The questions I get asked the most when people find out that I live in a hotel, are:
How do you do it?
And, What’s it like?.
A lot of people have a misconception that a hotel is a single room with barely any space to move around in, and while that is true for a lot of hotels, if you do your research you can find a range of hotels with all or any of the following:
- En suite kitchen (full or just a kitchenette)
- En suite dishwasher (full or a portable one)
- En suite laundry (washer & dryer)
- Multiple bedrooms (if you have a family)
- Parking (underground, outside, covered or sometimes none at all)
- Permanent hotel room telephone number with voicemail
- Cable TV (full premium channels)
- Wireless/Wired Internet (High-speed)
These hotels are usually called “apartment-style” hotels, and while they still charge you per night, it is usually a discounted rate based on a minimum of a month’s stay (30 days).
What It’s Like Living in a Hotel
Living in a hotel is very much like living in an apartment to me. Actually, better, considering what I’ve been used to. If I were to take a lease for an apartment, I’d look for a bare bones studio or a 1-bedroom apartment, without a lot of the luxurious amenities above such as the en-suite dishwasher, dryer, and washer.
So this place I’m in right now? Uber luxurious by my standards!! Basic things people think might be a problem like having to do laundry is really quite simple. If you asked any hotel front desk, they will probably have a small room in the basement where they have a washer and dryer for $1.50 – $2.00 per load. Most people don’t bother with this service because they’re only there for the week or the weekend, but long-term hotel-dwellers like myself know to ask where the laundry is located on the first day we check in.
Worse comes to worst, and there is nothing available, I just go to a laundromat once a week, or start washing clothes by hand in the sink if I’m too lazy to venture out.
Why Do I Do It?
I’m a freelancing consultant, and the general rule is that most consultants travel. Freelancers get the projects with traveling that most people don’t want.
I actually didn’t have a choice in the beginning, I was working for a company as a consultant and they sent me pretty much everywhere. All over the U.S. and Canada, and I had no say in where I wanted to go or not. Of course, if here was a real family emergency or something, they’d try to help you out, but if you just don’t like to travel, then you probably shouldn’t be a consultant.
After I quit and became a freelancer, I found a lot more freedom in being able to take contracts wherever I want if there happened to be a bevy of choices. Alaska? No thank you. Middle-of-Nowhere, USA? I’ll pass. (But I should note that if you pay me enough, I’ll work pretty much anywhere they allow women).
My projects are usually 6 months or less, and on the very rare occasion would I ever be continuously in one city for a year or more, on the same project. As a result, I can’t stay in one city for even a year. Most apartments in Canada (where I’m based out of), don’t allow apartment leases for less than a year, which means I can’t just go to any apartment, I need to look for a hotel or an apartment that caters to short-term residents such as myself, and it is slim pickings here.
This is where hotel living comes in. I travel to each city, I find a hotel that suits my living (all I want is a kitchen) and my budget (!!) as much as possible, and I settle in for 3-6 months. After I’m done my project, I pack up, and I usually head back to my ‘home city’, where I stay in a hotel again, or if I’m lucky to have family there, I stay with them if they have space and I pay for rent, food and help them out with cooking, cleaning, etc.
It’s really out of necessity in needing a short-term “lease” if you will. I could certainly sign up for a year in one city, but what if my project ends early, or is only for 3 months? I’m stuck in that city for a year, while having to travel to another city and sign another apartment lease? It’s too expensive of an option versus just staying in a hotel.
The Perks of Hotel Living
1) The biggest perk for me is being able to leave any damn time I want! I know this sounds like such a weird thing to be happy about, but I like knowing that I can leave the next day, check out and not have to sign any papers, and pay for the end of the year-long lease or something. It is the best thing for consultants who travel from city-to-city like I do.
2) I can choose whatever hotel I want. I know ahead of time where the project is located, so I pick the best hotel that is nearby to that client. I can also check for amenities, points from their rewards program and what is nearby to the hotel — if it’s downtown, near to a grocery store and so on.
The view is also a perk. Once I had a room overlooking a mountain. That was nice, especially in the mornings when you step out on the balcony to watch the sunrise while having a cup of tea.
3) …which means I can determine my own commuting time. Generally speaking, my average commute is 15 minutes there and 15 minutes back, per day because I can choose the location of my hotel. I also try to find hotels close enough so I can walk to them (I loathe driving my car unless I have to). In contrast, when I worked for a corporation and I had to work in my home city, sometimes my commute was 4 hours a day, there and back. It’s horrendous to be stuck in traffic and it really sucks the life out of you, which makes you exhausted for the night and the weekends. Your commuting time affects your life in more ways than you think.
