Your flophouse hotel survival kit

I recently got an interesting question at the Q&A. I haven’t answered it yet, because I’m hoping for input from the blogosphere. The question comes from Lars of Chicago, who writes:

“So, what do y’all do to deal with the occasional dumpy hotel you are bound to hit once in a while? You know — late into town, everything booked except the one place that’s not for obvious reasons. I usually make do with:

  • Ear plugs
  • A bag liner
  • Some kind of door wedge
  • Eye-shades
  • A wet sarong if it’s hot and humid
  • DEET (if necessary)
  • A bit of bonding with the owner/caretaker/guy at the front desk and some other guests.

“Anything else you can think of?”

Lars brings up an interesting point, and I’m curious to know what you all have in your “flophouse hotel survival” kits. To an extent, I think it’s personal. I’ve never used eye-shades, for instance, and the one trip where I brought a bag liner I rarely used it (though liners are required in many European hostels). I’d also use a mosquito net before I used DEET. That said, however, I consider earplugs to be almost essential (especially if your flophouse is near a disco or a bus station or a mosque), and I think it’s a great idea to bond with the hotel owner and guests (if they are receptive to such a gesture).

Beyond that, my flophouse kit might include essentials that flophouses don’t provide, such as:

  • My own towel
  • My own roll of toilet paper
  • My own soap

I usually also bring a light cable and small padlock to secure my luggage if it seems like security is an issue (not a fail-safe way to protect from thieves, but in eight years I’ve never had anything stolen from my room).

So, getting back to Lars’ question: Does anyone have other suggestions?

Posted by | Comments (7)  | October 14, 2004
Category: Vagabonding Advice

7 Responses to “Your flophouse hotel survival kit”

  1. Gary Says:


    If you got that you dont need the other stuff.

    The key is to use it in moderation, only when you need it.

    (I never take sleep aids at home.)

    What is funny is on the road, I will meet anti-pill people. They get upset that you would take a sleeping pill.

    I always laugh at them. And then I go to sleep.

    Hey, Rolf, where you staying in Baja? How far down are you?

    Do you stay there because it’s cheaper to get a room and SD?

  2. Kevin Says:

    I walk out, take a deep breath, head for a very expensive place that has rooms available, and put it on my credit card.

    I’ve done it several times. It’s very empowering. For about 24 hours, that is. Then the guilt sets in. Still, at least I’ve had a wonderful night’s sleep and I can cope with anything – including guilt.

  3. Annette Says:

    Ditto on the toiletries. BIG ditto.

    And if all else fails… whisky. You can sanitize the toilet seat, shower floor, dinner.

    If you’re not used to it, your esophagus may initially cringe. But in the end, all your muscles will thank you.

    In the event you still aren’t able to get to sleep comfortably, you will probably end up writing a song, or rant, about the whole experience. Such is the whisky muse.

    Just don’t overdo it.

  4. Adam Says:


    Some Bengay style cream for sore muscles is usually in my backpack for after hiking/trekking, no-shocks jeep rides kind of reasons. But after last winter’s trip to Bangladesh it will forever stay in my pack for “flophouse hotel’ survival reasons.

    In Chittagong I was at a hotel by the station that reeked so royally I seriously could not sleep. I spent 4 hours of gagging, choking and desperately trying to doze while unsuccessfully using combos from everything in my bag to cover my face… even tried my precious tempur-pedic earplugs up the snozz.

    I finally smeared a gob of Bengay under my nose and slept like a baby (not the crying all night and pooping their diapers kind). Saved my night, and cleared up my sinuses as well. I’ll never travel without it again.

    I’m back in the States by the way… got a cozy, interesting university job a few hours north of you in Irvine. All thanks to a resume littered with backpacking travel and living abroad experiences of course!

  5. Rolf Says:

    Thanks for the input, everyone!

    Gary: I’m near Ensenada, so I’m not all that far from SD. It is cheaper, but it’s also a lot more peaceful and less distracting (though sometimes I enjoy the distractions of southern California!).

    Kevin: Good point. I’ve bailed for expensive digs as the last resort before, and it’s most always worth it. And I even say in my book to not be too neurotic about keeping things super-cheap (especially if it makes you miserable).

    Annette: You crack me up! But believe me: I, too, know the multi-functional wonders of whiskey in certain situations…

    Adam: It’s amazing to hear you’re stateside again, after all those years in Asia. Congrats on the Irvine gig — I will definitely use you as an example of a hard-core vagabonder who has managed to stay seamlessly employable! As for Bengay, good point — and Tiger Balm works well also (and is nice and small to pack).

  6. Lars Says:

    Thanks for the suggestions for the flop house kit. And sorry it took me so
    long to reply. Loads of work and a few trips (just back from Honduras and

    Gary, do you have any idea how Ambien compares to Melatonin? The latter
    didn’t really work too well for me until I read that some climbers let the
    pills desolve under their tongues–knocks me out in 15 minutes flat.

    Adam, great idea about the Tiger Balm.

    Rolf, I carry my own TP-a good idea even in the US. Somehow, moskito
    netting makes me claustrophobic.

    One question about the padlock: I am always debating whether they deter or
    attract thieves? Apart from money, credit card, and my passport, the only
    item of value I carry is my digital camera. Having someonesteal my pack
    would be an inconvenience, though.

    How do you use the cable and lock? Do you just thread it through some loop
    on your luggage and attach it to something solid to keep someone from
    taking the whole pack, or something more elaborate?

    Have fun in Baja–if you are still there.

    Happy new year everyone.

    — Lars, Chicago

  7. Rolf Says:

    Hey Lars,

    The cable is mainly to slow down thieves — i.e. avoid a quick snatch and grab. Just run the cable through the suspension of the pack and lock it to a bed or cabinet. This will help avoid crimes of “convenience”.