Sometime towards the middle of last year (around the time I started mentioning the dreaded C word), Harri joked that we could avoid the whole festive season if we booked into a Travelodge for the duration.
He’d been reading a 2007 news article about an elderly couple who loved the motel chain so much they’d moved in permanently. Despite owning their own flat in Sheffield, David and Jean Davidson said it was cheaper and safer to live in a room at the Gonerby Moor Travelodge on the A1 in Lincolnshire.
Harri was jesting, thinking there was no chance I’d take him seriously. Except… the idea gradually seemed more and more appealing. We both hate forced festivities, preferring to do our own thing as and when the fancy takes us. Christmas was fun when my daughters were little, but now they’re adults with their own lives I’m more than happy to forget the whole thing.
We put a few feelers out and no-one seemed unduly bothered if we were around or not.
And so it was that early on Christmas Eve we filled our boot with lots of goodies and headed off down the M4. Our destination? Crosshands Travelodge. While our families cooked turkeys, played board games and watched wall-to-wall Christmas television, we’d achieved liberation. Instead of the usual dull Christmas routine, we would be researching and hiking four new castle walks in one of our favourite places… the Gower peninsula.
Of course there was never any doubt where we’d be staying. Over the past few years we’ve walked for pleasure and various commissions, produced two books based on the Wales Coast Path (for Northern Eye Books) and worked on several AA publications. During that time, we’ve realised that the simplicity of the Travelodge model is absolutely perfect for hikers. In fact, given a choice we would now always choose accommodation at a Travelodge over a traditional bed and breakfast provider (even if the price was the same).
The reasons are many and varied:
- Breakfast: Travelodge prices do not include breakfast. You can purchase a breakfast box, and, depending on where you are staying, a buffet option is sometimes available. This is brilliant for hikers because it means your walking day can start as early as you wish (no need to waste time hanging around for your fry up and socialising with mein host and/or other guests).
- And breakfast (and no, that’s not a mistype): Perhaps we’re unusual in preferring a lighter breakfast of cereal and fruit, but Harri and I agree that the traditional English breakfast of bacon, sausage, egg, etc. really saps our energy just when we need lots of it. Choosing Travelodge means you’re not paying extra for a huge breakfast you don’t really want but feel you have to eat as you’re paying for it anyway!
- Rooms: once again, simplicity is key for us. All we want is a bed with clean sheets, a functioning bathroom, some electric sockets, a workspace and tea-making facilities. A television is a novelty because we don’t have one at home, but we invariably find there is nothing on that we want to watch. We don’t need free toiletries, frilly bedspreads, someone else’s choice in used books, writing materials, small packets of biscuits, ornaments or tie-backs. Travelodge understands that travellers want cleanliness and functionality and that’s what they provide.
- Cost: like the Davidsons, we’ve learned that Travelodge offers great prices, especially if you book ahead. Our cheapest ever room was £15 and the most we’ve ever paid is £50. That’s per room… there are only two of us but we’ve often been accommodated in a family room.
- Car parking: who wants to drive round and round the block looking for somewhere to park when you arrive at your overnight accommodation? Then having to lug your suitcases several hundred yards, across a road and up and down several pavements. Done it and hated it. Even when the accommodation provider has done a ‘deal’ with a local car park, it still stinks. The out of town Travelodges we’ve visited have always had plenty of free car parking within a few metres of the entrance (especially ideal if, like us, you leave stuff in the car only to find that you do need it afterall!).
- Location: there are over 500 Travelodges in the UK, Ireland and Spain but the concentration is patchier in Wales. Most of the motels are located on or close to major roads, which means that although we cannot always stay exactly where we’d choose, we can quickly rejoin a major road to resume our journey the next morning.
- Customer service: This is where Travelodge really scores top marks (in fact, I have a theory that all Travelodge staff are former Butlins red coats). We’ve yet to meet a miserable, jobs-worth receptionist; all the staff we’ve encountered to date show every sign of really enjoying their work.
- Peace and quiet: after a long weekend in a noisy EuroDisney ‘partner’ hotel, I now appreciate how peaceful our Travelodge visits always are. I can’t recall ever having been woken up by noisy neighbours or people hammering on nearby doors (both happened in Paris).
A few other things…
- Travelodge seems to have abandoned its three-pillow policy so Harri and I no longer have to fight over who is having the extra one.
- There’s always a sign in the bathroom reminding you to be careful!
- We love the bedside lighting, particularly as we don’t have bedside lamps at home.
- We prefer the old-style rooms because then the longer length workspace can double as Harri’s desk and my food preparation area (Thai Curry cous-cous topped with [cold] tinned chicken supreme is our current favourite Travelodge meal).
- The old-style family rooms had a very long bed settee which was particularly convenient as Harri used it to spread out his maps and paperwork (our recent upgraded room had a single bed which just isn’t the same).
Travelodge employee of the year
All the receptionists we’ve met have been friendly and helpful, but one member of staff stands out in our memory as pulling out all the stops. Realising we had a ‘modern’ style room with the shorter-length workspace, we returned to reception to see if we could transfer rooms (we both wanted to work on our laptops). The young man explained that he couldn’t grant our request because all the rooms at that venue had now been upgraded, but instead of leaving it like that (as most people would), he set about resolving the problem creatively.
Ten minutes later, I was sitting at my computer on a small wooden coffee table (he apologised for the fact that it was tatty but that didn’t bother me at all). As I said, a creative thinker.
As we continue to come up with ideas for new projects and ebooks, there will clearly be times when we’ll need to find accommodation off the beaten track or perhaps even camp (to keep costs down), but as long as we’re close to a major conurbation or road, we’ll continue to hunt down a Travelodge bargain.