October 19, 2007

Backpacking with Mood Lighting
Hanoi, Vietnam

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).

Sleeve and string of lights

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.



November 1st, 2007

I agree that the light given off by the average business and el-cheapo fluorescent bulbs is pretty foul, but you're living in the stone age if you think that there are no other choices. As one example, look at this page for compact fluorescent bulbs that give full spectrum light (or other types).

For lifetime of bulbs and the eternal question of "Is it better to leave the lights on instead of turning them on and off?" see a myth busters episode for the details. Short answer: Incandescent - always. Fluorescent - unless you will be using the light again within 20 seconds (per bulb), turn it off.

The cost analysis of compact fluorescent bulbs is also well proven. A simple spreadsheet is…

$0.15 energy cost / kWh
$0.000155 energy cost / Wh

$0.50 cost of incandescent bulb
$5.50 cost of compact fluorescent lamp (Neolite 5000K Full Spectrum)
$5.00 difference in cost

75 W incandenscent bulb
20 W CFL (Neolite 5000K Full Spectrum)
-55 W difference

$0.01 savings per hour of use
588 hours of used required to pay for itself

4 hours average used per day
147 days of use required to pay for itself

rates from Origin Energy (Australia)
prices from buy lighting and converted to AUD with google

Variations in the price of energy or bulb makes a difference, but in the end the CFL will still pay for itself and you don't have to give up a nice light colour.


Craig | travelvice.com

November 14th, 2007

It should be noted that these lights don't work properly with 110 volt outlets (like those found in the USA, for example) — a big disappointment for those who have purchased Bangkok lights as gifts…

The United States


March 20th, 2010

I like this idea very much.
Its also a great product idea. "The Pocket Travel Mood Light Companion", made out of light but sturdy material.

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