72

I had a late flight recently and due to a delay on the flight I was not able to get my transport to the city where I had my accommodation.

Staying in the airport was not an option either since it's a small one and it closes at night. I ended up in a nearby city, without any references and no place to stay.

Getting a hotel, last minute, was not an option since everything was booked and the few available rooms too expensive.

I survived :) but I was wondering:

  • How does one spend a night, in an unknown city, and possibly rest a bit? Is there a guide or resource online that explores this theme? Maybe even with different tips for different cities/weather?

I know there is a website for sleeping in airports but this was not an option.

Note: Some people asked how I knew everything was booked. Actually it's very hard to search for hotels for the same night after 12PM. I can't really tell everything was full, but I inferred it by using booking.com to search for nearby hotels. The few available rooms, for the next night, were already at very prohibitive prices for me (>200 Euros). I think there was also some sort of convention going on.

  • 10
    How do you know that everything was booked and the few available rooms too expensive? You must add that to the question to prevent people answering with the same resources that you used to find that out (you would be wasting there time answering). – user40521 Apr 20 '17 at 12:02
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    I know the airport was closed. But, many airports have chapels. They usually are carpeted, and they're usually left unlocked. In a pinch, you can sleep on the floor. – O. Jones Apr 22 '17 at 0:00
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    Not really an answer (the question asks about "How to spend the night...?", but you can certainly ask people there. Find someone (eg: policeman, airport staff...), explain your situation and ask if they know any option available. The local people usually have a better idea about what the city has to offer. It is not 100% success, but worth the try. – Hoàng Long Apr 22 '17 at 0:28
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    Crucial missing information: does 'late' mean after 6pm? (when most services stop doing same-day bookings?) after 11pm? midnight? after public transit to the city had stopped? or after the airline customer service/ traveler's aid had closed? What was your flexibility on price/comfort/distance? Would you rather spend $200 on a last-minute hotel, $50 on an AirBnB (shared room), or sleep on a bench with no shower or washroom? Assuming you don't have transport, then finding $50 accommodation a $50 taxi ride there and back doesn't sound sensible. – smci Apr 23 '17 at 2:00
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    "Due to a delay on the flight I was not able to get my transport to the city where I had my accommodation" Depending on whether the flight was EU, international, US domestic, or other, and whether the overnight delay was voluntary/involuntary, the airline may be obligated to reimburse you (up to some regulator/contract/policy-defined limit). So always have their customer service number on speed-dial, and call/email them and let them know. Also, familiarize yourself with their bumping policies and compensation limits. Usually they'll have a list of local hotels they send passengers to. – smci Apr 23 '17 at 2:04

11 Answers 11

58

There is certainly no guide to cover it all.

First, if the airline is at fault, they normally provide accommodation and meal. This has happened to me several times over the years. You must insist to get your vouchers as soon as possible though. The last time something like that happened the airline told me I would get my vouchers on arrival from the customer service desk. Only the plane arrived so late, it was closed. I had to pay transport cost on my own to another airport nearby and there they had someone who (after several) hours gave vouchers for me and my family.

Second, I would go to Sleeping In Airports. Yes, I know, you said sleeping at that airport is not an option but this site covers other options around the airport, including hotels and lounges.

Third, I would try both Expedia and Booking.com. Expedia allows you to check if there is a hotel or not within your price range and sort by distance to the airport. Booking adds many other options that are not hotels. In places where I cannot afford the results from Expedia, I usually find something reasonable on Booking.com, often a third or quarter of the minimum price on Expedia. Those places may not be up to par with expectations of a hotel but it's better than nothing.

The rest really depends on the city. In some places, if you have a sleeping bag, you can manage to sleep in a park or even on a beach. In others, they may find your body later! In Asia, some temples have sleeping areas. Sleeping in a camper or car is another option. It sounds silly to rent it just for sleeping but you can have a sleeper and cars for much less than a hotel. The last time I rented a sleeper it cost 65 Euros and the last time a car cost me $23 USD, so it's something to consider! However, before renting, you need to check if sleeping in a car is allowed near where you are. You may have to drive to a rest area but not always easy to figure out, considering different laws around the world.

