Day Ten: PH Towers ($239)
Even sober, the Vegas strip is an exhausting, battering place to stay; particularly when you're staying in 33 hotels in 33 days. 33 check-ins, 33 episodes of trying to find the right elevator and trudging down corridors looking for out-of-the-way room numbers, 33 days of packing and unpacking...
For an adventure like this one, it really helps to travel light. Earlier this week, I dropped by the studios of KNPR: Nevada Public Radio to answer a few questions about my trip and to talk about the world's continuing fascination with Vegas. When I arrived, the host looked at my two bags -- a laptop back and a larger leather carry-on sized duffel bag -- and raised a quizzical eyebrow.
"That's all you have for a whole month?"
"No, actually, that's all I have for my entire life."
You see, one of the reasons why the past ten days spent constantly moving from hotel to hotel (and 10 days of hotel air conditioning, or 10 days of restaurant food and hotel drink prices) hasn't killed me is because it's simply a more concentrated variation on how I live my normal life.
When Samuel Johnson suggested that a man who is tired of London is tired of life, he clearly didn't live in the same part of London -- or the same century -- as I did. When I left the city a little over three years ago, I was paying roughly $100 a day (at the prevailing exchange rate) to simply survive in one of the world's most expensive cities. That $100 covered rent, local tax, heat, light, power, TV & internet and a few other sundries -- all of which I realized I were included in the price of any decent hotel room. Coupled with the fact that, at the time (and still now), the hotel industry was struggling hard to fill rooms and so was offering amazing deals through sites like Priceline and Hotwire, my plan to sell all of my possessions and live entirely in hotels around the world -- following the best deals wherever they took me -- seemed like a brilliant way to live.
My love of hotels started young. My parents are career-long hoteliers and my first hotel check-in came when I was two days old and they carried me in a basket back to a suite at the King Malcolm Hotel in Dunfermline, Scotland. I spent my first Christmas in a hotel, I ate my first solid food in a hotel restaurant and I drank my first Diet Coke (not entirely legally, I suspect) in a hotel bar. Before speaking my first word, I dialled nine for an outside line.
It wasn't until I left home for university that I properly understood how unusual my relationship with the hospitality industry was. To normal people, hotels are glamorous, expensive places you stay when you're forced to be away from home. For me, they're just... home.
After university, I tried to be normal -- really I did. I moved to London, rented a flat and founded two dot com businesses, determined to be the next Mark Zuckerberg (before there had even been a first one). Unfortunately it soon became apparent that I'm not very good at being normal and by my 28th birthday, the businesses were gone, my romantic life was a multiple train-wreck; I was broke, bored, tired of London and -- yeah -- tired of life.
Pining for the womb-like comfort of hotels, I made the (then) rash but (now) perfectly sensible decision to give up my flat, sell almost all of my possessions, pack the rest into a carry-on bag and jump on a plane to Manhattan for three months; the longest I could stay in the US without a visa. My idea was to use those months to figure out what I actually wanted to do with my life.
More than three years -- and hundreds of hotel rooms -- later, living in hotels with almost no possessions is what I actually do with my life.
In the world of technology, it's called "living in the cloud". Every aspect of my existence -- from accommodation to transportation to entertainment to office space -- is virtual: rented as required. Thanks to the Internet, I can monitor average hotel occupancy around the world and figure out where the best rates will likely be found. My Blackberry lets me book rooms and flights at the very last minute, often from the back of an airport cab. Services like Zipcar mean that, on the rare occasions I need to drive, I have ready access to a fleet of cars in the US and UK; while the advent of the Amazon Kindle and Apple's iPad means I barely miss owning books, DVDs or albums.
In fact the basics of cloud living are so simple that anyone can do it, assuming they have a job which allows remote working. For me, the real challenge comes from continuously upgrading my standard of living: a bigger room in a cooler hotel; a more head-turning rental car; neater gadgets in my ever-shrinking carry-on bag -- and from bumbling my way into even more ridiculous adventures -- all without increasing my monthly outlay. It's like the Japanese principle of Kaizen -- continuous improvement -- only much, much more fun. That's part of what attracted me to my current Vegas adventure: the challenge of staying on budget in a city designed to fleece you at every turn. The hotel deals make it sound easy, but the restaurants, bars and lure of gaming tables soon set you straight.
The biggest draw of hotels, though, is the people you meet in them. In the past three years, by virtue of having no fixed abode (and very little shame), I've partied with Hollywood actresses and Icelandic reality show stars; I've talked my way into toga parties with eight hundred bedsheet-clad female hairdressing students (and then been invited to lecture at their college on "the business of hair); I've been thrown in jail; narrowly escaped being stabbed by Spanish drug dealers and I've learned first hand the difficulties of having sex with a girl while there's a dead woman in my wardrobe. Actually, that all happened in the first six months - before things got really crazy.
And it's for all those reasons that, far from feeling battered by Vegas, I'm (so far at least) feeling invigorated by it. Even my shitty experiences at the Imperial Palace or the Riviera had upsides: other disgruntled guests have emailed me their own horror stories, along with really useful Vegas advice. Had I not stayed at either of those terrible hotels, I might never have heard from those people. Every new hotel I check-in to brings with it a thousand potential new friends, or at least a thousand potential new stories.
And while, as I mentioned on Saturday, I no longer have anything fresh to say about hotel bedding or minibars, I've still managed to retain the childlike excitement of opening a hotel room door for the first time, not knowing what lies behind it. My room at PH Westgate (there's some dispute over whether it's technically on the strip; don't worry, I'm staying in the main Planet Hollywood too) had its own projector allowing me to re-watch The Sting on the electric window shades. There was also a washer-dryer, saving me at least fifty bucks on laundry fees.
The previous night, I stayed in the Stratosphere and -- obviously -- went up to the top of the tower. Sure it was an amazing view, but my takeaway story from the hotel will be the fact that the irons in the (surprisingly nice) bedrooms were attached to the ironing boards by a cable, presumably to prevent guests from stealing them. I love stuff like that, and what it tells us about humanity. Who steals an iron? Church groups, apparently.
So, there you go. To all the dozens of people who have emailed me asking how I plan to make it out of this adventure alive, hopefully that gives you some kind of answer.
Three years ago I figured that living in hotels, following deals wherever they take me, was a brilliant way to live. Three years later -- as I load up my bag and prepare to move on to tomorrow's, and tomorrow's and tomorrow's hotel -- I still feel exactly the same way. In fact, I don't understand why everyone doesn't live like this.