Capsule hotels, like this one in Tokyo, are inexpensive ways to sleep while visiting a big city. Capsule hotels, like this one in Tokyo, are inexpensive ways to sleep while visiting a big city. Capsule hotels, like this one in Tokyo, are inexpensive ways to sleep while visiting a big city. (Photo: Pisaphotography / Shutterstock)

At pod hotels, tiny rooms mean tiny prices

Young urban travelers see it as a fun and inexpensive way to see the world.

Lilit Marcus has globe trotted around the world – from Alaska to Australia and many points in between. In fact, she spends about half the year criss-crossing the globe. After all, it's her job. She's the Travel Editor at CNN.

So it might be surprising to hear that someone who has slept on cruise ships and stayed in luxury resorts had one of the best shower experiences at an airport hotel. It was at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, which features tiny pod-like rooms.

"They don't have a huge bathroom and a lot of space that they can work with," Marcus told From The Grapevine. "So what they told me to do is get inside the shower, close the door and not turn it on until the door was closed. I was like, 'That's ridiculous. It's going to be cold. I don't want to stand there waiting for the water to warm up.' And I don't know what it is that they do, but the water comes on the exact perfect temperature. They're geniuses, however they did that. It was one of the best showers I had the whole trip."

Whether it's the perfect shower temperature or the novelty of staying in a pod, more people are booking stays at these hotels. They usually feature rooms that are not much bigger than an office cubicle. Some, known as capsule hotels, feature ones that are even smaller.

Indian guest Dinesh Juneja poses for a photograph as he watches television in his pod at the Urbanpod hotel in Mumbai. Indian guest Dinesh Juneja poses for a photograph as he watches television in his pod at the Urbanpod hotel in Mumbai. (Photo: Indranil Mukherjee / AFP/Getty Images)

A recent travel industry report expects the capsule hotel market to reach $226 million by 2022. The trend is fueled by young urban travelers looking for inexpensive accommodations in major cities (you could find rooms for as little as $20 a night). At the YotelAir inside Singapore's Changi Airport, designed by noted Israeli architect Moshe Safdie, travelers can rent tiny pods for the night or for naps by the hour.

Dan Eldridge was a student at the University of Pittsburgh when he decided to go on the "Semester at Sea" program. Every few days, they would dock at another port of call. "In Osaka, two friends and I got the idea that spending a night in a capsule hotel would make for a good story, and we were not mistaken," Eldridge, now a freelance writer in Philadelphia, told us. "It was, without a doubt, the most amusing experience I'd ever had at any sort of hotel at that point in my life."

He said the capsule itself didn't make him feel claustrophobic at all. "On the contrary, I found it positively cozy," he explained. "There was enough height that sitting up was a possibility – and I'm nearly 6'2". I remember sleeping incredibly well that night, and I'm sure a lot of that had to do with the fact that the capsule itself was so womb-like and comforting. When I woke up the next morning, though, I almost immediately burst into laughter at the ridiculousness of it all."

That womb-like ethos is what drives the new WOM chain of hotels, based in Israel. The acronym officially stands for "Word Of Mouth," but co-founder Lihi Gerstner said that it can mean lots of things. "It has a lot of different connotations," she told From The Grapevine. "But it comes from a womb, from something warm."

'I think like every amazing idea in the East – like sushi and minimalism – it comes to the West, and we appreciate it so much that we adopt it,' said Lihi Gerstner, whose new pod hotel rooms in Tel Aviv can be seen here. 'I think like every amazing idea in the East – like sushi and minimalism – it comes to the West, and we appreciate it so much that we adopt it,' said Lihi Gerstner, whose new pod hotel rooms in Tel Aviv can be seen here. (Photo: Courtesy XHIBITION PR)

Gerstner and her brother, both architects, are launching Tel Aviv's first pod hotel, called the WOM Allenby. It's located one block from the Mediterranean Sea and has 40 stylish rooms for the urban traveler. Rates are only about $45 a night. They'll be opening another one, in the trendy Tel Aviv neighborhood known as Neve Tzedek, later this fall. That one is expected to contain 140 rooms.

Like most pod hotels, everything is digitized at the WOM chain, with guests using an iPhone app to do everything from check in and open their door to turning on the lights and changing the air conditioning temperature.

Dim Gerstner (left) and his sister Lihi launched their first pod hotel this summer in Israel. Dim Gerstner (left) and his sister Lihi launched their first pod hotel this summer in Israel. (Photo: Courtesy Lina Gerstner)

Marcus, the travel editor, said she likes that these types of hotels are so customizable. She checked into her Amsterdam airport pod via an iPad. "I was able to say whether I wanted a room that faced the airport or a room that faced the runway and whether I want it to be on a high floor or a low floor, which I love. I feel like at a lot of conventional hotels you just show up and they hand you a room key and you don't get choices."

What really impressed Marcus was the ability to check in at any time. "There aren't these really strict hours," she explained. At a lot of them offer 12 hour rentals and the clock starts when you check in. "It doesn't matter when you arrive, which is really nice when you're dealing with jet lag or you have a crazy early flight. You're not on a normal schedule and yet they expect you to be on a normal schedule at a lot of hotels. And there is nothing worse than flying an overnight flight, being tired as hell, arriving somewhere bleary-eyed not knowing where the hell you are. You're exhausted. You really want to take a shower and you're falling asleep on your feet in a hotel lobby while you wait a couple of hours for someone to clean your room. So I was excited to get out of that system."

Where in the world is Lilit Marcus? Here she is about to board a seaplane in Tasmania. Where in the world is Lilit Marcus? Here she is about to board a seaplane in Tasmania. (Photo: Courtesy Lilit Marcus)

And she saw the small and sparse room as an advantage. "In one case, I had been on a really busy work trip in London and I had a lot of interviews to transcribe and stuff that I was working on. And the fact that the hotel is so minimal didn't give me any distractions. It was like: here's a bed, here's a desk, get some work done. And it was exactly what I needed. And even though it's in an airport, they did a really nice job with the soundproofing."

Gerstner, who hopes to expand her pod concept across Europe and into the United States, sees another advantage to the compact accommodations. "You're coming to see Tel Aviv and not necessarily the hotel," she said. "We believe the city is the lobby."

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At pod hotels, tiny rooms mean tiny prices
Young urban travelers see it as a fun and inexpensive way to see the world.