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    Do booking.com or expedia allow searching for a room for the remainder of the night after midnight? I don't recall what I tried using at the time, but I ran into problems with not being able to search for checkin 1am, checkout at 10am the same day on several search sites a few years ago when I decided I was getting too tired to complete a road trip without an overnight stop. (Eventually I talked to a desk clerk at a full hotel who found me an open room at a partner location half an hour off the interstate.) – Dan Neely Apr 19 '17 at 15:19
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    First, if the airline is at fault, they normally provide accommodation and meal. ... You must insist to get your vouchers as soon as possible though. The last time something like that happened the airline told me I would get my vouchers on arrival from the customer service desk. Only the plane arrived so late, it was closed. If this happens and the OP doesn't have the means to pay for transport (bureau de change shut too, taxis don't take cards,...) they're as stuck as if the airline didn't meet its obligations... – Chris H Apr 19 '17 at 15:43
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    ... Also there are: Delays that aren't enough to trigger the required support but are enough to miss the last train to the next city; Airlines that have to be forced by the courts to meet their obligations – Chris H Apr 19 '17 at 15:45
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    @DanNeely - That's a good point about the 1 AM time. I'd have to double-check. From memory though, if you search past 1 AM you only get next day availability which leaves quite a few hours until check-in time. – Itai Apr 19 '17 at 16:17
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    That was a very interesting suggestion about sleeping in a car. I hadn't considered that before. Of course if it is late enough for the airport to shut down then you're probably out of luck with car rental agencies too. – Erik Apr 20 '17 at 22:02
29

In post-Soviet countries you will probably walk to local rail station and rest in its waiting area. It's usually open 24/7. You might be required to show a proof of onward travel from this station.

Granted, there might be some slightly undesirable people there (actual homeless and drunkards), but come to think of that, aren't you a bit undesirable yourself, stranded without a bed?

UPD: There's usually a luggage locker service at rail stations where you can leave your luggage and go walking free without having to carry it with you.

Another cool option is a cafe that doesn't close at night. Order tea and biscuits, plug your phone, rest on cushions. You can even make it a cafe crawl, visiting a few places over the course of night.

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    Then hit the bakeries as they open. – user59310 Apr 19 '17 at 13:57
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    I can state from experience that they kick people out of Gare du Nord in Paris partway through the night. So the undesirables move out onto the street. You're sort of immobilized if you have a bunch of stuff and don't want to spend a lot of money so strolling around for cafes isn't necessarily an option. Luggage disappears even if chained down for a few minutes. On the plus side, I got friendly waves from the homeless guys the next morning, and they had a hot shower. – Spehro Pefhany Apr 19 '17 at 14:17
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    @DmitryGrigoryev Paris is tiny compared to eastern Europe! I think the point alamar is making about Eastern Europe is that since long-distance trains can end up traveling extremely long distances, there are likely to be trains arriving and departing all through the night, so the stations are likely to be open. (In contrast, no train in the UK runs more than ten hours or so, and there are basically no trains between about 0130 and 0500. – David Richerby Apr 19 '17 at 21:41
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    @DmitryGrigoryev I really don't understand why you're arguing this. I've given you a concrete example of long distance trains that call in the middle of the night. All you are doing is saying that France is different to some other places; in this case because it is small enough and its trains fast enough that night trains can be scheduled conveniently. Congratulations. We already knew that different places work in different ways. – David Richerby Apr 20 '17 at 9:03
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    @Dmitry: if the California Zephyr ran non-stop at night then there would be no service to Lincoln at all. And there would perhaps be a service from Salt Lake City to Oakland (departing 1130pm), but not in the reverse direction (arrives 3am). I don't think that's a good option ;-) That said, some of the middle-of-nowhere stations will close once the train has left, so the fact of a middle-of-the-night train is no guarantee that the station will open all night anyway. – Steve Jessop Apr 21 '17 at 10:35
20

If money is not too much of an concern, you can take whatever transportation suits you to a large fairly posh hotel and throw yourselves at the mercy of the concierge. They can probably find something for you. Tip them appropriately. This worked for me once when I arrived rather late in a huge city, hotels were known to be in short supply, and the airport was entirely closed for construction or something and it was raining- and my language skills were extremely limited. There was just a taxi queue- and buses going goodness knows where.

