I am going to deviate for a moment here to share one of my favorite travel stories, when my friend Melina (said Hanson friend from NJ) and I went to London for spring break in 2002.
We had both been to Europe before with our families, but neither of us had made it to London and we both had been wanting to go for years. Right after 9/11 we made the executive decision to just bite the bullet and go. Neither of us were scared of flying, so that wasn’t an issue at all. Anyway, when we were discussing accomodation options, I think I threw out staying in a hostel. I had done it 2 years before when I traveled around Israel with a group and didn’t find it as scarey as I originally thought. So we booked a week in the largest (cheapest) room at Ashlee House, which is near Kings Cross. That seemed central for us.
As she came from the east coast and I was coming from LA, Melina arrived before me and we made plans to meet at the hostel at 3pm on our arrival day. Her plane landed at 6am and after wondering around town, we made perfect time and she arrived back at the hostel just as I was putting my bag into storage. She had returned to take a nap, but I was excited and wanted to get out there and walk around and wake up, so she obliged me and walked around for a while, even though she was dead tired. We ate dinner at Pizza Express (our most expensive meal of the week, for two money starved students) before heading back to check into our room for the night. We pull our bags from storage and headed to the assigned dorm room. We took one step in and stepped out. It was filled with dirty old men, clothes hanging from everywhere and there is no way we are staying there. We are so tired and I nearly started to cry at this point and ask if there is another room we could stay in. Luckily, we were in London the first week in March, so not high tourist season and there was space in a 4 bed female room so we went up there. I go to the bathroom to take a shower and while the showers had doors, they were just in a huge room and the doors were perfectly clear and that is when I broke down and just cried. There is no way I could stay in this place for 6 nights. I haphazardly threw on some clothes and returned to our room and talked to Melina and knew she wasn’t feeling it either. When I walked from the Tube station to the hostel earlier in the day, I noticed a Comfort Inn 2 blocks away. Comfort Inns are cheap in the US, so how expensive could this place possibly be? We piled on jackets to go outside and take a look. We arrive and the receptionist is on the phone, but they have a price list and back in 2002, the price for a twin is £90/room. No way can we afford that for 5 more nights, when the hostel was only costing us like £20/night/person. I groan and the women gets off the phone and asks if she can help us. We tell her our issue and end it with, but your prices are too much. She says, wait a moment, let me call my manager and see what we can do. I nearly faint. At first, I was like we can pay £60/night, before realizing that that is still over $100 and once she gets the manager on the phone and asks how much we can pay, I say £50/night. She hangs up and it’s all approved. I put the whole fee on my parents credit card to reserve the room for 5 nights starting tomorrow, since we have already paid for the hostel for one night and I breath out the biggest sigh of relife, I am so happy!! We rushed back to the hostel and canceled the rest of our reservation for the week, which luckily we hadn’t paid for yet.
Sure, we ended totally blowing our budget and spending like 4 times what we had planned, but it made the week and trip so much better! We had our own bathroom and tv. We didn’t have to pack up our stuff every night as we were staying in the same place, our own room, for nearly a week. The complimentary breakfast was fantastic! We didn’t have any lock out hours, which Ashlee House had at the time, which worked well for us because what we ended up doing all week was going out in the morning, tour around, have lunch, coming back to the hotel for a nap and then going out again at night. We couldn’t have done that in the hostel!
When I came back through London for one night by myself later that year in October, I emailed the hotel and asked if I could book a single room for £50/night (still cheaper then list price) since I was arriving late and didn’t want to wonder the street and they approved it. In looking at the Ashlee House website for this story, it seems they have redone the hostel considerably since our expirence in 2002, so I wouldn’t even listen to our exprience there.
Moral: It doesn’t hurt to ask for a lower price then advertised, especially during the off season, because you never know what you may get. I am not a haggler by any means and it being London, this is one of my favorite travel stories.