Since you guys seemed to love hearing about my Florida camper van travel disaster so much, I thought, what the heck — let’s make this a series! Because heaven knows that ten years after I left on my first big solo travel adventure, I still manage to find myself entangled in a couple complete travel meltdowns per year. And I’ve found that one of the greatest gifts blogging has brought me is the simple catharsis of writing through something that was stressful, scary, upsetting or otherwise a just plain disaster.
Looking back at the last near-decade of travel, I feel grateful that my accommodation fails have been pretty few and far between. I’ve stayed in some cheap guesthouses that could have doubled as the set for the latest sequel of Hostel, gritted my teeth through some unpleasant and rocky night boats, and slept on so many friends’ floors I could put “part-time carpet” on my resumé. But our cute, colorful bed and breakfast in Brighton, England? It was, without question, the single worst accommodation experience I’ve ever had.
When Ian and I planned our two week trip the UK, Brighton was to be our big splurge. We pored over hotel and guesthouse options and finally settled on splashing out on Motel Schmotel’s most expensive suite. We spent $460 on a three night stay, which is at the top end of what we like to pay for where we put our heads at night, but we reasoned that we were otherwise staying with friends or using my Airbnb credit, and we could comfortably afford it. We are normally fairly thrifty and so we were giddy with excitement on treating ourselves to something special just for us. And while we fell deeply in love with Brighton, things pretty much couldn’t have gone worse at Motel Schmotel.
Let’s start with the good: the location was fairly convenient and we walked everywhere, the included breakfast was lovely, our room was colorful and quirky, and we loved our balcony overlooking a small square.
And then onto the not-so-great: the room was small, the wifi was very poor, the toilet was wonky and hissed loudly every time we flushed it, and the beautiful patio was lacking any furniture to enjoy it with.
Finally, the I-still-can’t-believe-this-happened: The manager.
From the moment we walked in the door of Motel Schmotel, bright-eyed and all smiles despite our overnight travel from Canada, the frazzled and visibly disgruntled manager seemed to take an immediate disliking to Ian and I. Not to toot my own horn or anything over here, but I generally think of myself as a pretty likeable person — at least upon first impressions, lolz — and so it was very disorienting to experience so much hostility from someone at first glance. Especially someone I was a paying customer to.
Anyway, she didn’t welcome us to the hotel, didn’t ask how our trip was, and didn’t so much as return our smiles as we walked in the door. We arrived at 11:00AM to her practically barking at us about how busy she was and insisting we return to get our room key at noon — but our room wouldn’t be ready until 2PM. We were flustered but we politely insisted that we weren’t sure how our day would go and didn’t want to commit to adhering to an arbitrary deadline when finally, she admitted had a spare key and gave it to us, freeing us to spend the next three hours as we pleased. At one point, she pretty brazenly accused Ian of giving her “a look” while she was “trying to help” us. When she finally produced the key, Ian extended his hand to take it from her, but she brushed him off and walked over to give it to me instead, explaining that she “distrusts men.” Now, normally I can get down with some wink-wink girl banter, but considering everything that followed, it was a bit much.
We walked away bewildered but trying to convince ourselves that she was just quirky and British and we were misreading the bizarre, dismissive welcome to our lovingly chosen accommodation. Little did we know that in the end, this would rank as one of our more positive interactions.
Motel Schmotel advertised breakfast and bed and with our mild jetlag and extreme exhaustion after weeks of non-stop travel we were looking forward to taking advantage of it and starting our days with lazy mornings in bed. Our first morning, we were in bed reading when we heard the breakfast delivery knock on the door — thirty minutes late, which we really didn’t mind as we were in vacation mode. Ian jumped up right away, but paused to throw a robe over his boxers. My jaw dropped when I heard Ian open the door and the same miserable manager shriek “I don’t appreciate you making me wait all day!” followed by, “now all the other breakfasts will be late!” She couldn’t have been waiting more than ninety seconds, maximum, but regardless — berating your customers for not opening the door quickly enough kinda seems like it would be covered pretty early on in hospitality management school.
if only they were delivered with a smile
After that we were so horrified we did everything possible to limit our interactions, as we really just wanted to remain positive and enjoy our time in a city we’d dreamed about visiting for so long. And really, I’m just hitting the highlights in this post – there were too many rude comments and shocking snubs in three short nights to even begin to catalogue fully.
The next morning we were again reading in bed — with robes on fifteen minutes before our scheduled delivery time, lest we be reprimanded again — though it was hard to unwind while listening to the manager berate her two cleaning and cooking staff members through the thin walls to the point that we were cringing. While we never interacted with the young woman on staff, the older man was absolutely lovely and it turned our stomachs to hear him spoken to so harshly and disrespectfully.
On our final morning, things escalated significantly. We weren’t getting on a train to London until 5:00pm, and so we requested to store our bags until then, an advertised featured of the hotel. The manager sighed and made out as though she was going above and beyond to do us a personal favor before barking shrill orders at her staff to take the bags and to “HURRY, HURRY, HURRY.” At this point, I’d kind of accepted that high-pitched, all caps was her vocal deliver method of choice.
Unfortunately, I still had some blogging work to do post check-out. When I asked to use the wifi for about an hour, the manager suggested I sit outside – on the curb! So I mean I know this wasn’t the Four Seasons but even the budget hostels I’ve frequented around the world tend to extend the courtesy of allowing you to sit on their cushioned surfaces, breathe their free air and use their wifi for a few hours after you check out.