Cab drivers can help too, but that's considerably riskier for several reasons. A friend tried asking a cab driver for a place, and being a bit of a cheapskate as well as worried about being ripped off with a commission, insisted it had to be very economical. He did discover what kind of grim establishment a pennurious Central American cab driver considered to be very affordable.

For situations closer to home, modern technology gives us apps like "Hotel Tonight" (I have never used it to book, but it seems like a good idea and it does come up with suggestions that look okay to me) and you can work out transit on your smartphone or summon some dude in an Uber to take you there even if it's a fair distance away. Of course that depends on you having working cellular data or at least a Wifi connection at your destination.

One thing to avoid is things like AirBnb- they are not well set up for same day rentals, as I found when my host cancelled. If accommodation is tight, the hosts that are left also tend to be the most flaky ones who don't respond etc.

  • I have successfully used AirBnB for same day accommodation when stuck in Malaga. – Francis Davey Apr 19 '17 at 16:51
  • @FrancisDavey I would suggest contacting them using messaging first (so see if they are around and the place is actually available) before committing because they otherwise have (IIRC) 24 hours to respond.. kind of useless if you need a place in a couple of hours and stressful while you are waiting. Not all the hosts keep their calendars properly up to date, so availability is not a given even it shows as okay. These are the flaky folks you'll get when you get into the last 5-10% of places. – Spehro Pefhany Apr 19 '17 at 17:27
  • Slow response times isn't adequate reason to "avoid things like AirBnb". Rather, you shouldn't rely on them as your only solution, but it could definitely get you out of a pickle. I've used AirBnb on quite short notice a number of times successfully and would definitely recommend at least checking for what's available in the area. – Dan Apr 20 '17 at 21:11
  • @Dan Say you need a place that evening. You have to check out of your current place in a couple hours. So you request a booking and no response comes back before you have to check out and lose access to your laptop etc. When this happened I ended up calling the company from Africa to make sure I wouldn't be charged (and they made me wait an hour more, as they tried to contact the host), and I just booked a hotel for a bit more after that. What I should have done in the first place, as it wasted time that could have been spent much more productively than cooling my heels waiting. – Spehro Pefhany Apr 20 '17 at 21:16
  • @Dan I would think AirBnb would work much better when everything within 50km is pretty much fully booked. But so would a lot of other things. – Spehro Pefhany Apr 20 '17 at 21:18
16

Ok, this is one of the more serious situations which a traveller can meet. It depends where you are and how big the city is. I describe the situations which you can have with growing despair.

  • In big cities it is normally always possible to stay at the airport or the train station (there are always people/information desks which you can ask). There are some situations which can give you some trouble:
    • The city has a convention/meeting/event and the hotels are overbooked.
    • For whatever reason you are in a city part which is completely empty at night (factories, offices). Such parts can be very intimidating if the area is deserted.

The first places to go are the places which are by default open 24 hours or at night:

  • Police station
  • Firefighters
  • Hospitals and ambulances
  • Amusement halls

Another option are religious places like church, synagogue, mosque etc which you can ask (do not expect too much friendliness, but at least they are obliged to have a bad conscience if they reject you).

As some commenters pointed out, it is culture dependent if you can expect that police stations or religious places are manned at night. For outbooked city parts the very last option to have a night in a room is normally the red-light district which is conveniently open at night.

Let's say you are in a deserted part of the town. Search for light and noise and head towards it, move silently and are attentive (listening, seeing) while you are on your way. If the street has different lighting (bright, dark, bright) close one of your eyes in the bright part to retain night vision. Women: If you have high heels, break them immediately off, they are way too conspicous and prevent both listening and running. Go against the traffic flow to see immediately if some car is coming and how it reacts to your presence. If he/she stops and offers help, decide if you have a good or bad vibe immediately and either accept or decline.

If you cannot get a room, try to find other people with the same problem (again, let your immediate impression decide) and search together for a place. This will be parks, open places etc. where other people with the same problem occur. If you are at least two, one is awake and watches to avoid being ripped off.

If you are stranded in a small city where everybody knows everybody, it can be that there is no police and ambulance buildings. In this case act diametrically to the description of the deserted part: Prefer walking in the bright light and step quite noisily to announce your presence. Talk to people if you meet them and explain the situation. If nobody is outside, have a look at the buildings. Look out for well-groomed houses with many adjacent neighbors and bright colors, trees and happy figurines (frogs, small children), something like that. If you enter the area, make yourself as noticeable as possible (knock at the garden gate and shout if anyone is home). Simply ask for help and offer that you sleep in the garden/shed whatever. The person will likely either offer you a place to sleep or with almost near certainty know someone who could offer you something for the night.