4) There’s a room cleaning service. Everyone always hones in on this one. “A MAID! You are so lucky you have a MAID!” Well she’s not my personal handmaiden or butler or anything, but I guess it’s nice to have someone.
- I don’t really utilize this service because I don’t make much of a mess and
- I’m not a freak about cleanliness.
- I don’t need my bed made every day.
- I use the same towel for 2 weeks before switching out.
- I take out my own trash.
- I do my own dishes (they normally don’t do dishes by the way)
- I tidy up after myself as much as I can.
- I also don’t like having a maid come in when she doesn’t need to, so I let her in maybe once a month to do some vacuuming and light cleaning. Other than that, I don’t like strangers in my room when I am not there, even if I know they can be trusted.
5) …ditto for the room service. People always have this dreamy look in their eyes when you say: room service. To be honest, in the past 4 years I have used room service TWICE. Those times were only because I arrived super late and was super hungry. Why? Well have you seen those prices? Damn. $15 for some eggs and bacon on toast? For that money I could feed 5 people for $15, so I’ll fry my own up, thank you very much. This is why I need a kitchen or at least a kitchenette.
I would even be happier with a microwave and bar fridge than with room service. (Funny story, I actually have a portable microwave that is light and easily plugged into hotel rooms in case I need it). You don’t think about it, but if your burrito from last night is cold and you need to heat it up, you can’t do it easily in your room without bothering hotel staff for a microwave, or you have to drive to work to use the kitchen there.
6) Free newspapers, coffee/tea and/or breakfast. Okay this is a stupid perk but a lot of hotels have a free breakfast included in the rate, and you can even pick up a newspaper for free. I paid for that newspaper in my rate you know!
7) Having your own kitchen and en suite amenities. This is a hit and miss. I hit it on the head with my current hotel (I have everything included), but sometimes you might run across a room not having enough equipment to cook with (a baking sheet always seems to be missing from hotel rooms!), or not having enough plates, or cups — these are all minor problems but real ones. Nevertheless, you have pretty much everything you need: cutlery, knives, cutting board, kitchen towels (swapped weekly), plates, cups, bowls, pots, pans, colander (strainer), kettle, toaster, microwave and so on.
8) Having a person at the Front Desk 24/7. This is awesome because if you have a problem of any kind, or if you are having a package delivered — there is someone there. Called for take-out? There’s someone there to answer the delivery guy and direct him to your room.
9) Having your pet there with you. Yes, some hotels may not allow pets, but a lot do, at least.. all the ones I’ve come across! I’ve never heard of a hotel that didn’t allow pets, in fact because I’m allergic to animals, I’m always hoping for a pet-free hotel, but no luck yet. They might just charge you an extra pet-owner fee to have to steam clean the room before you leave.
The Downsides of Hotel Living
1) Not having a permanent address. I consider each hotel room I stay in to be a semi-permanent address. For example, I don’t have packages sent to me unless I know I am in the hotel for at least a month and a half, and I won’t miss the delivery.
Not having a permanent address poses a lot of problems people take for granted such as for packages and parcels, but also for having to switch your identification or having to keep a horribly detailed list of who you have to notify every time you “move”. I do everything I can online but I also have to keep a P.O. Box as my “permanent” address, and I have all my mail delivered there, then forwarded to whatever hotel I’m living in at the moment. This works out for the most part, but timing is of the essence.
2) Not being close to friends and family. If I am lucky and I score a project in a city where a lot of my family and friends reside, I’m thrilled to bits. But more often than not, I tend to end up in cities where I literally know no one. It’s been a bit easier since I’ve been a blogger because I can meet up with other bloggers or readers, but generally speaking, it’s a lonely existence. If you are one of those people who can’t take on a ‘lone wolf’ mentality, this is probably not the best idea for you.
I should mention that if BF is on a contract in a hotel, I live with him there (depending on my situation). If I am on contract in a hotel, he lives with me. We’re always together as much as possible, with the ideal situation being that we are both working on projects in the same city as each other.
3) Forgetting stuff in hotel rooms. Have I ever forgotten things? HELL YES AND IT SUCKS. I think I just lost a pair of my favourite gloves, and I’m heartbroken over it. That, and they cost $50, which hurts me right in the wallet if I have to shell out for another pair. Being organized is key to being in these semi-permanent rooms, but sometimes you just forget something and it’s lost forever.
As a side note, if you ever lose a charger, just go down to the Front Desk and ask if they have a charger for your phone or whatever. They usually have a huge plastic box of left-behind chargers by hotel guests and I’m sure you’ll be able to find one to borrow and use for the interim.
