During our first year of travel we stayed in 37 different hotels, this is what I learnt from this experience.
Everyone is human
Though your stay at a hotel may be your break from life, a holiday to relax, it is good to remember that for many working at that hotel you are relaxing in, it is a job to them. A job that pays their bills feeds their family and gets them out of bed in the morning and maybe they are going to work at a good hotel, for a good manager or maybe the counter. So when you next check-in remember the staff at the hotel are human and we all have good and bad days.
Every room we have stayed in has had a different lighting system, from a simple switch to a tablet controllered smart system. We have opted now to take a USB-powered light with us as we travel so if the lighting system is to complex or results in too much or no light we can still add a night light for the children. So when you get checked in or shown to your room, ask how the lighting works.
Instagram would make you feel that no one ever pays for a business class flight or hotel villa with a pool but if you don't have 20 credit cards set up with points galore how do you get upgrades? As we travelled during covid we were able to get cheaper rooms or better rooms as many times we were the only tourist family staying at a hotel. Though the best ways we found to get upgraded were; the first is just ask and even say 'do you have any rooms to upgrade to and then for you decide if want to pay for the upgrade or they may do it for free. We stayed at a nice hotel in the desert and were offered an upgrade without asking (during the week) from our suite to a villa with a pool for an extra 70 GBP.
Now on our travel, I discovered a small hack for getting free or cheaper room upgrades if you travel with two children in the Middle East or Asia. So hotels seem to think that if you book a room for two adults and two children (under 12), that one child will sleep on a sofa bed and the other will sleep with you. This happened to us at least ten times and the room isn't big enough to fit two children's beds. My process when this happened became the following and resulted in upgrades every time that were either free or for a small amount of money.
We would check-in and go to our room, see that it was too small or there would only be one bed. I would then return to reception and politely (remember it isn't their fault, they are just following a process) say the following.
"Hi, we just checked into room 111 and there are four of us but there is only one bed and a single bed for our two children who can't share. [pause]".
The staff member would then apologise and explain how normally one child would sleep with the parent and one on the bed and then pause. I would then reply with
"I see, are there any other rooms at the hotel available which could accommodate us better as there is no way we can all fit in this room, I am happy to pay a bit more for the new room if it solves the problem or if you don't have a room we can get a refund for our stay and move to another hotel"
At this point you have clearly stated three things:
- This is a problem for you so needs fixing rather than just being an annoyance.
- You aren't after a free upgrade, you just want a room that you can enjoy your stay and are willing to pay extra to get that.
- You understand this is a key moment, they either resolve this problem for you or you walk away to a competitor and request a refund.
EVERY TIME this script has worked, we have ended up in mega suites with a pool or extra bedrooms for a tenth of the price that room would have cost normally. Though it only works if the original room is 100% too small for you all, because they shouldn't have listed it for sale, a couple of times during this conversation I have had the member of staff say "that is the room you booked" to which I would return "this is the room you sold that could accommodate four people please show me how the four of us comfortably can fit in the room".
There is always a fire alarm blinking light or something in the room, if you have blackout curtains, close them during the day and turn off all the lights to see if anything is flashing or noisy. Better to highlight this during the day than at 2am.
This goes for your pillow too, test it as soon as you get to the room, if the hotel is nice-ish they will have different options or at worse, you can use a secondary cushion from a sofa if they are too soft.
Being British it took us some time to get climatised to the heat in different countries and when we would go to sleep the rooms would rarely go below 20c. In one hotel I told them the A/C was broken and wouldn't go to 18c, the maintenance guy came to the room and said why would you want it this low he moved the physical switch in the unit to push out more airflow 😂. So now when we get to the room we drop the A/C to the lowest it will go and see how cold it is an hour or so later. Always better to resolve these issues during the day when your children are awake.
We only had this issue when we were in the Maldives as it was busier than other hotels but when arrive at any hotel book any children's activities that first evening, you can always cancel them but if they have a capacity limit, slots fill up fast especially on weekends when more people are staycationing or during school holidays.
A good shower can make or break a hotel room, when you get to the room, turn the shower on to check the water pressure, set the temperature to the hottest and then coldest to make sure you aren't going to burn or freeze yourself.
Water in the room
In many countries, we visited you couldn't drink the tap water so you would normally get a few bottles each in the room. When you get to your room just ask for another two bottles each. This is particularly helpful if you have a bad first night's sleep or get dehydrated from the A/C.
Most hotel's check-in times are between 2pm-4pm, we found that getting there an hour before check-in time or an hour after check-in time to avoid a busy check-in process and were the most likely times to get upgraded. An hour early on weekends or an hour later on weekdays get you the best odds for upgrades. We also found that check-ins on a Tuesday were the best as the hotel was the least busy.
Hotels or resorts can be big places and hard to navigate, we have learnt to try and arrive during the day and when possible ask a member of staff to show you around so you can see all facilities, they will also make you aware of any events or deals on during your stay.
If you are having issues, don't do it over the room phone, go to reception. Hotel staff get problems mainly so you need to be a face to get your issues resolved (annoying but true). If you do it on the first day you can also use the "what is your policy on leaving to another hotel as what you have advertised isn't what is here" line. I would say be kind in these interactions but it annoys me that we have been kind in these situations and the rude person has had their issue dealt with first.
That being said one time this happened and we got upgraded to the nice room they wanted because we were nice so you just need to do what feels right for you.
Also it is important to remember, some hotels don't care, we have had a few hotels (not many) where you are just a number and that is it. The key here is to not go back again.
