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Pirate Camping :: The $10 Five-Star Experience

By: Nick H-J

Rochelle and I recently camped in the parking lot of a swanky hotel outside Phoenix.  We parked in the side lot just at dusk and went for a walk around the neighborhood. After our walk we bedded down and slept until dawn.  After a bit of breakfast we headed towards the pool for some sun, swimming and drinks in true five-star fashion.  Here are my tips for getting a little high-brow relaxation on your next trip without breaking the bank.

1. Dress for the Success:

Along with all your slumming-it clothes that you have with you for the road trip to wherever you are going bring a ‘vacationing yuppie’ outfit.  Guys would do will with a ‘wrinkle-free’ laid back back looking short sleeve polo shirt and swimsuit. Imagine a vacationing stock broker at the resort pool, reading a Tom Clancy novel.  Then dress like that.

You have no choice, all vacationing women by the pool wear bikinis under a sun dress.  You also want to have a ‘pool-bag’ in which you will put your book, some magazines, your sun screen, etc.  Imagine what you might bring down from the room with all your junk in it, that’s the bag you want. Keep these costumes on hand so that you can appear to be a normal vacationer arriving at the pool from your room, instead of a pirate camping nut-case that has been sleeping in ditches for the last week and eating beanie-weenies out of the can.

2. Pick the right place:

Choosing the right place is crucial.  The word ‘Resort’ in the name is a good sign.  If the place isn’t swanky enough (and big enough) they might question you when you turn up at the pool in the morning.  On the other hand if it’s too nice you will be awakened in the parking lot by security, who will promptly toss you out in the middle of the night.  You want to find a place that is nice enough that it would be a huge faux pas to question a ‘guest’ about their right to be at the pool but not so nice that they have cameras on every corner.

I recommend you do a fly-by before you settle down for the night.  Pick a busy resort that has a big lobby you can walk right through into the bar or pool areas without anyone taking any note.  Don something somewhat appropriate for the current time of day and walk through the place.  Scope it out.  If everyone has wrist bands denoting them as a paying guest you are in Club-Med and you have over-shot.  Unless you are the intrepid Nick Bilton I suggest you find another hotel.

Ultimately here is what you want: a busy enough place that they don’t recognize people and a nice enough place that they have mountains of neatly folded fluffy towels at the poolside for guests to use.  Just look around and ask yourself is anyone going to take any special notice of me here if I act l like I belong?  The answer you want is “no”.

3. Plan-B

I said we took a walk around the neighborhood before we bedded down.  This is a good idea because you can get a feel for the area and spot some ‘plan-b’ camping locations if you are tossed out of the hotel parking lot by security.  Waking up to a security guard telling you to move along at 2 a.m. is much more pleasant if you already have somewhere else in mind to go set up camp.  This also serves the second purpose of leaving your car in the lot for a little while so that it seems like it belongs while it gets dark.  If you just pull up and start getting ready for bed you will draw more attention then if you walk up to a parked car and get in to sleep once it’s dark.

4. The Parking Spot

Pick a parking spot that is in the back or on the side of the building.  If you can find a back entrance or an area that looks to be less used park there.  If not, park where you think they tell the employees to park.  Shifts at hotels usually change around dinner in the evening so the night shift should be inside by 8 or 9 at the latest and you should be in the clear until the 6 a.m. shift comes in the morning.

5. The Morning

Get up early.  We are usually up by 5:30ish as a side effect of being nearly outside in the back of the truck. Once it’s light out, I’m awake.  Once your awake, get up.  Don’t get caught wrapped in a sleeping bag by an arriving employee.  If you can do it discreetly make breakfast and coffee there at the car, if not.  Go get a cup of coffee at the restaurant if you like.  If you get coffee or breakfast in the hotel sit outside, near the pool if possible.  From there you can observe the other guests using the pool and learn how to look like them.  I exercise in the morning, so going for a jog is a good way to spend the time for me until the pool bar opens.  If you have picked your hotel right there should be outside couches for lounging on in tucked away corners of the place. You could sit there and read a book for a bit.  Getting a newspaper is also a good way to appear legit they are usually available at the restaurant.  Do whatever you like until about 9:00 or 9:30.  Then head for the pool.

6. The Approach

In your pool side attire with your pool bag etc. head for the pool.  It is easiest to do this routine as a couple.  Walk in like you own the place, confidence is everything.  Take three towels from the pile of folded towels if there is one.  You can raise eyebrows bringing your own towel depending on the place.  It’s not advisable to be the first one at the pool.  Also, you’ll want to approach the pool from ‘your room’.  Don’t walk in through the lobby doors in your pool attire, most resorts have several buildings, so it should be easy to find a side gate to enter through.  While having your coffee outside earlier you had a chance to watch the first guests arrive at the pool and you can just copy them.  If there is poolside service get a drink.  If there is not get a bottle of water from your bag so you can sip something.  This routine works best in a place that allows drinks by the pool or better yet has a pool bar.  You immediately look like you belong if you have a cocktail on the table next to your lounge chair.  As you can see we found a dog friendly resort, so when you are running this ploy, don’t feel like you can’t just go all the way with it… you can.  In fact the more you go for it, the less people are likely to think you don’t belong.  What sort of idiot half-wit would be here at the pool with their dog drinking cocktails if they weren’t supposed to be?

7. The Staff

Be very friendly to the staff, use their names if they have name tags, flirt, be playful.  If management becomes suspicious they will ask the service staff about you before they approach you.  If the staff vouches for you, your golden, so make friends with them.

8. The Pool

Act like everyone else.  Have cash on hand to pay for your drink and tip well.  Swim, read, put on sun-screen etc.  Don’t worry about what you think you would do if you were staying at the place and using the pool, just pretend that you are staying there and have a good time.  Drinks tend to be expensive at these sorts of places, so nurse your drink if you want to get out of it for $10 (or keep a flask on hand and order cokes).

Photo of poolside cabana from www.siamhotel.net
Photo of parking lot from www.wonko.com

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3 Comments so far (Add 1 more)

  1. good stuff you guys !!!

    1. mario.D on August 23rd, 2010 at 3:16 am
  2. You guys keep up the posts, and the great pictures… I commented on a few, Ecuador looks awesome!! I love the Pirate Camping video fo the Desert highlands, Peru, with all the dust! Too funny!
    I see you sold the truck… someone got a good deal, I assume you are turning it in when you get to Ushuaia?
    So where is the next trip? what Continent?

    Living Vicariously through you two…

    2. Andrew on January 20th, 2010 at 4:15 pm
  3. this is a halirious (i can’t spell either nick!) post!! i nearly chocked to death on the noodles i was eating laughing so hard! loved the pic of domino by the pool! that was the best! can’t wait to keep track of you guys as you travel….

    3. kate maxfield on June 4th, 2009 at 8:49 pm

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