West Africa on a Shoestring: What to Expect from a Budget Hotel

by Chelsea Clarke

Sometimes you just don’t know what you’ll get! Image by Flickr user John Stavely.

I’ve stayed in hotels all across Togo, in addition to making shorter trips to Burkina Faso, Ghana, and Benin. As a volunteer, my budget is on the lowest end of the range. My experience is primarily with local digs, not the kind of accommodations that cater to tourists seeking luxury comforts.

Those hotels certainly exist in West Africa, especially in the capital cities. However, if you are venturing off the beaten track or trying to keep costs down, you’re going to be staying in places that differ from budget options in Western countries.

When I meet other Westerners on their first trip to the region, sometimes they are uncomfortable and irritated with their lodging for the night. Expectation management can go a long way. If you know what to anticipate, you can make peace with staying in a budget hotel where there are different norms than you are used to, and you can get down to the business of exploring your new surroundings in a good mood. That’s why you hit the road in the first place!

Don’t expect automatic refills of soap and toilet paper.

And you can go ahead and forget about shampoo or conditioner. At some places you might even have to beg a staff member for the first bar of soap and toilet paper roll. The former is all-purpose, for hand-washing and the shower. The latter is doled out one roll at a time to prevent theft. If you’re going to be moving around West Africa at all, it is always advisable to travel with your own stash on hand!

You CAN expect clean sheets, a locking door, and a well-swept room. If there is something really wrong with the room, or you made a reservation for a less expensive room and they mistakenly booked it (Yes, this happens.), you can always ask for a discount or the originally agreed-upon price.

A room with a fan may cost a little bit more, and it’s worth it — A/C is metered.

Don’t make the beginner’s mistake I once did when I glibly blasted the A/C throughout the night. If you didn’t specifically pay more for an air-conditioned room and it has a unit, it is probably metered. During hot season, this can really rack up the bill.

A fan can is certainly more budget-friendly than A/C. Image by Flickr user John Ragai.

I find a well-placed little fan is sufficient, even on very hot nights. And when the staff member is showing you to your room, always check to make sure the fan is working before he or she walks away!

If there is a TV, it may or may not be functional.

It isn’t considered a standard fixture in a room, so don’t try to haggle the price down if yours isn’t working. You’ll likely get an unsympathetic shrug.

There is no such thing as room service during your stay, but if you need something, ask.

You may not always get service with the employer-enforced smile that you can expect in America, but the staff will often try to accommodate polite, reasonable requests.

I stayed in a place with completely ripped window screens and was prey to a glut of mosquitoes my first night there. The next night I requested a solution, and the management provided me with mosquito coils. Other places may even have a mosquito net you can borrow. Some people like to travel with their own net, but those can be bulky. Whatever you decide, make sure to have malaria prophylaxis.

You may not get the amenities of a Western hotel, but you may find a lot more flexibility.

If you’re a budget traveler in West Africa, you probably didn’t come expecting an ice machine or pay-per-view TV. (If you did, you’re in for quite a rough trip!) You need to be flexible. The silver lining is that chances are, the hotel management is considerably more laissez-faire.

Case in point: I was very nervous about bringing my cat to Lomé in preparation for flying him to America. I decided it was better to show up with him, pleading on the hotel’s doorstep rather than ask permission in advance. I needn’t have worried. Management ushered me into my room without a concern as I set up a litter box and food plate. The next morning they greeted me with a big smile and asked how my cat slept. (Being a nocturnal creature, he galloped around the room and repeatedly used my head as a springboard to the windowsill, but that’s beside the point.)

You can get a lot of mileage from a shoestring budget; you just have to know how to tie it! Image by Pixabay user 21150.

When it comes to things like the amount of people in a room, checkout time, storing bags, and maybe even animals, you aren’t going to experience the rigid adherence to policies and rampant extra fees that you find in Western countries. So don’t worry about the lack of room service; right outside your door you can find some tasty, cheap street food. Embrace the differences, get out there, and enjoy your trip!

How about you? Do you have any funny or crazy stories from staying in budget accommodations around the world?

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