I cautiously stepped my foot down the one step to the little door of my pod, hoping I wouldn’t wedge myself and backpack and carry-on bag in the doorway.
So … this was what I was in for — a tiny room, with a tiny bed and a tiny toilet and a tiny shower.
Ahhh, sweet Yotel.
I had arrived chaotically enough … after nearly three hours of transport via DLR (which stopped operating because of an incident at another station which required an ambulance) to bus (which took nearly an hour because of weekend London traffic) to tube (which wasn’t so bad) to train station to catch the express train to Gatwick Airport. By the time I walked into the South Terminal where the Yotel was located, I was ready to shed my backpack and let a hot shower work my shoulders.
The Yotel wasn’t too easy to find. In my mind I imagined its check-in to be a normal hotel check-in area with a lobby or something. It took me two times of stopping and asking for directions in the same little area of the airport to find it.
For those who ever decide to go, it is just before the coffee shop … there is an elevator and above the elevator is the Yotel sign. Good luck.
But, there it was, nestled in the bowels of Gatwick, the Yotel.
Travel back to 1997 in Japan where a popular operation thrives — YO! Sushi. Like Virgin and Donald Trump, the owner decided to branch out from the original concept and launch into new territories — the hotel business.
Only, this hotel was not your typical concept. Instead, it was based on capsule sleepers. The design is simple enough, small rooms with internal windows allowing the option to be built in small spaces and underground.
The first lease was signed in Gatwick and since then they’ve spread to other airports.
Yotel is ideal for travelers with layovers who want to get some rest. The two-person-wide by one-person-long room won’t give anyone much space, and the hard bed won’t mean the best sleep, but it lets travelers run off a plane to a bed and get some shut-eye.
Japanese bubble letters lacquered on a sliding mechanical door greet me as I haul myself into the “lobby,” which really isn’t a lobby, but a cutout in the wall where a man sits in front of a computer.
This is totally space age cool, I think to myself.
The entire area, lit in rich purple and green, is no more than 10,000 feet. There are three hallways. “Shhhhh” is painted on the wall of the first hall, reminding travelers that even though you are planning to get some sleep, the walls are thin (although sound proof according to European standards as stated on the Web site) and even a whisper can carry in a place this small.
I get to my room, the first door of the last hall and just stop and stare.
I’m supposed to get into there with a 12 kg bag on my back and another big carry on? Really?
The external window looks out into the hall, so I can clearly see my room is the size of my pack. But, what the hell, I’m here, I’m in it, so let’s get it started.
I squeeze through the door and throw my bags down on the rubberized floor. The bags take up the entire floor space. I bend in to look at the bed, which is kind of encapsulated in the wall (think train bed-style) and bump my head as I stand back up.
There IS a flat screen television against the wall in my bed. That’s pretty neat.
Then, I look into the bathroom, which is literally against my left shoulder when facing the mirror. A glass sliding door separates my room from the bathroom. The toiled pushes into the sink which pushes into the shower. But, the shower is one of those nice showers that are in the ceiling.
Everything in the room is dimly lit in the same purples to “create a relaxed environment.”
It doesn’t relax me because I really want to be able to see what I look like when I leave the next morning, but, again, it’s OK.
I get free wifi, so that compensates for walking out possibly looking like I have applied makeup to be a clown instead of a normal human being.
I head out to the North Terminal to grab dinner. It’s a weird feeling to walk right outside of your hotel and be in an airport and hop on a shuttle to the other terminal to get dinner and not have bags or anything. Kinda cool.
When I get back, I enjoy the shower. The cramped space may not have let me stretch, but the shower was hot and nice.
I crawl into bed. It’s a little hard. But, sleepable.
I dim the lights.
I close my eyes.
Is that white noise being pumped into my room?
And, then I’m asleep.
The next morning, as I am packing, the check-in clerk knocks at my door.
“Ma’am, your time has expired.”
I had only booked it for 12 hours, and I was at 12:10.
“Just a minute,” I said, clicking my waist straps around me and then walking out the door.
Into the airport. To my flight.
I pretended to ignore the other hotels I saw dotted around the airport as I flew to Ireland a few hours later.
How many times will I ever have to say I slept in a pod?