Saying "good morning", "hello", "how are you" really can change someones day. We have had so many amazing conversations with lifeguards, housekeeping, waiters etc all from a simple "good morning".
Staff notice when your children are polite, most children aren't. We were at one hotel and like many parents, we had to remind our children of the word "thank you". We had been at the hotel for about a week, the waiter said "your children are very nice and polite", I replied, "thank you, they are most times but we have to remember them sometimes". he then goes into this five-minute chat about how he had seen my children ask for things with manners, wait in queues, picked up dropped things, and how my son opened a door for a lady carrying two plates. All small actions but made me so proud to hear.
Understanding the busy times
Most people will have dinner at the hotel on the first night, asking the serving staff on the dinner shift when the busy times are will get you the real answer of when to visit the pool, breakfast, gym, dinner, activities etc.
Go to the pool and ask if there are any children's swim times or if there is adult-only swimming. If a hotel is more family-focused they will also serve ice lollies or something around 2pm most days especially if there is a children's club.
All inclusive package
If a hotel has an all-inclusive package don't stay at the hotel. The food quality will be low, the guests are typically more rude/expecting service and most people are drunk all the time. Unless this is what you want.
Hotel room tech is usually 2-5 years old, don’t bother trying to get it to work beyond getting to a TV channel on. Check if the TV has an HDMI port and connect your laptop, phone or tablet.
We have had the amazing experience in the last year of staying at two hotels which had pools 50m and 80meters long. This is too long, as long as the pool is over 10 meters you can swim some length.
Introduce your children to the lifeguard(s) and get them to tell their names. Firstly, no one does this so you are rememberable, also the lifeguard can then call out your children if they are doing something they shouldn't (safety-wise) and doing this turns your children from a sea of random child to those with names.
An evening swim after dinner is something most don't do but is meditative.
Take my card
If a manager gives you a card, check if the number is on WhatsApp and add it to your phone. Normally I would throw it away but I have found if I wanted to plan a special event or if we had an issue that wasn't being resolved then messaging politely the manager (regardless of department) would get it resolved asap.
If a meal is amazing, ask to tell the chef, if housekeeping does an amazing job, ring to inform their manager. If any member of staff does something that makes your day however small (even a smile when you needed it). Thank them and if makes sense inform their manager.
We had great housekeeping at a hotel in Bali (Marriott courtyard) but one day we went back to our room and our children's toys were lined up by height on the bed, we had a lovely note on our bed, my cables were all folded nicely. Small things but nice. I rang to offer this great feedback but this is how much people don't say nice things because moments later a man turns up at our door believing we had a bad experience. I informed him to the counter which he was greatly thankful for but also (and why I freaking loved this hotel) he asked when we typically wanted housekeeping to come to our room and if the lady who did this amazing job was working at that time he would schedule her to do our room for the rest of our stay.
Following the script
It took me a few months of our travel to realise that many staff are following a script, a standard way of operating. The quicker you understand that process the quicker you can resolve your issue. For example, you ask housekeeping if they offer any rose petals in the bath type experiences and they say we don't offer this. So you go to the spa and ask the manager there (they are incentivised to sell), could you do this, they say yes we will get housekeeping to do it for you.
Taking stuff from the room
When travelling from place to place, toothbrushes and nice soap must be taken as you never know what the next hotel will be like.
Leaving a tip
If you want to leave a tip for housekeeping then leave it in the room the day before checkout with a note. This gets around the fear a manager or someone who hasn't cleaned your room will swipe the tip.
I don't see the point in giving a trip advisor 1-star review of a hotel, I much prefer to email the hotel the day before we leave with my feedback good and bad. If they are good they will review it before you leave and speak to you about it but send the feedback with the expectation nothing back, no reply. I will go into this more in another blog.
If you are celebrating a birthday or anniversary or that it is a Tuesday let the hotel know they will do something special for you.
People from Bali
You see Bali everywhere as this amazing Instagram-able place, cheap and great nature etc. I didn't believe it, I saw Bali as poison snakes, volcanos, earthquakes and tsunamis which it is but the people, the people are just lovely. You can tell someone is from Bali even if you aren't in Bali. These people just want to provide great service, no matter if a luxury five-star hotel or a street cart selling fruit.
Football teams and Southampton
The same as how asking about the weather is a British past-time, football is the global version of this. We would get asked all the time about our favourite team/players. Also, many of the staff were working at hotels because they use to work on cruise ships which stopped during covid and they all seem to know Southampton well.
Surprisingly not many guests visit the hotel spa, mainly due to their expensive compared to something outside of the hotel grounds though we found if we went to the spa during the weekday we could get all sorts of deals and normally resulted in a 50% discount without any haggling. They were just glad to have some customers.
There was a consistent experience that hotels which had been renovated in the last three years even if they had a lower overall rating than a competitor. Not sure why but we now factor this into our search when looking for places to stay.
Luxury is a very personal thing, two people could have the same hotel experience and one give it 10/10 and the other 1/10. So much about our experiences is down to our expectations. I am not sure what the answer is to this as we stayed at some hotels that were luxury as can be but then the service would let it down and others that we rubbish but the breakfast waiter made us laugh every day. Though after the visit the visuals will fade away though the feelings will last, so ask yourself what can give you luxury feelings.
As we are about to start year two of our global travel I hope to write more about what we learn. I hope you found this useful, if so feel free to ping me a message via email or twitter.