HOWTO AVOID CABIN FEVER

Vi­jay Vergh­ese slips into some­thing tight and com­fort­able

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Holidays Afloat -

WE all love pods. From the iPod and Do­pod to the blun­der­ing but sadly ex­tinct sauro­pod, pods have been, and will re­main, an ob­ses­sion. We are mu­tat­ing into a mas­ter race. Wher­ever you turn, peo­ple are plugged into some snazzy pod or other, nod­ding, star­ing blankly into the mid­dle dis­tance, mouth open, drool spilling out. So if pods are hot, why not take things to their log­i­cal con­clu­sion and live in one.

Live in a pod? That’s right. Pods are now storm­ing the hos­pi­tal­ity busi­ness. Draw­ing their in­spi­ra­tion from the toaster-sized Ja­panese cap­sule ho­tels, where soz­zled salary­men, hav­ing missed the last train home and forgotten their wife’s name, crash for the night for Y=4000 ($38): pod ho­tels are the next big, or small, thing in ac­com­mo­da­tion. Pod ho­tels are aimed at hip trav­ellers with slim hips and slim­mer bud­gets who want all the con­ve­nience of lo­ca­tion and the odd bit of chic de­sign chi­canery with­out shelling out for it.

Most peo­ple just get back to their room for a brief kip be­fore that dawn de­par­ture on the next red-eye flight. So does space re­ally mat­ter?

While it may not ap­peal to all, the Pod Ho­tel (www.the­p­od­ho­tel.com) New York, of­fers stylish cen­trally lo­cated digs at 230 East 51st St. Just don’t at­tempt to swing a cat by the tail. If you’re shar­ing the bath and toi­let, your sin­gle pod room tar­iff could start at less than $US149 ($173) a night. There’s a flatscreen television, an iPod dock and free wire­less in­ter­net. For a sense of space, head to the rooftop gar­den with bar.

In Lon­don, bud­get air­line easyJet founder Ste­lios Haji-Ioan­nou has taken his sig­na­ture cheery orange into the com­pact, fu­tur­is­tic first-class cabin shapes of his easyHo­tel fran­chise (www.easyho­tel.com), which of­fers truth in travel. The range starts with the Small Room (with or with­out a win­dow). And that pretty much says it all. Check out Lon­don South Kens­ing­ton at 14 Lex­ham Gar­dens; Lon­don Earls Court at 44-48 West Cromwell Rd; or Lon­don Vic­to­ria at 36-40 Bel­grave Rd. At the easyHo­tel South Kens­ing­ton a 6sq m Small Room with no win­dow starts at about £41 ($97). In Basel you can get a foot in the door from $US69.

Lon­don Heathrow’s Ter­mi­nal 4 and Gatwick South Ter­mi­nal are the launch lo­ca­tions for the Yo­tel (www.yo­tel.com) where cab­ins can be booked from £40 a night. A pre­mium cabin will set you back £70. Cab­ins can also be booked in four-hour blocks.

Si­mon Woodroffe, the evil ge­nius be­hind this butt-squeez­ing brand, took a pinch of Bri­tish Air­ways first class, a hint of Air­bus and a dash of Ja­panese cap­sule ho­tel to cre­ate the Yo­tel.

Pre­mium cab­ins fea­ture a ‘‘ techno wall’’ with an iPod or MP3 player port, a work­sta­tion, flat-screen LCD TV with sur­round sound, free Wi-Fi or plug-in in­ter­net, mood light­ing and be­spoke toi­letries. Un­like an easyHo­tel, the Yo­tels will be crammed with ameni­ties. It looks like a plane, feels like a plane, but will it fly? Time will tell.

In Europe, check out Qbic Ho­tels (www.qbi­cho­tels.com) where bright cube rooms beckon mod bods and their pods fea­tur­ing a Has­tens four-poster bed, LCD TV, in-room safe, high-speed in­ter­net and those oblig­a­tory Philippe Starck de­sign touches that can be en­joyed in Am­s­ter­dam and An­twerp from ($222) a night.

In Kuala Lumpur, from Tony Fer­nan­des, who gave us the shock­ing Vir­gin reds and cut-price scram­bles of AirAsia, comes a bud­get lodg­ing con­cept that will be mu­sic to any bud­get trav­eller’s ears: Tune Ho­tels (www.tune ho­tels.com). The flag­ship Tune Ho­tel at No. 316 Jalan Tuanku Ab­dul Rah­man is rea­son­ably cen­tral with in­tro­duc­tory rates priced at RM9.99 ($3).

But for the real thing you’ll have to head to Tokyo, get chased by Godzilla, end up leg­less on sake, miss the last train and stag­ger to the Asakusa River­side Cap­sule Ho­tel (www.asakusacap­sule.jp/english) where the cost of a cap­sule room can be as low as Y=3000. There is a women’s floor, too. There are sep­a­rate baths and chang­ing rooms for men and women. Bathe, soak, slip into some­thing com­fort­able, then squeeze into your room to watch TV or suf­fer a panic at­tack. You may find a beck­on­ing red but­ton next to the TV. Don’t press this. It’s not room ser­vice, silly; it’s the porn pay-movie chan­nel.

The Cap­sule Inn Ak­i­habara (www.cap­suleinn.com), has rooms for Y=4000 a night with oc­ca­sional specials. The ground-floor lounge of­fers high­speed in­ter­net, Wi-Fi, and a cou­ple of com­put­ers to check email free of charge. Women trav­el­ling in a group of two or four can try the group cap­sule, which of­fers the added con­ve­nience of a small com­mon space with ta­ble and chairs next to the slide-in cap­sules.

Lis­ten up, space cadets. Get your bod to a pod. Now. Hong Kong-based Vi­jay Vergh­ese runs the web­site www.smarttrav­elasia.com.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Tom Jel­lett

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