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Living in a Hotel - How much does it cost and how do you do it?

New York City
Photo: Chris McNamara
By Chris McNamara ⋅ Founder and Editor-in-Chief
Thursday June 11, 2015
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Can You Live in a Hotel?

Living in hotel used to only be for the rich and eccentric on the luxury end of the spectrum and the poor and eccentric on the budget end. On one side were Howard Hughes and Marilyn Monroe and on the other side were transients in the worst parts of town. But as travel has become more affordable and accessible, a new group has emerged: the traveler with a flexible work schedule or contractor who wants to live simply and see the world.

This article is not for someone who wants to live full time at the Beverly Hills Hotel. It's also not for a family of four or someone who really needs to show up at the office 9-5 every week. Instead, it's for someone (or a couple) who wants to see as much of the world as possible and live in as many different places as possible within a reasonable budget. I'm targeting people like myself: part of the growing number of traveling contractors who would rather live in the city they work in rather than commute back and forth to an expensive apartment they rarely get to appreciate. It can cost less to live in hotels and travel than to live in San Francisco, New York or many other desirable but outlandishly expensive cities (see the cost estimates below).

Full Disclosure: I don't live 100 percent of the time in a hotel. I have a vacation rentals in Tahoe that I rent on AirBnb (Link to my other tahoe rental). However, I do spend about 75 percent of the time traveling.

How to Live in a Hotel

1. Get Rid of Everything You Have Not Used in a Year

This is a good idea even if you don't want to live in a hotel. If you haven't used it in a year, there is a 99 percent chance you don't need it. Now it just requires money and/or mental energy to store. Go to eBay, look up the item's value in recently completed auctions and decide if you want to sell the item or give it away. I wrote this online charity auction guide which has my eBay tips. If it's not worth selling, give it away to your favorite local non-profit.

Still not convinced you can or should get rid of all that stuff?
Chris McNamara & Megan Sullivan in Machu Picchu, Peru. Both...
Try going on a 3-7 day trip with just the following: 1 jacket, 4 shirts, 4 pairs of underwear, 1 pair of shoes, 1 pair of pants and a bathing suit. I think you will find that not only is it possible, it makes travel way more fun. You spend less time thinking about moving your stuff around and more time having memorable experiences.

2. Establish a Home Base… Or Don't
Even if you live in a hotel most of the time,
Too much stuff or a potential home base otherwise know as a storage...
it can be nice to have a home base to store stuff. This could be a storage locker, parents' house or even a small apartment that you AirBnB when you're not there. I have a vacation rental house in Lake Tahoe that is rented on AirBnb most of the time… but it's nice to go back there every once in a while and nice to use the storage. How to get a free house by renting it out as a vacation rental home is for another article.

3. Negotiate for a Long-term Rate

There are two approaches to living in a hotel: negotiate with the hotel for a great long-term rate or book last minute. If you are staying somewhere longer than a week, you probably want to negotiate.

4. Use Apps, Not Web Sites, to Find Hotel Deals
HotelTonight App App
I usually stay less than a week in one location and prefer to book last minute. Unless there is a major convention or event in your city that will take all available hotel rooms, you save money by booking last minute. This is the rare occasion where procrastination pays off.

Apps like HotelTonight and offer better rates than web sites. For example, I often find the app finds prices 10-25 percent less than on the web site. Discounts range from 10-80 percent off the published rate.

5. Paperless Billing and Mail Forwarding - Switch to paperless billing even if you're not living out of a hotel. There usually is still some mail that can't be paperless (IRS, tickets — you know, the fun stuff). For that, the USPS has a Premium Forwarding Service for $18 a week that will forward your weekly mail anywhere.

6. Use the Hotel Gym - One of the few downsides to constant travel is that it's easy to let
Terranea Resort, Los Angeles Ca.
yourself go. Not just in a superficial "I feel fat" sense. We all feel better when we get our heart rate up for 30 minutes every (or every other) day. Few hotel gyms are that great and likely are way worse than the class, gym, running or biking route that you are used to. But getting in the hotel gym, if only for 15-20 minutes every other day, seems to be a cure for lethargy that can set in when traveling for extended time periods.

7. Use the Front Desk - Not only does the front desk have extra adapters, toothbrushes and misc. supplies, they often can point you toward the best places to see and eat nearby that may be buried in Yelp or your maps app. For bar and nightlife recommendations, ask the hotel bartender (who is hopefully about your age) for the name of his or her favorite place.

8. Get Uber and an Electric Skateboard -
Yuneec and Boosted Dual+ Boards
As an alternative to a car, I use Uber and rental car agencies. Rental cars, when not rented at an airport, are generally much less expensive than you think ($10-20 per day). I also use an electric skateboard for most short trips. This is not for most people, but if it sounds at all intriguing, see this electric skateboard review.

Cost to Live in a Hotel

The short answer: living in a hotel is as expensive as you make it. It can be less expensive or more expensive than renting an apartment, depending on your standard of living and how you are able to deduct expenses.

At first glance, living in a hotel may seem expensive. For example, let's say on average you spend $150 a night on hotels (which in 2015 gets you a pretty nice room if you use deal apps like Hotel Tonight). That would roughly be $4500 a month which is super expensive for most people. But that once you start living in hotels, you travel more and spend more nights visiting friends, camping, staying with a significant other at their house, getting free nights on rewards. On average I only actually stay in a hotel about half that time, so now I'm at $2250 a month.

Now look at all the money saved each month by not renting a place:
$50 - gas and electric
$25 - garbage and water
$100 - tv, cable , internet
$100 - basic living and cleaning supplies, replacing sheets, towels, laundry detergent, etc.
$50 - house cleaning

$100-200 - furnishings (assuming most people spend $1200-2400 a year on furnishings)

Add all that to your $1500 a month, and you are getting closer to the $2250 number.

If you have read this far, you probably also like to travel. So you're probably going to be renting hotel rooms, let's say on average two nights a month at $150 a night. Now you are well past that $2250 number.

Now consider that living in a hotel may be largely tax-deductible if it's work related. This adds another 15-35 percent discount to your hotel stay, depending on your tax bracket. That average price of $150 a night might only be $100 a night if it's deductible. Tax deductions to your rental apartment are generally limited to the relatively small percentage that you can justify as a home office.

Finally, if you're staying in hotels most of the time, you probably don't need a car. Not having a car is a bigger cost and time savings than most people think. Depreciation, gas and insurance are the biggest costs. But many people underestimate the little costs that also add up: parking, parking tickets, car washes, repairs, oil changes, accidents, registration. More importantly, not having a car generally saves you time - a LOT of time.

Time Savings of Living in Hotel

The above calculation of the costs will vary wildly based on your standard of living and other factors. What is more constant is the time savings of hotel living. You never or rarely have to:
  • make your bed
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  • wash your sheets
  • do dishes
  • do laundry
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  • clean your house or organize someone else to do it
  • shop for house supplies, bedding, etc. (and track down deliveries)
  • shop for home furnishings, art (and wait for the delivery truck or assemble the furniture)
  • maintain plants or a yard

Overall, hotel living is not for most people. But if you you don't have kids, have a flexible work schedule and can work from anywhere, it's much more appealing to than furnishing an apartment in an expensive city. You save time, can potentially save money, and get to live in potentially very nice and different surroundings. Finally, the biggest benefit to hotel living: you just get out more! You get out of the routines that make life fly by too fast. Instead, you make more memories, go on more adventures and meet more people. If you have the opportunity - try it!

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