotel experience I’ve ever had.

The bedding had long strands of hair on it, everything seemed coated with a layer of grime, the toilet seat was on the bathroom floor (evidently placed there intentionally by housekeeping) and I could have sworn there was blood on the walls.

It was bad.

It happens to everyone at some point in their travels. Sometimes, despite carefully planning and vetting of lodging, things just don’t live up to expectations (or common cleanliness).

Sure, you can always switch to a different hotel or hostel, but you probably won’t be able to get your money back. Also it’s often just not worth it to haul your bags somewhere else if you’re only someplace for a short amount of time.

When traveling, maximizing time is key.

With the latest release of Trip Advisor’s 2011 dirtiest hotels list, you now know at least a few places that you should avoid at all costs. However, here are a few tips on how to make it through the night if you simply must stay someplace that’s less than ideal:

1.) Try not to touch anything

This may sound simple, but it’s harder than it seems when faced with TV remotes, door knobs, faucets, light switches… the list goes on and on.

While this may seem like an excessive step, just remember that while housekeepers routinely clean things like showers and toilets and change the sheets, many of the smaller items go untouched… except by the hundreds of people who stay in that room and use them.

And don’t, I repeat, do not use the glass cups provided in the room. Whether at a straight up gross hotel or the Ritz, bring a bottle of water instead and forgo the cups completely.

2.) Don’t use the covers

If there’s no other tip you take from this, remember: Pull back the blanket from your bed.

I know it’s tempting to snuggle under blankets, especially in the colder climates, but those top blankets are G-R-O-S-S! Bedbugs, and who knows what other kinds of disgusting germs lie amongst the fibers, just waiting for you to come along and pick them up.

Relieve me. 2/365 2.25.10 - Middlesboro KY photographer

3.) Pack a sleep sheet

Once the cover is out of the way, the next logical question is whether to sleep on or under the sheets.

That’s your call, and you’ll be relieved to know that sheets are probably one of the cleanest items in any hotel or hostel room. When I stayed at the aforementioned hotel from hell, there was no way I was going to touch those sheets more than laying on top of them.

To remedy this, a helpful backpacker tip is to always pack along a sleep sack. Basically two sheets sewn together with an attached cover to put the provided pillow within, you can climb into the sleep sack and have a comfortable (and protected!) night’s sleep with no fear of bedbugs.

You can buy these sleep sacks online, but they’re easy enough to make as well.

If you don’t have a sleep sack, just do what I did: wear long pants and long-sleeved shirt, socks and sleep on top of the sheets, covering the pillow with one of your packed shirts. That’ll do in a pinch!

4.) Showering S.O.S.

When showering in a gross room, chances are your shower will be gross, too. (Or at the very least it may feel gross to your already squeamish perception.) And there’s nothing like feeling dirty in the midst of a nice warm shower to put even the calmest traveler in a bad mood.

College rules apply in this situation: if you have flip flops, wear them.

flip flops

But what if you have one of those wispy shower curtains that sticks to you?

Well that is a conundrum! Try wetting both the bottom of the curtain as well as the outside of the tub to create a suction effect. Sure, you may end up with a little bit of water on the floor, but at least you will be safe from a touchy-feely curtain.

And you may be helping to clean the floor a little bit in the process!

5.) Final tip?

At the end of the day, the best tip of all is to just get out of the room.

Go out to a museum, find a great restaurant, meet new people… explore! If you focus on immersing yourself in the local culture, by the end of a packed day you’re sure to be so ready to crash that you just might not care where you do it!

Did I miss anything? Any helpful tips you’ve picked up along your travels? I’d love to hear!


About Author

Christina, a TV Production extraordinaire by day and a travel blogger by night, is always planning her next adventure. She's traveled solo throughout Europe, the US, Patagonia and most recently spent a month backpacking throughout Australia and New Zealand. Her greatest solo travel achievement to date is finding a bus to take her from Punta Arenas, Chile (down at the end of the world) to Ushuaia, Argentina based purely on the strength of her hand signals. Get to know her more at her website www.packedsuitcase.com and follow her on Twitter @PackdSuitcase


  1. I’ve had the pleasure of staying in a couple rooms like that. It’s actually a perfect motivation to get out and not lock yourself up with the TV.

    I bottle of that hand sanitizer would probably be a good idea.

  2. Really good tips, Christina. At the über hotel in London, did you ask for a different room? Although characterless, those places will usually try to do something about the problem, especially filth issues. I had a similar-sounding room down a long, dark hallway in a big hotel in London once and was moved to a different room and floor that was much more acceptable.

    • Thanks, Cathy!

      We did call the front desk and request another room, but in this particular situation the management was less than helpful or apologetic. Although, I will admit that we were extremely strapped for time so we didn’t push back too much.

      However, they did send someone up to fix the toilet seat… he proceeded to come into our room of 3 women without knocking our apologizing! But, our toilet seat was fixed 🙂

  3. Eew I hate places like this and avoid them at all costs. Sometimes it can be unavoidable, but ewww. Good tips for survival. Just make sure you check out in the morning!

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  4. The flip flops are a must! I always use them. The hardest thing to do is not to use the cover. I like snuggling, but once you think about it, it’s not such a warm and fuzzy feeling anymore.

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  5. Oh my god….I hope that’s a borrowed photo in slot #1 up there. Yikes! And I’ve been there, done that, too. It’s no fun. And I agree–the sleep sack is key. I also use a hypoallergenic pillow case so I never have to touch a pillow directly.

    If the shower is really bad, I take a ‘sponge bath’ and just use a washcloth. There was a place in Eastern Turkey that was simply awful where I didn’t even do that.

    Anyway, good tips here!

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  7. great tips! ever since i ended up awoken in the middle of the night by a cockroach crawling into my mouth (oh yes it did!) i never say yes or pay without seeing the room i’ll be staying in…and i really check things out- pull back the sheets if i’m at all uncertain, check the bathroom, toilet, the works. BUT i’ve definitely also arrived to foreign cities late at night without knowing where i’ll be staying and some times you gotta take what you can get…in which case proceed with all the steps you mention! 🙂

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