THE words "a tiny room" were painted on the Caltrans-orange door to Room 3.3 at the EasyHotel in London's Kensington neighborhood. As I swung it open, all 6 feet, 4 inches and 240 pounds of me worried a bit. Just how tiny was tiny?
London is one of the world's most expensive tourist destinations, especially with the dollar still weak against the pound. Even the federal government, not always known for its generosity to traveling employees, allows $274 a day for lodging in London. Fortunately, I have friends with whom I can board on my forays.
But for travelers to London without international house-guest status, finding reasonably priced accommodations can be a challenge.
Enter the EasyHotel chain, with one property in London and another in Basel, Switzerland. It is the latest budget-minded travel business from the company that brought travelers the EasyJet low-fare airline. And it's but one entry in a new concept in hotels that is aimed at bringing an element of style to a small inn space.
"It's mostly in urban areas," said Jan deRoos, a professor at Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration in Ithaca, N.Y. "The objective function there is sleep in a convenient location."
These newer, tiny inns are not exactly capsule hotels, those coffin-like accommodations borne of necessity in real-estate-starved Japan, where hotel rooms have always been small, at least by Western standards.
"In Tokyo, I like to say that hotel rooms come in three sizes -- adequate, small and miniature," says Beth Reiber, author of Frommer's guidebooks on Tokyo, Japan and Hong Kong. "Something palatial in Tokyo would be Motel 6 size."
The Japanese pod or capsule hotels, which have been around for about three decades, fall into that last category.
That hotel system consists of modular plastic or fiberglass pods about 6 feet long, 3 feet wide and 3 feet tall, stacked one on top of another.
They bring new meaning to the phrase "population density," but they do provide cheap accommodations, usually in the under-$50 range.
Frommers says a moderate room in Tokyo costs $117 to $208; the federal government allows $189 a day for a room.
London-based Yotel has expanded on the concept. Think Japanese capsule fused with a first-class suite aboard a British Airways flight and you get the idea.
The Yotels are to open at London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports next year.
Here the concept is small but luxurious. Its 110-square-foot rooms will be decorated in real woods and leather.
"It's about luxury at an affordable price," said Yotel Chief Executive Gerard Greene. When the first Yotel opens in central London in 2007, it will cost about $140 a night.
The rooms in the airports' terminals will cost about $45 for the first four hours, workable if you have a layover on a long flight and want to shower and/or nap.
Staying in these small hotels is not everyone's cup of tea; in fact, you can't even get a cup of tea at EasyHotel. But without argument, it is more affordable.
Less than a week in advance of my September trip to London, I booked my room at the EasyHotel for about $85. (When I checked on rates for a week in April, the price dropped to about $50 per night; the further in advance, the cheaper your rate.) At the Park Lane, a four-star hotel just up the road in Mayfair, a room was about $326 per night.
But comparing the Park Lane to the EasyHotel is like, well, comparing apples to orange. DeRoos says it is all about managing a guest's expectations.
"You don't ask your customer how you're doing, you tell them, 'Here's the promise,' " says DeRoos. "Then you ask, 'Did we deliver on the promise?' "
Still, I worried how my refined world-traveler sensibilities would react to the promise of a small room and orange, lots of orange. I dragged my bags and my not-so-tiny self into my tiny room.
"This isn't so bad," I said to my friend Seamus Kennedy, who had come to see for himself what $85 a night bought in central London.
The 60-square-foot room was half-filled by a double bed, snugly bordered by 3 1/2 walls (the half wall belonging to the loo). Only one wall was painted the trademark orange.
A stencil of "EasyHotel.com" was painted in white on the orange wall -- handy, I suppose, if I forgot where I was.
A small, flat-screen TV was mounted above the bed near the ceiling; I could have watched if I'd forked out the $9 to rent a remote control. (The charge for the remote wasn't the only extra. Room cleaning and sheet changing cost $18 a day.)
To the right was another orange door, this one stenciled with the words "a tiny loo." Anyone who has ever traveled in an RV will be familiar with the tiny loo. It had a toilet, a sink and mirror, one towel (extra towels about $1.85), a shower mat and, in the corner, a shower with a circular curtain.