Wed, Aug 29, 2007 - Page 13 News List

Too posh to pitch? Introducing the Travelpod

'The world's first mobile hotel room' launched this week. Silly gimmick or a nifty way to enjoy the great outdoors in comfort?

By Benji Lanyado  /  THE GUARDIAN, LONDON

Too posh to pitch?Introducing the Travelpod

PHOTO: COURTESY OF TRAVELODGE

I wake up, and for a moment everything seems normal - I'm in a fairly nice hotel room, tucked up in a double bed. To my right there's a TV and DVD combo hovering above a wooden desk, next to which a door leads to the toilet. Then the sheep start bleating. Because I'm not in a hotel at all, I'm in a glass box in the middle of a field in Oxfordshire, England. Introducing ... the Travelpod.

We should have seen this coming. The atrocious summer here has made the rubbish bits about camping (the mud, wet and tears) all the more rubbish. So we've adapted. The gradual evolution of the campsite has seen the emergence of a number of Camping 2.0 products to combat the annoying aspects. You may well have seen them at a festival this summer, where US$18 throw-in-the-air tents sat next to luxury tepees and yurts. Things on the ground, it seems, are getting comfier. More like a hotel, in fact.

And the Travelpod, launched by budget hotel chain Travelodge this week, is just that - a hotel room with polycarbonate glass walls complete with a double bed, air conditioning, fully carpeted floor, a dressing table, mirror and chair ... on wheels. "The world's first mobile hotel room," trumpets the blurb. And I'm the first person to spend a night in it.

The Travelpod has been tested by staff over the last year, and now Travelodge's Director of Sleep (it's a real position, apparently) has deemed it ready for the public to try. They're holding a prize draw on the Web site to pick out the testers, who'll give it a spin, and then share their thoughts with Travelodge. After that they'll make some tweaks and after that, one assumes, the revolution will begin.

The details are a bit hazy, but having decoded all the PR guff, I can hesitantly reveal the following: the Travelpod will cost from US$52 a night - including transport costs - delivered from one of Travelodge's hotels to any destination in the UK that gives it permission. How will they get permission? They're working on that one. They're also thinking of having a mini-fleet of them delivered to festivals next year. Maybe.

But is it just a well-timed gimmick, launched during the slow-news summer silly season to ensure maximum publicity? If you really can't deal with any of the ick involved with camping, then this is perfect - but I am a bit nervous about the transparent walls. It'd be brilliantly exciting and romantic if you were with the other half in the middle of nowhere, warm and cosy with fields or mountains spreading out in all directions. But could you really relax knowing that the glass works both ways? In a worst-case scenario you could find yourself innocently party to some seedy, voyeuristic thingamajig. "Podding" it might be called.

And how would it work at festivals? You might as well have "too posh to pitch" on a big flag waving from the roof. Might the steamy exterior of my sexy polycarbonate walls become some kind of chalkboard for jealous riffraff to scribble on? "Pod-tosser" they might write. At least with tepees and luxury campervans you can pretend that you're slumming it with everyone else.

In the morning, I'm feeling a bit better about the whole thing. I make myself a cup of tea and watch the end of the DVD I fell asleep watching the previous evening, munching on my Kellogg's "To-Go" breakfast pack. There's no shower in the Travelpods as yet, but I apply my wetwipes with a flourish - I've got over 6m by 2.4m of personal space to play with. I almost forget that I'm in the middle of a field. I'm confused as to whether this is a good thing or not. I came here to get outdoors, yet everything around me is trying to convince me that indoors is great, too. Then I pull the blinds up and I'm won over. I can enjoy the rain because I'm warm and dry and don't have to worry about the pod springing a leak. A small, dark part of me wants to see someone emerging from a tent into the rain so I can sing "ner-ner-ne-ner-ner!" at them. This is the top of the camping chain - until someone invents the mobile Presidential suite. Which, we can safely assume, is already being worked on.

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