Living in Hotels
I received a private email in response to my post about getting work in another country regarding hotel prices in London. The person who sent me the message had considered London but ended up moving to Japan instead partly due to living expenses (although Japan seems unlikely to be much cheaper).
The first issue concerns security of hotels. When living in hotels (for almost a year in London and about 6 months in the Netherlands there were a few occasions (IE one brief occasion every 4+ months) when I left my laptop under my bed at a hotel, but almost all the time I took it with me. At that time I aimed to have a minimal set of luggage, one large suitcase containing clothes, books, etc (things that are generally not worth stealing) and one small case containing my laptop, digital camera, passport, and other small things that are valuable or which would cause excessive inconvenience if I lost them. Also in the small case I would take fragile items. Then when leaving my hotel I would pack most of the items from the small suitcase (pretty much everything apart from the digital camera) into my laptop bag and take it with me. This limited my losses from hotel thieves to a digital camera (no incriminating pictures and I could always buy a better one) and a couple of bottles of liquor.
Good hotels have a hotel safe which you can use. But for a cheap (affordable) hotel there is no such option.
Hotels in London ARE expensive, but if you are prepared to lower you standard of living they aren’t too expensive. One thing to note about UK hotels is that the idea of having a toilet and shower in every room is a new concept and all the cheaper hotels lack this. It’s a standard feature for a hotel to have a wash-basin in every room, a toilet is optional, and a bath or shower is another option. There are various types of shared bathroom in UK hotels. The better ones vaguely resemble the facilities you might expect to find at a public swimming pool (large spaces, clean tiles everywhere, and a changing area in addition to the toilet and shower cubicles). The worst ones are basically what you might expect to see in a private home but with less cleaning.
To get the best deals on small hotels in London you have to find an area where there are many hotels and inspect them. It is quite acceptable to ask for the key to a room so that you can inspect it and determine if you want to rent it.
One area where I lived for some time in London is near Victoria Station. Victoria is one of the largest stations in London, it has both a Tube (underground/metro for trains within the city) and a British Rail (for travel to other parts of the country) station. Victoria Station also had facilities for checking in to a flight and having your checked luggage delivered to Gatwick airport via the Gatwick Express. This was really convenient, you can check your luggage and then do some last minute shopping before going to the airport! I’m not sure if they still do this though (comments appreciated). Another good thing about Victoria Station is the large shopping area which included a tourist information centre and a store that sold freshly baked bread. Often in the morning I would buy bread from the section that had the most steam coming from it (which was the most freshly baked) before catching a train.
Victoria Station is quite near many of the places you want to visit in London so I could walk to the British Museum and other places that are worth visiting (this depends on how fit you are). But the real reason for staying there is that the were many cheap hotels in the area. I could just walk down a street and know that I could find a room at one of the hotels.
One feature of UK hotels is that they almost always include free breakfast as part of the deal (with no option to exclude it). Of course this means that if you are capable of eating a significant breakfast and then skipping lunch then you can save some money.
A down-side to cheap hotels is that they almost never have a telephone in your room (just a pay phone in the hall), and if they do have a telephone then it will be wired in. Before wireless net access became common this was a problem as you couldn’t use a modem. More expensive hotels had an extra socket for a modem. In London there is a significant number of people who stay in hotels from Sunday night to Thursday night with their company paying (so they don’t stay in the cheap hotels). This means that most of the good hotels have cheap rooms on the weekend. So while living in London I would often stay at a good hotel on the weekend to get net access (and a few days in a luxury hotel at a cheap rate is a good change from a cheap hotel).
Nowadays wireless net access is common so it would be easy to find a free access point anywhere in London and there would be no need for this. But the possibility of getting cheap hotel rooms on the weekend is something to keep in mind. One benefit of this was when I had an employer paying for my hotel bills from Sunday night to Thursday night (as part of a deal to placate my colleagues who complained about working at the other side of London). I spoke to the hotel manager and suggested that having me check out every Friday and have the room empty on the weekend was not good for them and that they should offer me a significant discount to stay 7 days a week - they made me a good deal! At that time I had the lowest cost of living apart from when I lived with my parents while the hotel in which I stayed was quite comfortable (a large comfortable room with toilet and shower and a good hotel breakfast).
Moving to the Netherlands was quite easy for me as I was staying in hotels. All I had to do was to pack my suitcase, check out of the hotel, and catch the flight. One significant advantage of living in hotels is that you can easily move to another region or country. This gives the possibility of taking advantage of career opportunities that would not be possible if you owned a house and would be difficult if you rented an apartment.
When in the Netherlands I ended up staying in hotels of the Bastion chain (a chain or franchise of business hotels). I stayed in a couple of other hotels first and wasn’t particularly happy but with Bastion hotels I was always happy. I arranged a deal of a small discount in exchange for not getting the breakfast that was normally included (I like to sleep in and the Dutch breakfast didn’t appeal to me). One significant benefit of the Bastion hotels over London hotels was the size. The smallest room had two single beds, a large Dutch-style bathroom, two chairs at a desk that spanned about 3M of a wall (with multiple power sockets and a phone socket), and a good TV. At the time the hotel would play two movies over the TV system every night from video cassette. The videos played on the TV in the restaurant and in the rooms (if you selected the appropriate channel). Once I became known to the staff they would do nice things such as playing the movie I requested (instead of the scheduled one) and pausing the movie when I finished dinner so I didn’t miss anything while walking to my room. Also instead of giving me a free newspaper every day (in Dutch) they gave me some free drinks vouchers every week. Once you become a regular customer at a hotel the staff are always willing to change the deal to make you happy - even when it’s a chain.
One of the convenient factors of living in a business hotel is that they are located near business areas. I spent several months living in a Bastion hotel that was about 400M walk from the office where I worked. That was particularly convenient when the network broke at night - I could just walk back to the office to fix it!
The deal I had with the Bastion hotels made them about 50% more expensive than the (fairly luxurious) two bedroom apartment that I later moved to. So hotels are expensive and living in them is only an option if your employer pays for it or if you work in an industry where pay is reasonably good. Given that the vast majority of people who read my blog work in the computer industry (and I suspect that they are better paid than average) this should be a viable option.