I politely insisted on using the clean and empty breakfast room, which the manager seemed extremely irritated by. By the time I was finishing up we could hear her screaming at the staff asking if “that girl” was still downstairs, and as I was packing away my things she came down and huffed, “Are you finished here?” I confirmed that I was — again, I was visibly packing up — yet she continued on, “You really need to leave. This is a business you know.”
Funny you mention that lady, cause we are in fact your customers. While I’m not sure why she needed us to vacate the already cleaned room, I know what language I would have used if I needed guests to head elsewhere. How about, “I am so sorry to rush you out, but we really do need this room at the moment. Could I possibly suggest some cafes nearby with wifi?”
the infamous breakfast room
When we returned later that day to grab our bags out of the breakfast room before heading to our train, I was desperate for a toilet. We’d had a long walk back to the hotel and I couldn’t find a public restroom anywhere. The hotel was empty when we walked in and I was thrilled when I saw the words “toilet” on a door next to the breakfast room. Little did I know it would be perhaps the most traumatic pee of my life. While I was inside, I heard the manager, who had just come downstairs, full-volume screaming at Ian. When I came out she turned it on me, shouting that it was the private toilet of one of the rooms on that floor. Honestly, she was right – the sign DID say “10 toilet,” upon closer inspection.
But I think most women will be sympathetic to the fact that when you’ve been running around a city looking for somewhere to pee, you pretty much just see the word “toilet” and run in. It was an honest mistake, and the proprietor of this hotel reduced me to tears for making it, berating me and accusing me of disrespecting her and the hotel. At one point while she was going crazy, Ian calmly asked her what bathroom I should have used instead. Her answer? Maybe a pub nearby. It wasn’t her problem.
This is so crazy to write that if it didn’t happen, I almost wouldn’t believe it, but she actually then threatened to call the police on us and more or less chased us out of the hotel screaming, “GET OUT! GET OUT!”
I cried most of the way to London.
The manager had no idea that I was a blogger and essentially travel professionally for a living. But what she did know was that we were a polite, professional young couple who paid our hard-earned money for the most expensive room in her hotel. Yet we were made to feel like we were squatters. At best we were treated like an inconvenience; at worst, criminals. I felt distraught for days thinking of our experience here, trying to figure out what it was about us that incited such awful treatment from a business we had paid good money to.
I can’t be sure if it was our youthful age (though dude, we’re nearly thirty), our nationalities (Americans aren’t always the most popular travelers abroad, I guess?), or perhaps Ian’s appearance (his many tattoos and facial hair are hardly out of place in Brighton, but I guess I’m just grasping at straws here). Reading positive reviews online only made it worse as it made us realize that for some reason — a superficial one, I might add, since it began from the moment we walked in — we were not worthy of the same positive treatment other guests received. I wish we had dug deeper while booking this trip and realized that management changed hands recently, or that several online reviews complained of poor treatment towards younger guests, or the management berating the staff.
I immediately filed a complaint with Booking.com, which we used to book our stay — I called them in tears from the train to London — and they were extremely sympathetic and kind. They asked us what we wanted for a resolution. We asked simply for an apology. Despite several follow ups from the booking site, one was never received.
We continued to push the issue with Booking.com and they eventually offered us a $75 refund for our inconvenience. Thanks, I guess? I’m honestly not sure what the procedure when something like this happens is, because I’ve never had something even remotely similar to this happen to me before, but that really didn’t seem like fair compensation for the horrible treatment we endured.
To be honest, I actually hesitated to write about this for a long time because while I am fully confident that we were nothing but polite customers trying to make the best of a terrible situation and we never once stooped to our this woman’s level, it’s almost embarrassing to think how badly we were treated. While we told some our friends about it throughout the rest of our trip and they comforted us and tried their best to make us laugh, it’s still not really one of those things that’s eventually morphed into a funny story we crack up over. I’m still hurt and I’m still confused over what about us incited such truly toxic treatment from a woman we heard being perfectly lovely to other guests.
I actually remained so disturbed that I filed an official complaint with the local tourism board. I think I’m generally pretty happy-go-lucky with accommodation and can essentially count on my hands the number of times I’ve so much as left a negative review for an establishment before this, so that was a pretty huge deal for me.
I’m sad to say I don’t have a really positive note to end this post on. We weren’t vindicated by a huge refund from our booking agent, or buoyed by some incredible act of kindness from strangers, or some other happy ending. But try as I might to see the positive whenever life tests me, sometimes there are just bad days, bitter people, and bummer stories you find yourself a little embarrassed to tell, for some reason.
Brighton is such a gorgeous, vibrant city. I wish our time there hadn’t been marred by one bad booking decision.
Have you ever had a disaster accommodation story?
Confess in the comments — it will make me feel better…
Confused on where we are? I’m catching up on the black hole of content from August of 2016 to April of 2017 — when I jumped forward to blog the summer of 2017 as it was happening. Right now, we’re in September of 2016 in the UK, and I can’t wait to turn my detailed notes and journals into blog posts from Hawaii, Jamaica, Thailand and Bali next! My apologies for any confusion with the timeline, and thanks for sticking with me.