During my solo traveling days I typically preferred the more unique, quirky, and unusual lodgings over the traditional and standard fare. And to be honest, what oftentimes dictated where I slept was my wallet rather than a desire for luxurious amenities such as high thread count sheets, plush robes, lovely scented toiletries, and a mini-bar. Don’t get me wrong, I’d never turn those down if offered, but just give me a thematically rad place with Wi-Fi access and we’re golden.
For the duration of my vacation, I would opt for budget-friendly hotels, motels, inns, and hostels. I never did get into couchsurfing and I hadn’t quite caught onto the Airbnb craze. However, my usual routine was to do the low-cost option the majority of my trip and then spend the last day or two of my vacation on more comfortable and/or fancier digs in preparation for my return flight home. For example, on my last evening in Costa Rica I wanted to make sure I found a place that guaranteed a good night’s rest and the ability to pack my belongings unencumbered. So I definitely wasn’t going to stay at another 16-person coed dormitory at some rowdy hostel. Instead, I went online to booking.com, one of my go-to reservation sites since 2008 and found a nice and quaint property that included a free breakfast and offered an airport shuttle.
But again for me, the more peculiar the better. So here’s my list of unique, quirky, and unusual lodgings that I’ve stayed in pre-motherhood throughout my years of traveling solo. They range from kitschy chic to the downright scary, but also happen to be very budget friendly. What kinds of accommodations do you prefer for your travels? What’s the most unique lodging you’ve encountered? Please share in the comments below.
Hotel The Exchange – Amsterdam
Located in the heart of Amsterdam, Hotel The Exchange is a boutique hotel that offers 61 uniquely decorated rooms by fashion design students from the Amsterdam Fashion Institute (AMFI). With five categories (one to five stars – budget dependent) of rooms to choose from, you’ll “sleep in fashion and wake up in style.” The room level I chose was a two-star, which meant that I’d be allocated an economy double room. Except for its size, the wall-to-ceiling fabrics and hanging Turkish lanterns gave a lavish vibe to it, but while the hotel was attempting to achieve a desert caravan feel, my interpretation leans more toward pink taffeta prom dress meets harem chic.
The room itself was small, but the bed was perfect for a solo traveler. The space was immaculately clean and the private bathroom was minimalistic, but functional – I think the only thing that actually felt Dutch to me. Overall, my stay at Hotel The Exchange definitely met my expectation for the off-the-wall (literally). Would I stay there again? You bet, but with Ry in tow, you’ll be sure that I’d upgrade.
Ocean Island Inn Backpackers Suites & Hostel – Victoria, BC
During my visit to Seattle, Washington in 2006, I thought I might as well take advantage of its proximity to Canada, so I set aside a two-night stay in British Columbia’s charming capital city of Victoria. Researching hostel options for my excursion, I stumbled upon Ocean Island Inn. What immediately caught my attention was its closet-sized rooms dubbed “minis”. They were so small that a double size mattress occupied the entire width of the room. As soon as you walked through the door you were essentially stepping foot on your bed. I never stayed in anything like it before, so of course I reserved it, if not for the sheer novelty. But from a practical perspective, I did get a private room for cheap.
I stayed at Ocean Island Inn a decade ago, so it’s no surprise that they’ve done some renovations since, including updating their mini double rooms. Removal of the sink, countertop, and cabinets to accommodate a steal bed frame for the mattress, a fresh new coat of paint, and the vibrant colors of the bedding make it a much more inviting and hip space than it ever was. I think Ocean Island Inn Backpackers Suites & Hostel in Victoria, British Columbia is a sensible option for the budget-conscious.
Hotel la Cuesta (previously Pension De La Cuesta) – San Jose
While backpacking Costa Rica in 2008, I stayed in several different types of lodgings as I crisscrossed the country – an economy room in the capital city of San Jose, an ostentatious Italian-style resort in Alajuela, a 16-person coed dormitory at a hostel in Manuel Antonio followed by a private room at the same hostel the next evening, and then a quaint boutique hotel back in San Jose for my last night of living la pura vida. Of these, the one that stuck out the most in my mind was the private economy room with a creepy bathroom. I hate to say anything bad about the place because the staff were nice and helpful, and they did have internet access, as well as free daily breakfast. However, their facilities left much to be desired. At least, back then they did.
Common in Costa Rica and in other parts of Latin America, “suicide showers” are called that because of the possibility of being electrocuted to death while bathing since the heating unit is built right into the shower head. But what actually freaked me out more than possibly getting shocked was someone peering through the DIY ventilation system, i.e., square cut-out above the bathroom door. I seriously think I took the fastest shower of my life at that hostel – two minutes tops. Not even long enough for the water to actually heat up. Since I did stay at Pension de la Cuesta ages ago, it’s Facebook page reveals that renovations have been made. I’d like to think that the newly improved version of the hotel has become a more appealing (if not a less scary) option for the budget traveler looking to stay in the capital of Costa Rica.
