Backpacking with Mood Lighting
The lighting of your shoestring-budget room killing the mood? Spruce up the place with a little something from your backpack.
One of the top items on my growing list of Ways not to make a Hotel a Home are fluorescent lights, and "energy saving" bulbs. I hate these things passionately.
Fluorescent lights are by far and away the most common form of lighting in use by hotels and guesthouses the world over. I cringe every time I'm bathed in the ugly light they saturate a room with. It reminds me of being in a office. "Cancer lights," I call them.
Those little bulbs that give off the same wavelength of unattractive light also give me headaches. Businesses (and consumers in general) are paying several times the amount for a bulb that will inevitably last just as long and consume nearly as much power as their incandescent counterparts (because people use them incorrectly—they should be turned off very infrequently for it to make much of a difference).
The last thing anyone wants to do is illuminate a room with these lights—especially if you want to get a little love in while on the road (talk about a mood breaker). Why do you think everyone leaves a nightclub when they turn on the lights? Because the music stops and everyone get real ugly, real fast.
The solution to a room saturated in high-frequency fluorescent light is to either cover the bulb, or not use it altogether. For nearly two years of travel I've been a yellow sarong to help disguise or diffuse this type of light source. I wrap, tape, or tie the feather-weight, semi-opaque towel around the bulb to give the room a more pleasant feeling—albeit a very yellow one.
Another solution I've tried is carrying around candles. A few months ago I purchased several small boxes of tea lights in Laos, and used them to illuminate the rooms Tatiana and I shared throughout our time in the Philippines, and Indonesia. Candles are relatively light and inexpensive, can be found anywhere in the world, and give off a relaxing light that everyone loves.
I know that my buddy Andy carries around a bulb and a socketed device that clamps onto things, so that he can read better after dusk. Carrying around a full-sized light bulb in your backpack is not for everyone, though.
My new favorite piece of fluorescent light reprieve comes from an item Tatiana bought in a Bangkok market, for her bedroom in Peru. Not seeing any reason to wait until Lima to use the thing, I strung up the item, plugged it in, and killed the cancer light. Wow—beautiful.
The light source is simple: 2.5 Meters of off-white Christmas lights, inside a silky, cream-colored nylon sleeve, with a little loop at each end. The plug allows multiple strands to be connected, should there be a need. Tatiana bought just the one (with a few replacement bulbs) for 180 baht (US$5.75), and it's more than enough to light up the room (with soft, candle-like light).
The sleeve and string of lights weigh practically nothing, pack down flat, and need only an outlet to work. I really wish I'd bought one for myself, because I'd honestly carry a strand around in my pack with me. The difference it can make in atmosphere (and happiness) far outweigh the cost of carrying it.