This past weekend I took one last trip to get away before the end of summer. Traveling up the California coast was gorgeous and reminded me of why I love California so much; the extreme contrasts of hilly terrain set against crystal blue ocean makes for a stunning vista.

Yet, it also reiterated just how expensive sunny California is, especially in towns nearer the coast. Our first night was a planned stay in Paso Robles, a city we’re thinking about possibly moving to in the future (however, moving to a new city definitely means visiting that city multiple times during different seasons – it was HOT!). The hotel was affordable and comfortable; exactly what we expected.

Our second night wasn’t planned. We decided to be spontaneous and drive further south after visiting the Hearst Castle in San Simeon to find a room. Our poor planning for a Saturday night stay led to our frugal mistake. We ended up in San Luis Obispo (SLO), a quaint college town with lots of walkable areas. I loved the feel of the city, the 25-cent trolley, and how close all the restaurants were in the downtown area. However, our first stop at a Comfort Inn reminded me that SLO is NOT very affordable. We were quoted $300 for that Saturday night; a price that wasn’t a comfortable fit within our budget.

Since the street we were on was full of hotels, Mr. LH hoofed it further up the road and was quoted a more affordable $125 for a mom and pop style motel. Let me just say that the quote, “You get what you pay for,” couldn’t have been any more true. For our $120 after AAA discount and taxes, our room was bordering on slummy at best.

The room was filthy; the furniture had sticky goop all over it and blackened finger prints. The walls looked like they hadn’t been repainted in over 10 years. Half the lights were broken or missing light bulbs. Since we were only spending one night and the sheets looked clean, we sucked it up and stayed. We were also traveling with another couple and their room was quite a bit more acceptable, which was another reason we didn’t want to cause a scene and find another place.

Mr. LH and I realized that in our haste due to poor planning and our frugal tendencies we ended up choosing a dud of a hotel. Had we traveled a bit further up the street, and maybe spent an additional $20-$40 bucks more, we could have had a more pleasant stay.

I’d love to spend more time in San Luis Obispo in the future, but I won’t make the same mistake again. Next time, I’m booking my hotel rooms ahead of time and will find coupons!

Have you ever made a frugal mistake that was uncomfortable?


  1. krantcents Reply

    When we first moved to southern California, we stayed near some friends. The hotel they recommended sounded a little like the one you encountered in SLO. We only stayed one night and moved to a Holiday Inn.

    • @Krantcents – I’m glad it was only for one night, that’s for sure. There would be no way I would have stayed there if it was an extended stay. 😉

  2. Hey… great site! I’m glad I found you. It sounds like your trip was enjoyable… what was it that led you to not book hotels ahead, just out of curiosity? Even a quick online check can save lots of money I find.

    • @Doctor Stock – We were traveling with another couple and weren’t sure if we wanted to stay in the first city we had booked our hotel in, or if we wanted to explore other cities instead. So we decided to be spontaneous and not book ahead of time. Very stupid on our part!

  3. retirebyforty Reply

    You guys should have driven down a bit further to Santa Barbara and see really expensive hotels. 🙂 Did you like Paso Robles enough to move there?

    • @Retire by 40 – You’re right, SB is way more expensive! As for Paso Robles, the really hot weather was a turn off. I think we need to investigate SLO a bit more and possibly northern California. The biggest drawback to SLO county right now is there aren’t any teaching jobs. There seem to be more near the bay area. That may be our next excursion.

  4. Yes we have. We were in hilton head island and book an overlycheap house that looked nice on the website, but upon arriving it was invested with bugs and looked like it was about 20 years older than the picture on the website.

    I get worried about bud bugs too. You never know and if the room looks like it hasn’t been clean for a while… The possibility is aways there.

    • @Money Reasons – I definitely thought about bed bugs. If it had been a hotel in NYC, I’m pretty sure I would have just slept in my car instead, given their bug investation!

  5. Jeff @ Sustainable life blog Reply

    Gah, that sounds like a horrible thing to deal with on a trip like that. It always sucks when you’re worked into a bind and you NEED a place for that night, they know they’ve got you.

    • @Jeff – It was my poor planning, but yep, it stunk. At one point Mr. LH and I almost slept in our car, but decided we’d suck it up and get through it.

  6. Here’s a tip when looking for a unplanned hotel stay – instead of going to the front desk, get the number and call from outside! If you call from outside, hotels might think you are shopping around and might even give a ridiculous rate to fill an otherwise empty room.

    If they see a weary traveler, the rates will go up!

  7. We once stayed in Baltimore and the place next door was a bail bonds agency. I was a nervous wreck the entire night. My husband was an employee of a particular hotel chain so we were using his employee discount for the night. I will say that the hotel furniture was not covered in black goo, so it had that going for it!

  8. Barb Friedberg Reply

    Been there done that many years ago. A scary Knights Inn with rotary dial phones. I’m still mercilessly teased for this one.

    • @Barb – Since Mr. LH picked out the hotel, I can’t be teased for it being my choice. But, whenever a hotel manager asks if we want to “see” the rooms before hand, we’ll run the other way. (Mr. LH remembered this statement from the manager a day later and now knows why!)

  9. Hunter @ Financially Consumed Reply

    Beautiful part of the world. I just can’t get enough of the West Coast either. I have never driven any further south on the coast beyond Big Sur, from San Francisco. But I can relate to your shock at the expensive hotel. I like Money Cone’s suggestion.

    • @Hunter – I know that coastal CA is expensive (heck, I live within 20 miles of the coast in SoCal), but I really think the sticker shock was because we had just ‘showed up’. I think that if I had followed the advice Money Cone gave, it would have been less. ;(

  10. I have never gambled on not having hotel reservations. Your story has convinced me to never deviate from my plan.

    • @Daniel – Yep. Not having a planned reservation really did stink. Being spontaneous when it comes to comfort isn’t worth it!

  11. I stayed in a hotel in Seattle that was awful. The smoke smell was atrocious, and I think I passed a hooker’s room on the way up to mine.

    But it was cheap! :O

    • @MBHunter – Funny you mention the hooker. My husband swears that something fishy was going on in one of the rooms when he noticed a young girl and an older man with a camera enter one of them! I’ve tried to erase that information from my memory!

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