You booked a crappy hotel. Now what?

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Traveling can be a lot like strip poker: no matter how brilliantly you've played and how many extra undergarments you layered on before the game, sometimes you end up as the sole naked person at the table.

The disappointment of arriving to a hotel room that does not meet your expectations feels much like finding oneself pants-free two hands into a game of strip poker (I’m told). The following are some common scenarios and potential solutions that I've experienced, researched or invented during idle daydreaming.

Instead of two single beds, there's one double – or worse, one single

These digs? Not ideal for the first night of a honeymoon. Image by Jose A. Bernat Bacete / Moment Open / Getty Images. These digs? Not ideal for the first night of a honeymoon. Image by Jose A. Bernat Bacete / Moment Open / Getty Images

For some reason, this happens frequently when I'm traveling with platonic friends - one time it happened with my mom. Switching rooms is clearly the solution, but what if the hotel is booked solid? In this era of instant public shaming on social media, reputable hotels look for quick solutions, which in this case could include hauling an extra bed into the room or – don't be afraid to ask – even booking you at a different hotel.

But what if all the other hotels in the area are also full? The last time this happened we reluctantly checked in, accosted a kindly member of the housekeeping staff and raided a room full of comforters and those plush, middle-weight blankets. We then folded and stacked them into a lasagna to make a respectable 'bed' on the floor. It was surprisingly comfortable.

The hotel was due for a renovation 25 years ago

Some hotels turns out to be a bit different from their description on a website. Image by Jared McMillen / Aurora / Getty Images. Some hotels turns out to be a bit different from their description on a website. Image by Jared McMillen / Aurora / Getty Images

Photos on the internet can be deceptive, can't they? What looks just fine on the hotel website can sometimes turn out to be a musty, mildewy, creaky, leaky, thin-walled 1980s hotel museum. (I'm looking at you, London.) Changing rooms does no good, because in places like this all the rooms are of this caliber. If you've already paid and can survive a night in that dump, cancel the remainder of the stay immediately (usually, you can get a full refund with 24 hours’ notice) and switch hotels the next day. Then it's just a matter of drinking enough that night so the worst of your room problems is keeping your take-home cider cold.

The bed is harder than a domestic airplane seat

In some parts of the world, like the Asia-Pacific region, hotels have sadistically firm beds that cater to the preferences of travelers in that region. (Aka, masochists.) If I didn't know better, I'd say my bed at an opulent five-star business hotel on Guam was inspired by the rock slab found in a 13th-century monk's cell. A quick in-room solution is employing the spare comforter in the closet as a mattress cover, folded over for doubled thickness. If that doesn't do the trick, again, acquire additional comforters from housekeeping to fortify the bed.

The hotel is fine, but the neighborhood is sketchy

Favelas might be atmospheric, but you wouldn't necessarily want to stay in one...check out the surrounding area before you book a hotel. Image by Michael Heffeman / The Image Bank / Getty Images. Favelas might be atmospheric, but you wouldn't necessarily want to stay in one...check out the surrounding area before you book a hotel. Image by Michael Heffeman / The Image Bank / Getty Images

This is can be a particular problem in bigger cities with mass tourism appeal (eg, San Francisco, Paris, Bangkok). Avoid staggering back to the room late and drunk, even if you're part of a group. If you must carouse till late, take a taxi home. Leave behind (or conceal) nice jewelry, accessories and mobile devices. For added in-room security, one of my favorite hacks is carrying and using a rubber doorstop to defeat unwanted visitors.

Angry-baby levels of extraneous noise permeating the room

A bar or discothèque across the street, a party on the floor, an HVAC unit mounted just outside the window, an insomniac neighbor watching Transformers with the volume cranked up to the max… Noise is frequently a factor at budget hotels. Again, changing rooms is your first move, but failing that, occasionally the 'if you can't beat 'em, join 'em' approach can be employed. (Excepting the insomniac neighbor.) If it's an automated or otherwise unavoidable noise, and one can stand sleeping while wearing headphones, any number of white noise apps/MP3s or noise-cancelling headphones can diminish or eliminate the commotion.

Run-for-your-life scenarios

Arriving to find a building site where your hotel should be is an unfortunate way to start a trip. Image by Kelvin Murray / Stone / Getty Images. Arriving to find a building site where your hotel should be is an unfortunate way to start a trip. Image by Kelvin Murray / Stone / Getty Images

Frightening building code violations, overt personal safety concerns, bed bugs, blood-stained linens and other nightmares are going to crop up. As much as it stings to lose the money, in these instances don't hesitate to march right back out the door. In all likelihood the room wasn't very expensive anyway, so listen to your instincts and retreat to someplace where you'll feel more comfortable.

The staff are jerks

Again, with the terrible power a single person with a Twitter stream or a TripAdvisor account can wield these days, hotel staff are usually on their best behavior, even when guests are unforgivably horrible. But on those occasions when the staff seem determined to harsh your mellow, here are a few retaliatory options you may consider.*

  • Stand in the automatic front door's sensor's range, so it never closes. Best done at the hottest or coldest time of year.
  • Discard unwanted items, such as chicken bones, in the elevator.
  • Sell your band's merch out the front.
  • Arrange the towels, toiletries, mini-bar items and what have you on the bed to spell out the word 'DISAPPOINTED'.
  • Use the room's furniture to build a pyramid, preferably booby-trapped to collapse in underwear-soiling fashion when the door is opened.
  • Have a sexy construction worker-themed singing telegram delivered to the manager at peak check-in time.

Finally, if the problems persist or resolution seems doubtful, just tell them you're me! This should result in swift and decisive action. Not necessarily to your benefit, but swift and decisive nonetheless.

* Leif Pettersen and Lonely Planet do not actually endorse these activities. You will get in moderate to enormous trouble if you try these. Don’t say we didn't warn you.

Leif Pettersen is a Lonely Planet author, freelance travel writer and polyglot. He’s visited 52 countries (so far) and can be found @leifpettersen.