If you are really at the end of the world (There are in fact airports outside all cities, hello, RyanAir) and you cannot find even a shed, then sleep in the woods (naturally only if there are no bears or worse things). Try to get old newspapers/tinfoil (which are quite effective insulators!) and try to find a sleeping place. Woods have a higher temperature, give you some protection against wind and rain and are dew-free.

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    "the places which are by default open 24 hours or at night" Not all Police stations are actually open 24/7. Many of our local stations close down at night, leaving you with too long to walk distances to the nearest open one. – Mast Apr 20 '17 at 11:15
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    This is a good answer; esp the last part about newspaper/cardboard. They help keep you warm from the cold ground. Allow me to add that it is easy to sit in a hotel lobby, if the staff is ok with it. If there are indoor ATM rooms, like in cold cities, this can also be a decent place to sit/sleep. – axsvl77 Apr 21 '17 at 2:56
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    Unless there are people living at the religious institution, I would be surprised if there would even be anybody there late at night to let you in. – Thunderforge Apr 21 '17 at 23:56
  • @Thunderforge Good observation. In Germany the priest normally actually lives near the church, I was not aware that it could be otherwise until you pointed it out. – Thorsten S. Apr 22 '17 at 10:59
  • In the US, older churches, especially in rural areas, have personages (i.e. houses for the priest or pastor to live in) next to the church, but newer churches, as well as those in urban or suburban areas, tend to just give a housing stipend instead. – Thunderforge Apr 22 '17 at 20:22
15

Google Maps has an "open now" filter. That allows you to find bars, cafes, restaurants etc. that are available right now. Combine with "nearby" and whatever is currently available to you will pop up.

If that doesn't yield anything try transportation hubs (train stations, bus stations). If that's closed too and you don't feel safe or weather is nasty, you can use emergency services. Ask for advice at a police station. You can probably finagle a wait at the emergency room of the hospital. There are always people waiting for something.

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    that feature almost always fails me, at least in the netherlands =/ – Stephan Bijzitter Apr 19 '17 at 18:00
  • Nice one with the hospital. – Carl Apr 19 '17 at 20:19
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    I don't think the hospital is a nice on at all. Hospital emergency rooms are for people in medical emergencies, not homeless shelters for stranded tourists. Using them as such constitutes an unnecessary drain. – gerrit Apr 20 '17 at 17:19
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    @gerrit I assume he was talking about sitting quietly in the waiting room of a hospital ER, not faking an injury to get a bed to lie in. – arp Apr 21 '17 at 21:26
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    @gerrit I know a few trauma doctors and nurses who work in the ER, and if you're sitting quietly in the waiting room, making it clear that you aren't injured or in need of help, I'm quite confident that they'd be happy to let you stay, right up until they need the space for people with medical emergencies -- which is unlikely to happen late at night. If, on the other hand, you fake an injury, you're going to get the full treatment, and there are so many things a doctor can do to mess with you if you're being a problem. – Fund Monica's Lawsuit Apr 24 '17 at 4:21
11

Make friends

You have to act quick, because people move fast. The chances are high that someone else has had their plans ruined by the delay. Look around for other people that are scrambling. How are they solving the problem? Maybe they have a good thing and can share, maybe you can work together.

You might still be spending the night on a bench, but doing it with someone else will be far more enjoyable. This has the added bonus of your companion being just another stranded traveler with places to go, rather than some random person who is out.

Appy Stuff

As an app, you can try Couch Surfing. There is a good community out there, and unlike a hotel or airbnb, you're going to be instantly connected to an actual person. He/She may be more than willing to help someone who just got stranded. There's no charge at this time, but do provide conversation and smiles.

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    +1 for befriending tip. I was stranded next to a rural train station once, and spent a night with a lady covering night shifts in a nearby convenience store (hardly anybody comes to the store, so she had a little couch there). You'll have to see if it's appropriate and safe first of course, but a little humble conversations and smiles can make things way easier for you even if you don't speak the native language. – Ayesh K Apr 20 '17 at 18:12
8

In many cities you can buy a ticket on a public transit line that runs all night, and relax a bit on the bus or train while doing a bit of sightseeing. (Note, though, that you may find yourself in the company of homeless people who use this method to get out of inclement weather cheaply.)

