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The pale unearthly-looking desk clerk handed me the key to my room. “You leave the lobby and take the elevator up. It’s a manual elevator, please be sure to shut the doors after you leave.”
I should have known right then and there that this Will Remain Nameless Rome Hotel wasn’t my kind of place, but it wasn’t immediately apparent. We all learn from experience, so if you love solo travel learn from mine: How to avoid a hotel disaster.
When a hotel is not a hotel
What the clerk failed to mention was that leaving the lobby, meant, essentially, leaving the Will Remain Nameless Rome Hotel. What looked like a decent hotel from the outside was really a lobby storefront. The rooms themselves were located on the 4th floor of a highrise that housed a cheap-looking B&B, a furniture restorer, an antique store office and apartments.
If you have ever stayed at the notorious Chung King Mansions in Hong Kong, where sadly I stayed at many times in my youthful days of budget travel, you will know what I mean.
Avoid a hotel disaster in Rome rule #1: Choose your location wisely
The area around Rome Termini Train Station is no glam district, and if you’re traveling solo in Italy this might not be your location of choice. It wasn’t mine.
What I wanted to do was go straight to the Leonardo da Vinci International Airport, get an expensive room at the attached Hilton Rome and veg out for the evening before catching my morning flight. Maybe put on some heels and have a drink at the bar, a la George Clooney in Up in the Air. (Not that George Clooney put on heels, don’t put words in my mouth.) Or maybe go out of my way altogether and stay at the fab Rome Cavalieri.
Unfortunately, expensive tastes do not always equal an expansive budget, so the cheap-o Rome Termini Train Station area it was.
Avoid a hotel disaster rule #2: Don’t choose a hotel just because you have to go to the bathroom
Partly I was in a hurry so I could stop carting around my too-heavy luggage. Plus I had to go to the bathroom so there was extra motivation to find a room fast.
The wise ones amongst you might be thinking I should have booked something ahead of time but don’t you, sometimes, just want to be free? Anyways that was my reasoning and I stand by my sometimes-I’m-a-free-spirit policy. Except, possibly, in this case. I suppose, however, this could be How to avoid a hotel disaster rule #2.5.
How to avoid a hotel disaster rule #3: Even if you’re carting around too much luggage, watch your bags
At least I did one thing right. Rain was threatening as I left the train station in Rome after arriving from Chiusi and I was dragging my bags down the narrow streets in an extremely grumpy mood. However, I was still mindful of pickpockets. I’d read the warnings in my guidebook.
Note #1: People with luggage are prime targets. Trust me, I speak from experience. (I’m talking about you, Paris!)
Note #2: No one near the Rome train station bothered me whatsoever, but if they had I would have been watching very carefully. I doubt I could have done anything to save myself, but I would have been mindful of the situation.
Avoid a hotel disaster rule #4: Try not to pay up front
Then I spied the Will Remain Nameless Rome Hotel. It looked okay from the outside, better than the others I’d seen. The price seemed decent. I even paid beforehand. “It’s better,” said the clerk, “since you are leaving so early.”
That will teach me, was the thought crossing my mind as I turned left out of the lobby and realized I had just left the hotel. Now I was in a plain old highrise. The thing is, when you pay for a hotel, you expect to actually be in the hotel. Staying in a hotel attached to its lobby is a form of security. Probably anyone off the street could enter the highrise and we all know what kind of characters hang around train stations! I was freaking myself out.
Avoid a hotel disaster #5: If you’re travelling heavy make sure taking the elevator doesn’t include stairs
What the clerk failed to tell me when I asked if there was an elevator and he said yes, was that you needed to lug your bags up a set of stairs to get to the bloody thing. Although in his defense, he did carry the smaller bag up for me.
Avoid a hotel disaster #6: Find the silver lining in every dingy cloud
I have to admit the elevator was cool. Black wrought iron and poky as anything, it was like flying up on a very slow magic carpet. But that was the only fun thing. As soon as I neared the hall with the hotel rooms I smelled a strange scent, like a sickly mix of lysol and incense. Ick, I thought. That better not be my room.
Avoid a hotel disaster #7: Give your room a smell test before you commit
It was my room! Oh, no no no no no. The smell was coming from the bathroom. Plus, the cupboard door on the desk was kind of falling off. And I kept hearing men’s voices outside my door. Thieves! Attackers! Muggers! I was tempted to push my suitcase in front of the door to at least make the thieves, attackers and/or muggers work harder when they tried to break in – except that I had to escape from that smell.
