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Reader horror stories: Next time it could be you

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Photo: Index Open
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on October 11, 2007. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: airfare, car rental, cruise, disaster, Erica Silverstein, hotel, insurance, vacation package.

Forget about ghostly graveyards and haunted houses—real horror stories often take place on airplanes, cruise ships, and supposedly relaxing vacations. If you've ever had your bags go missing for days or sprinted through an airport only to miss your flight by minutes, you know that sometimes travel can be downright scary.

To give you a pre-Halloween thrill, we're publishing the best of the worst travel horror stories submitted by SmarterTravel.com readers. We received an influx of emails from you, and while we couldn't print them all, we certainly sympathized with every one. We hope to use these tales of woe to teach you a few tricks for avoiding or dealing with travel mishaps.

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Dirty rooms and naked guests

Brenda H. submitted the following story about a horrible hotel experience.

"A couple of years ago, my 14-year-old daughter and I checked into a hotel near John Wayne Airport. It was late, and they only had one room available even with my pre-paid reservation. To start, the room was dirty: Cigarette ashes on the table, garbage in the trash cans, old coffee (with mold) in the coffee maker, dirty sheets, and the room reeked with cigarettes.

"I called down, and the guy said he was the only one there, didn't have another room, and couldn't clean this one for us. I was appalled, but at 11 p.m. I didn't know where else to go. He said I could come down and get clean sheets. I also insisted on cleaning supplies. I went to the lobby and picked these things up. We changed the sheets, all the time leaving the window open for fresh air. I threw all of the old linens including bedspreads into the hallway, which is when I realized there were also no towels. The only dishcloth was also dirty! I called again, and he said he would put some towels in the lobby for me.

"My daughter was crying, and it was almost 2 a.m. by this time. I went down and got the towels and as I waited for the elevator, the elevator door opened and a naked woman walked out! Without saying a word, she walked out the front door of the hotel. She had her arms across her chest and just kept walking. I felt like I was in a nightmare of some sort.

"The next morning we left even though we had paid for two nights. Because I had prepaid online, the hotel manager, even though appalled, would not return our money."

What to do

The last thing a tired traveler needs is to find she's paid for an unlivable hotel room. Clearly, Brenda did everything she could to make this disgusting hotel room more palatable.

Although sometimes dirty hotel rooms are a fluke, more often than not they're indicative of the general quality of a hotel property. Before you book a hotel, check traveler reviews on a site such as TripAdvisor. If many users give the property bad reviews, you may want to avoid it, even if it's the cheapest or most convenient option.

If you do end up in a situation like Brenda's, don't keep quiet. Ask for a reimbursement from the hotel manager, and if you can't get one at the hotel, call or write the parent company or the travel site through which you booked. Make sure you request a specific dollar amount, rather than a generic reimbursement, and state whether you will accept free-stay or discount vouchers.

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