“I’m not kidding,” Rich said. “I think this carpet is made of cardboard.”
I bent down to take a closer look. “Could be some sort of plastic. Or maybe ridged asphalt covered in vinyl? Whatever it is, don’t put your bare feet on it.”
We were standing at the entrance/entire floor area of the smallest hotel room I’d ever seen, in the Bloc at Gatwick Airport. With EasyJet’s only flights between London and Seville departing at the unseemly hour of 6:25 in the morning, we’d opted for the convenience of a hotel right in the airport, so we could roll out of bed and be at the gate in minutes.
That sounded so good in theory. And we weren’t particularly dismayed to find the entrance to our hotel situated on a dreary concourse between the men’s and women’s restrooms. Check-in took an admirable ten seconds. In the elevator, a woman’s recorded voice – just like the one Hollywood uses to announce that you have 25 seconds until the space station blows up – calmly yet insistently repeated instructions to swipe our card in order to be carried to the appropriate floor. We arrived to discover a maze of narrow, dark, featureless corridors, like something out of a sci fi flick.
The space station-style announcements continued at every turn, informing us to swipe our card at each set of doors. Naturally I expected them to part with a Star-Trek whooshing sound, but, disappointingly, we actually had to push them open with our hands when the lock released.
Our room turned out to be 108-square foot (10-square-meter) cube into which they’d fitted a bed and a compact bathroom — which was designed in the “wet room” style used on trains and ships, with a partition-free shower that efficiently ensures everything in the space gets soaked at once. A tablet embedded in the wall by the bed controlled the lights, temperature, and window blinds. Yes, there was a window, which of course didn’t open, but offered a view of nearby floodlit air vents. We closed the blinds. The room felt like a coffin.
“It’s a sensory deprivation tank,” said Rich, raising the blinds to half mast.
“It’s like that episode of Black Mirror,” I said. “The one where in the future people live in cubicles and never see the outside world.”
Looking it up online, I was astonished (aghast, even) to discover that the Bloc was far from the smallest or most dystopian hotel available. Ever wanted to sleep in a re-purposed concrete drainpipe? Me neither, but Germany’s Dasparkhotel offers this rare opportunity, which they proudly describe as “a new kind of hospitality-tool in public space.” The bed fills the cement tube; security is a metal door; toilets and showers are in shared public spaces nearby. Skinny luggage may fit under the bed; otherwise, presumably you'll be clutching it in your arms all night. Payment is voluntary; 20 euros is recommended.
Possibly the tiniest and cheapest sleeping capsules on the planet are the 2.5 square meter (27 square foot) stacked cubes in the Kaiteki Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Each comes equipped with ear plugs (never a good sign) and, even more ominously, a fire extinguisher. I guess you have to bring your own anti-claustrophobia medication. Apparently the pods are separated by gender, and a Female Business Capsule will run about 179,828 dong or US $8.
If you’re really worried about missing that early morning flight, some airports offer self-service Napcabs right at the gate for 10€ to 15€ per hour. One woman recorded her night in this one at gate H32 in Terminal 2 at Munich Airport. While far from luxurious, it sure beats sleeping on a chair in the departure lounge.
All in all, Rich and I decided that our Bloc hotel experience wasn’t so bad. True, we paid £59 ($90) for a very, very small room, but it was four times the size of a Kaiteki Hotel pod. We didn’t have to use earplugs, put out any fires, or clutch our luggage all night. And to be fair, the bed was very comfortable and the TV was top quality. And even though we weren’t actually sleeping at our departure gate like the woman in Munich, we made our 6:25 flight with plenty of time to spare. It was convenient and good value. Use it again? God, I hope not.
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I'm an American travel writer currently living in California.
My weekly updates contain tips for keeping our mental equilibrium and living more authentically during these turbulent times.