4) Not having your things around you to use. For many people, this includes sleeping in your own bed, having your own bathroom, TV, closet, and so on. I sleep on a futon on the floor, and I actually bring it with me when I travel, so I always have my own bed and sheets! As for how to deal with other sentimental items such as photographs and so on, you can read my answer here: “FAQ: How to handle sentimentality in hotel rooms“
5) Not having much choice in hotel rooms. I have stayed from Motel 6 standard hotels to the Marriott Residence Inn hotels (fabulous brand by the way). I am not really that picky on a hotel room, but if I am there continuously for more than a month, I NEED a kitchen.
I know it’s really fun and sexy for people to be allowed, even encouraged to eat out everyday at restaurants, but it gets old, FAST. It’s also really unhealthy considering the amount of salt, sugar and fat they put in those restaurant dishes. It’s really not that awesome after a while. Sometimes you just want some plain Brie or Camembert spread on some French bread. This leaves me a lot less options in hotel rooms if I need a kitchen, and if I’m in a small city — forget it! Sometimes you’re stuck in a room with water pipes that knock, and there’s not much you can do about it.
6) Not having enough space. Some hotel apartments are tiny. Tinier than a regular studio, think of half the size around 450 square feet! But I’m a minimalist so I don’t see the lack of space as a problem, but I can understand how people would feel lost without everything they own and struggling with trying to decide what to bring and what to leave at home. If you want, you can read here for what I purged this time around, and what’s in my suitcase wardrobe-wise.
7) The Cost. Read below.
The Costs of Hotel Living
So as you may have deduced by now, living in a hotel, especially one with a kitchen, is not the bees knees in terms of cost. That being said, you have to consider that if you aren’t paying for it, you don’t care. A lot of projects say that expenses are included! That means you get a amount per day for food, called a per diem and you get your drycleaning, laundry and hotel room costs reimbursed. Sweet.
If you are paying for it in an all-inclusive rate, you have to consider that you can file it under your company as a traveling expense to take it out of your profit margin. This saves you a chunk in income taxes at the end of the year. Usually Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights are days you will have to pay for out of your own personal pocket, because most people travel in early Monday and leave late Friday. Therefore, business costs are only Monday to Thursday nights (inclusive), and are the only nights you can claim.
You also have to figure out how much is your “personal living” and your “business traveling cost”. Think of it this way: if you were traveling for business, wouldn’t you have an apartment of your own somewhere in another city that you’re paying for? If so, then the other option is to take a hotel continuously for a month so you don’t have to check out and check back in each week.
So if you pay $2000/month for a hotel room (yes, that’s a cheap rate here!), the general rule of thumb is: 75% business, 25% personal. 75% business of $2000 = $1500, and 25% personal = $500.
Seeing the numbers like that, you can see how it isn’t so unreasonable to see that you’d normally pay $500 for an apartment in another city, and traveling during the week would cost you to the tune of $1500/month. It isn’t that far off from your regular estimates.
I like to compare this to getting an apartment for 12 months. For this particular city I am in, $1200/month x 12 months is $14,400/year! If I am only in a city for 3 months, 3 x $2000 = $6000. This is a lot better than having to pay for a whole year of an apartment I may not use, to the tune of almost double. Naturally, if you have to be there for 6 months or more, it is definitely more expensive, but that’s the price I pay for mobility, seeing as my projects have an element of risk to them, as they can be cancelled at any time. It really isn’t that bad, unless you start getting up into the $4000 – $5000/month range, which means $1000 – $1250/month is personally coming out of your pocket.
You can also split it with your other half. Naturally, if you have your other half with you, you can split the personal cost of the rent 50/50 (which is what we do), and the pain of paying for a hotel is not as bad, even if most of it is coming out of your bank accounts (business or personal).
Lastly, there are negatives like paying for parking at the hotel if you drove to that city. It can get pretty expensive in an urban city, especially if you’re downtown.
The bottom line is don’t travel and pay for a hotel unless you can afford to do so with the amount of money you are earning to make up for it. Living in a hotel is no different than living in an apartment; it’s just a different type of lease that makes sense if you don’t know where your next project will be, for how long and if you don’t have the time to search for an apartment beforehand.
Fabulously Broke is a 20-something year old who is currently a full-time hotel dweller, working as a freelancer in a big city. Since 2006, she’s been traveling on and off for the past 4 years, living out of a mix of hotels and apartments for periods of time. In 2010 alone, she has moved 19 times in between cities. She can be found at Fabulously Broke in the City, a lifestyle blog that has a bit of money talk, and at The Everyday Minimalist, a blog all about real-life, doable minimalist living for the modern urban dweller.