I ran down the four flights of stairs that circled the elevator, past a man refinishing a chair and flew out the door, aiming for a pharmacy I’d seen in the train station. I needed some St John’s Wort, which, if you don’t know your herbs, is like an all-natural tranquilizer, which, if you’ve landed headlong into a hotel disaster in Rome, you may want to take. Note: It also makes a nice tea.
Avoiding a hotel disaster rule #8: Bring your own drugs
The thing is, when you’re in a country full of religious relics and saint’s bones, and are asking for something that sounds like St John’s wart, pharmacists look at you very strangely. They didn’t even try to understand, they just kept sending me to the next pharmacy.
They clearly thought I was either a drug addict or a delusional woman looking for a holy wart. After the 3rd pharmacy sent me back to the 1st pharmacy, I realized I was on a endless cycle that was upping my stress levels instead of reducing them and gave up.
Avoid a hotel disaster #9: Don’t punish yourself by eating crap
Instead of enjoying my last night in Rome by having a wonderful atmospheric dinner with Chianti Classico and fresh pasta, which I really should have done, I went to a takeout dive across from Rome Termini Train Station and bought a piece of pizza. At least it was a big piece.
Avoiding hotel disasters #10: If you see a lobby full of men, think twice (unless they’re very good looking)
Back at the Will Remain Nameless Rome Hotel the lobby was full of men. Strange men just hanging around. Was I in like some sort of boarding house? Were there no women in the Will Remain Nameless Rome Hotel at all? That made me feel even more uncomfortable.
I retreated up to my room (briefly pausing to enjoy the elevator) and went straight to bed, right after opening the shutters, shutting the bathroom door and stuffing a towel in the crack between the floor and bathroom door to keep out that horrific smell.
Avoid a hotel disaster #11: Look on the bright side
Actually, I thought, as I lay there with the covers pulled up to my nose. The hotel isn’t so bad. At least not now that I’ve plugged the stink. Small touches showed the owners were trying. I did like the curtains, royal blue with gold fleur-de-lis. And there was a towel warmer in the dreadfully aromatic bathroom. But if the hotel wasn’t so bad – i.e. no one was as yet trying to batter down the door – I had a new worry.
I had to leave at 6 a.m. to get to the train station in order to get to the Rome airport and that would mean it would be dark out and that would mean the streets would be full of muggers and thieves! Sometimes, as a solo traveler, you can really let your fears carry you away (much like a mugger could carry your purse away).
Avoiding hotel disasters #12: Think positively about your hotel so that you can worry about other things and then find the bright side of life in a torrential downpour
Of course I woke up at 2:50 a.m. worrying about getting to the train station in the dark. And when I finally left the hotel (and I have to say, the clerks were very nice, they even had my gloves that I’d left in the lobby waiting for me when I checked out, plus it turns out there was at least one other woman in the hotel because I heard her at 5:50 a.m. lugging her bags down the hall) it was raining.
The rain was roaring down, raindrops noisily hurling themselves against sidewalks and awnings like the noise of a thousand arguing Italians. And I couldn’t carry an umbrella because I already had two suitcases and a purse and, as a solo traveler, there was no one to pawn my bags off onto. But I didn’t care. I was ecstatic. If it was raining, you see, the muggers were less likely to be out.
Avoid a hotel disaster in Rome #13: Get over yourself
In the end, I made it to the Rome Termini Train Station without a problem. I also made it to the airport. And during the journey I realized that often when we’re worrying obsessively about something, like a crappy hotel room and a nebulous world of muggers and thieves, it’s because we’re stressed about something else, like catching a plane, like catching a train to get to the plane, like not knowing where to buy a ticket for said train, or because you’re just plain exhausted after two weeks of roaming around with too much luggage, too little sleep and plenty of hours being a lost solo traveler (in between all those wonderful times when you’re so happy to be sharing this wonderful adventure with yourself and it’s just good to be alive and in Italy).
So suck it up. Sometimes, as a solo traveler, all you can do is roll with the travel punches, and remember that things probably aren’t as bad as they seem (though sometimes they are). Stay at the best hotel you can with the budget you have, book in advance unless you’re in a free spirit mode and don’t beat yourself up for being a baby. Solo travelers in Italy – or anywhere else – are allowed (occasionally) to pout. And above all, pack your St John’s wort.
Read more: about the Top Cities to Visit in Italy
For more of the best places in Europe to see: visit Top Destinations in Europe