Hotel la Cuesta (previously Pension De La Cuesta)
Address: San Jose, Avenida 1, Calle 11 y 15, Costa Rica
Telephone: (+506) 2256-7946
Fax: (+506) 2255-2896
Florentina Boat Hotel – Prague
Aside from a cruise ship, I had never lodged on a boat before. So when I discovered that boat hotels (botels) were a thing in Prague, I just had to book a cabin. I made my reservations for the Florentina Boat Hotel, an economical botel perfectly situated on the Vltava River in the heart of Prague. While the cabin I was assigned to faced a stone wall with graffiti on it, the opposite side overlooked the river and provided fantastic views of the city, including Prague Castle.
My cabin itself was quite small and the shower cubicle was equally cramped, but on the up side, the water pressure was fine and I had ample hot water for my showers. There was also a TV in my room, but I preferred to hang out in the sitting area on the upper deck and watch from their. But my favorite part of my stay on the MS Florentina was the free daily breakfast buffet. There was a good variety of food items to choose from and it was quite lovely watching swans floating on the misty Vltava River in the mornings.
Since my experience there in 2012, the botel’s been refurbished twice. Now it has 20 executive rooms and 29 superior rooms. Other perks include non-smoking rooms, free Wi-Fi in all the public areas, and a 24 hour reception desk. But perhaps its most attractive aspect (besides the breakfast buffet) is the location of its mooring on the river. It easily accesses all the major tourist attractions in the city. In the brief four days I was there I saw so much on foot that I never even had to take public transportation. And with all the upgrades made, I’d say the Florentina Boat Hotel in Prague is a fabulous option for travelers.
Khoasan Ninja – Tokyo (Closed)
I was bummed to discover that Khoasan Ninja Tokyo hostel permanently closed in August 2015, but I’m keeping it on my list because it’s certainly one of the coolest and most unique hostels I’ve ever stayed in. But there are also other properties available to choose from within the Khoasan family of guesthouses and hostels in Japan.
One of my Japan must-do’s had always been to sleep in a capsule hotel (bed box or sleeping pod), but as a foreign female I had difficulty securing reservations for one while still in the States. So instead, I booked at Khaosan Ninja Tokyo Hostel, which provided faux capsules. In this case, wooden boxes measuring approximately 7’x3’x4′ in which to sleep in. While it may seem claustrophobic, strange, and even morbid, it was actually a very comfortable experience. After hours and hours of non-stop activities I was so exhausted that it was such a relief to get back to my hostel and cocoon myself in my “capsule”. Despite having 15 college-aged backpackers bunking with me, it was so peaceful and quiet inside my wooden box, but I think using ear plugs helped too. Contained in the box was a comfortable mattress, a pillow, a blanket, and one bed sheet. There was also a little shelf on the corner to rest small items on.
IchiEnSou Guesthouse – Kyoto
During my trip to Japan, my first stop was Kyoto followed by Tokyo. While in Kyoto, I stayed at the IchiEnSou Guesthouse, a 100 year old property that by Japanese standards is common and traditional, but I’ve included it on my list because Western standards would consider them unique.
IchiEnSou sits in the heart of the Gion District, one of the two most prestigious and traditional geisha districts in Japan. Pontochō is the other and also within walking distance of the guesthouse. You’re literally just steps away from the slowly disappearing breed of lovely geisha’s scurrying through the streets and alleyways of Gion as they make their way to and from their tea houses in the district. And just to be clear, geisha’s are skilled artisans and entertainers, not prostitutes.
Female guests at IchiEnSou slept traditional Japanese style on tatami mat floors while the males slept on the more comfortable bunk beds. With nothing more than a tiny dangling screen to separate you from your snoozing peers, it was a little too close for comfort. Sound asleep and accidentally roll over a few inches and you’re practically having a cuddlefest with your unsuspecting neighbor. Aside from that the place was immaculately clean and charming. And if you wanted to get your soiled sneakers washed, the guesthouse also had a coin sneaker laundry machine at your disposal. The owner, conversant in English was also nice and helpful. The IchiEnSou Guesthouse in Kyoto is a great option for travelers wanting to get a taste of authentic Japanese living for a reasonable price.
So there we have it, my list of budget-friendly, unusual lodgings that I stayed in as a solo female traveler before this current motherhood gig of mine. Stay tuned for part two of the Unique Stays series where I’ll be sharing the accommodations I experienced during my independent backpacking adventure around my birth country of Egypt. Here’s a little teaser of the Albabenshal Heritage Lodge in Siwa Oasis. It’s not a Hollywood set you’d expect to find in the making of Star Wars, but a truly extraordinary accommodation.
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