Surviving Hotel Hell and Visa Chaos: A Cautionary Tale
By Kevin Norman- 8 minutes read - 1518 words
As a 16-year-old, I made the decision to leave the UK due to my dislike of the politics and direction of Great Britain under the Conservative party, particularly under the leadership of Theresa May as Home Secretary. This decision was further solidified by the Brexit referendum and the actions of subsequent leaders such as Boris Johnson and Priti Patel. Over the past decade, my views have only been reinforced by the events and developments in British politics.
Several years ago, my wife and I decided to immigrate to Canada and applied for the Express Entry program, which allows those with certain qualifications to obtain permanent residence in the country. We anticipated the process to take between six and twelve months. However, the pandemic caused Express Entry to be effectively halted and we eventually gave up on the process. I then periodically would look into alternative routes in.
I applied for various jobs in Toronto and eventually found an employer who was willing to hire me, even though I planned to relocate. The work permit for this position was supposed to be processed through the “Global Talent Stream,” which typically takes only two weeks, but due to the pandemic and other global issues, we were told to expect a processing time of two to eight weeks. I decided to move out of my rental apartment in the UK after four weeks and stay in an Airbnb if the visa took the full eight weeks. However, the visa ended up taking 17 weeks and during that time, I had a number of unexpected experiences and learned valuable lessons.
My experiences living in hotels.
After four weeks of waiting, we were forced to move out of our apartment and into a hotel. In selecting a place to stay, our priority was to find a location that would allow us to bring our pet cat and was as affordable as possible. We wanted to save our money for furnishing our future apartment in Toronto.
We initially stayed at a budget hotel chain (which I will not name) as a temporary place to stay while traveling. We just needed a place to lodge while travelling. The experience was terrible. The mattress had a large urine stain, there was a bloody handprint (actual blood) on the ceiling, and there was no hot water for multiple days. As a result, breakfast was not served on several days. One night, the elevator near our room was constantly alarming and kept us awake. The next morning, one of the two elevators had an “out of order” sign on it, but when I tried to use the other one, the “out of order” lift showed up and the sign fell off. I took the stairs.
The straw that forced us to change hotels however was that one night a young girl attempted to walk into my locked room at 9pm, while I was undressed. It was 40c on that day, with no AC, hence my state of undress. She succeeded in opening the door, seemingly having a valid key card for it. Thankfully my wife was fast enough to quickly get to the door and stop the child from walking in and seeing anything. When we got to reception to try to figure out why some other family was trying to occupy our room, reception didn’t even seem surprised, apologized, and that was that. After experiencing the issues described above, and going round and round in circles with reception, we decided we would leave the hotel that night. The hotel eventually refunded us for the three nights we didn’t have hot water from our our 16-night stay, but refused to refund the final four days of our booked stay, claiming that the issues we experienced were not serious enough to warrant a refund.
We moved to a second hotel with this same chain, which was far better. Nothing much to note there, apart from at this point the reality of living in a hotel had set in. There are no cooking facilities, so I pretty much just lived on supermarket meal deals, and stuff that could be cooked with nothing other than hot water. Luckily, this particular hotel was near to a friends place however, and I am forever thankful for the meals he cooked us, and allowing us to hang at his whenever we needed some brief respite. Thanks Pete, you helped keep me sane and scurvy free. We stayed here for approximately 3 weeks.
Every day without fail, I’d be calling a number I found online to get updates on the status of my visa. At one point, I wrote an autodialer where I could press a button, and it would navigate through the Canadian Immigration phone tree and alert me when it got to the point where the update would be delivered. The estimate had now been updated to 12 weeks, so we assumed that we only needed one more hotel stay, and we would finally be on our way to Canada.
Our finances really were taking a beating here too. I was lucky enough to have been able to save up a decent chunk of cash through the pandemic, but at approximately 1000 GBP per week, I was fast running low, so we had to find a cheaper option.
We decided to stay at an Airbnb in London because we thought it would be more cost-effective to cook our own meals rather than eating out at restaurants. However, our experience ended up being a disaster. The Airbnb was a converted house with 18 tiny units, and the entrance was a broken gate leading to a garbage-filled garden that reeked of a strong smell. Upon entry to the building, there was a lovely sign written by one of the other occupants complaining of the constant parcel theft issues that were apparently rampant in that building. The kitchen was so small that it was barely larger than a shower stall, and there was no room for a microwave, so it was placed on a bedside table without any nearby outlets to use it. Despite these challenges, my wife was able to make the most of the situation and we were able to eat well. I am SO grateful to her for her resilience in such a difficult and unpleasant environment.
After our stay at the previous location ended and it became apparent that the 12-week estimate was inaccurate, we moved to a more expensive place. The increased cost was partly due to the sudden increase in demand for accommodation in London following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. We were fortunate to find a slightly more expensive location that had not yet adjusted their prices and stayed there for two weeks. Unfortunately, we were unable to extend our stay because the place was fully booked, so we had to move again.
Our final hotel stay was at a budget brand of a more upscale hotel located near Heathrow Airport, which made it very affordable. While I eventually became accustomed to the constant smell of jet fuel, this hotel was one of the most difficult to stay at. This wasn’t due to the hotel really, it was fine. It was in the middle of nowhere making eating difficult, and it was intensely boring, but the real problem was our patience had just run out at this point. They overcharged us 1000 GBP and it took me around three months to resolve the issue with my bank after disputing the charge. As I had already maxed out my credit, this had a greater impact on me than you might expect. Thanks, hotel! On top of this, there was still not a clear idea as to when the visa would be issued, meaning the impending homelessness was feeling more and more possible.
We eventually got the visa, and departed a few days later, landing in Toronto with very little money to our name. Thankfully, things are slowly sorting themselves out now both I and my wife are bringing in a salary, but it’ll be while before we’re back at 0.
I learned a few important lessons during my experience with short-term accommodation. First, never trust a visa estimate and don’t make any plans until you have the actual visa in hand. This mistake was entirely my own and I regret it deeply. Second, living in a hotel is not enjoyable. Being unable to cook or clean for oneself is miserable. Third, Airbnb is no longer a reliable option for reasonable, short-term accommodation. Even via other avenues, most landlords are hesitant to rent out their properties for a short, undefined period. Fourth, I learned that it is not advisable to rely solely on a smartphone for technology, as I was without a computer for the first eight weeks and had to purchase a laptop. Finally, it is important to be prepared for unexpected events, such as the death of a monarch, which can have an impact on the availability and cost of accommodation.
Also worth noting is a lot of this article was written by OpenGPT, for fun.
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