I love a good urban legend. Urban legends play on our fears, our insecurities and our love of the lascivious. Sometimes fanciful, sometimes truth-based, these tales spread like wildfire, especially in this Internet age. Many urban legends revolve around hotels, but which are false alarms, and which should keep travelers on their toes?
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That bad smell in the room could be a dead body. Stories abound about a couple checking into their room at a hotel (usually identified as a Las Vegas dive) and noticing a bad odor. Although housekeeping tries to "freshen up" the room several times, the odor persists. Frustrated, the man begins tearing the room apart in an attempt to find the source of the stench. When he pulls the mattress off the bed, he finds a dead body in the box springs.
This one's actually true! Bodies have been found stuffed in hotel beds in Kansas, Atlantic City, N.J., and Pasadena, Calif., for example. I think the most horrifying aspect of these stories is that people actually slept on top of a dead person before the body was discovered. I'll say this: I would never be surprised by anything found in a cheap hotel room in a bad neighborhood. Heck, I've seen used needles left in beds in classy joints! So go ahead and check your bed before crashing for the night. With luck, you'll find your room is body-free — and you might catch some bed bugs before they strike!
Hotel key cards contain your personal information, and anyone with a special scanner can "read" your details. No, no, no, no, no. And just for good measure: No. And please quit asking front desk agents about this one — they're sick of denying this myth to skeptics who aren't going to believe them anyway.
This rumor was inadvertently started by members of the Pasadena Police Department (what is it with Pasadena?), and it spread so quickly that the police have posted a page on the department's Web site dedicated to presenting the facts.
So here's the truth: No, your home address, phone number and credit card number are not programmed on your key card. Here's what is: your room number, check-in date, check-out date and check-out time. If you can charge purchases to your room account by using your key, then the key is probably also programmed with at least a few letters of your last name and your account number. That's it. That little strip can't hold much more than that anyway. Moreover, many properties use key systems that are not even connected to their computers, so there's no way personal information from your reservation could be put on your key.
Besides, if hotel employees want to steal your identity, they don't have to bother snagging your key and obtaining a scanner to read it. They can just go to the computer and look you up — everything they need is on one screen!
If you wake up in a tub full of ice, call 911! Probably everyone has heard the story of the hotel guest seduced by a stranger at the bar. He takes her back up to his room for a little romance, and the next thing he knows, he's waking up in the bathtub, covered in ice. A note placed near his hand instructs him to call for help. His back is in agony, and when he reaches around, he realizes he's bleeding! Turns out, he was drugged by the lady, and his kidney has been harvested for sale on the black market.
A great episode of the always-funny television show "Las Vegas," appropriately titled "Urban Legend," had a similar story line, but is the story true? Probably not. Yes, people have sold their kidneys, and some doctors in India were busted in the '90s for duping people into having their kidneys removed. Black-market organ transplants do happen. But I don't think anyone has found proof that this hotel tale is true. Besides, have you ever tried to get a full bucket of ice from a hotel ice machine? It would take hours to get enough ice to fill a bathtub. That said, you should always be careful when drinking in bars, and don't invite strangers to your room!
There's money in your Bible. Ah, the ubiquitous Gideon Bibles, found in hotel rooms of all types for decades. Rumor has it that you can find $100 bills in these Bibles as "rewards" for reading them or as charity for those who might be in need. I've checked a lot of Bibles, and I've never found anything. I doubt that the Gideons are distributing the cash, as their organization depends on charitable donations, and they're probably more interested in spending their money on more Bibles. If there is money to be found in Bibles or in bedside table drawers, it's most likely because the last guest accidentally left it there. Besides, I think the housekeepers have probably already checked those books for the big bucks!
There are loads more stories out there, and I may come back to this topic another time. In the meantime, if you hear a travel-related rumor, do us all a favor and don't spread it around unless you've verified it. And if you find some extra cash in your room, go have a drink in the hotel bar, and raise your glass to me. Just don't pick up any sexy companions — not if you value your body parts.
Amy Bradley-Hole has worked in the hotel industry for many years in many different positions and at all types of properties -- from small luxury boutique hotels to large resorts, both in the United States and abroad. E-mail her or read more of her articleson Tripso.com!