Travel ecstasy

Budget hotels from Berlin to Bali: Stay in Madras for $4, Tokyo for $37, or New York for $99. Excerpt from the book 'Cheap Hotels' by Daisann McLane

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Introduction

No hotel room has yet changed my life, but many of them have made me, unexpectedly and inexplicably, happy. I am not talking about the fantastic, painstakingly designed and realized chambers that decorate the pages of high-end travel magazines. Since I took an assignment, four years ago, to write a newspaper column about traveling on a budget, I have stayed overnight in more than 200 different rooms. However not a single one has had a private fountain, 24-hour butler service, or authentic Khmer stone goddesses embedded in the bathroom tile.

And yet, in spaces so tiny I can reach out while sleeping and touch both walls, in beds draped with pilled polyester covers, I have experienced great comfort, and profound peace.

While I believe it is possible to buy your way to hotel room bliss-at $1,000 a night, plus, a hotel had better deliver ultimate satisfaction -I've found that once you drop below what travel agents call the "super-luxury" category, there's often no correlation between a hotel room's price and the pleasure it delivers. Part of this has to do with the unevenness of currency values in the global economy. I paid $102 for a night at the Motel 6 in downtown Chicago, Illinois, and 500 bhat (about $12.50) for a night at the Peachy Guest House in downtown Bangkok. Both rooms were the same size and offered, more or less, the same amenities.

But in the Motel 6 depression blanketed me every time I entered my room and hit a cloud of American chain-hotel odor, an assault of industrial carpet polycarbons and synthetic floral disinfectant.

Why must every cheap hotel in America smell like a new car?

What did Chicago actually smell like? Mysteries to me, forever. The Peachy Guest House room, on the other hand, had a window with a curious iron Oriental Miami Beach motif separating the bedroom from the bathroom, a source of endless fascination. If I poked around Bangkok long enough would I suddenly stumble upon an entire neighborhood of Thai Art-Deco? In the bathroom, every night at midnight, a tiny pale-yellow chameleon with three legs emerged from behind the toilet. By morning he was always gone. I still think about him.

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