This doesn't get you a place to sleep, but does get you off your feet.

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    When you are without a bed for the night, you essentially are a homeless person at that point. – gerrit Apr 20 '17 at 17:12
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    @gerrit: there's an essential difference between being briefly roofless and being homeless. I don't think it's really fair to equate, "I need to somehow not die before 6am when things start opening and I can continue with my holiday", to living rough. – Steve Jessop Apr 21 '17 at 10:43
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the google filter "now open" is an excellent tool. If you are close to a truck stop on Interstate or otherwise, they are always open 24/7 and I would be surprised if they don't have rooms. Even if they don't have rooms, they have a place to eat and bathing facilities. If the airlines sometimes drop the ball here, the trucking industry has figured this whole thing out. Cross country drivers are required by law to rest. If you explain your situation to some truckers, they may let you rest in their air conditioned cab, usually for some compensation.

If you are at an airport and the lobby is closed or inconvenient, see if they have have a general aviation facility. Alot of times the general aviation area will have a pilot's lounge open 24/7 where you can relax in style in leather couches, hd tvs, coffee, snacks, etc. The pilot lounge is usually run by Signature Aviation. Just tell them you are a recreational pilot and member of AOPA. If you are not a pilot, tell them you are aspiring to become one. Late at night there usually is just one or two employees there and if you tip them right they will look the other way if you are not a pilot.

It worked for me in Fort Lauderdale in the middle of spring break. We had drove down there to catch a cruise out of Miami the next morning. If Signature Aviation at Fort Lauderdale airport did not let my family (4 people) stay in the pilot lounge that night, we would have had to sleep in our Toyota Prius. There was no rooms to be had even if you were willing to sleep with cock roaches.

  • "a truck stop on Interstate or otherwise, they are always open 24/7" The larger ones, yea. Others not necessarily, heavily location dependent. – Mast Apr 20 '17 at 11:16
  • Just mentioning, since OP said they flew in... Truck stops are great, but spectacularly inaccessible to people without a motor vehicle. This is quite intentional, both to save money on the site, and to deny access to non-customers who may make customers feel uncomfortable. If a trucker doesn't feel safe sleeping at a truck stop, he won't fuel, wash or get repairs there. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Apr 22 '17 at 2:36
  • All airports are connected by roads. Almost all roads lead to Interstate highways. If Uber or Lyft drivers are not available, hitchhiking would work as long as some bills are extended next to hitchhiker's thumb. All this is if there is no go on the general aviation pilot lounge. – 0tyranny 0poverty Apr 25 '17 at 0:00
4

By strange coincedence, I just (re)watched Murder, She Wrote season 2 episode 21. It opens as Jessica (a 61 year old woman) is turned away at a New Orleans hotel — due to a mix-up her reservations start the following night. Thanks to Mardi Gras, there are no rooms anywhere in the city.

She takes a cab to the address of a distant relative that she plans on looking up on that trip, with the intention of begging a place to crash for one night.

But there is a costume party going on, and she ends up spending hours looking for her cousin. When someone discovers a dead body, more adventures ensue. And it left me wondering, where did she ever find a place to sleep? I think the answer was that she never did, but rather spent the entire night and next morning having an adventure.

So… you said the airport was small. But was the nearby city a place where tney roll up the streets after dark, or is it full of nightlife? It may depend on the day, too: as with the example of New Orleans, I was in Cosumel during “festival” (actually, Fat Tuesday, Valentines Day, and Chinese New Year were all in the same week that year) and there were parades and party all night, even though that's nominally a small town. I mention it because there may be a corelation between the lack of any nearby accomidation and the availability of nightlife.

If a hotel can’t accommodate you, you can still check with their concierge to learn what’s going on. Even if it's not an event famous for being nightlife (like a college football game or graduation) there may well be some associated with the gathering.

  • 1
    New Orleans is a really easy place to stay up all night in, and that's even if you do have a place to stay ;-) Sure, if this happens to you there, hit the Quarter and you're done. The breakfast places open before the bars close, and Café du Monde alone is open 24/7 (except Christmas and hurricane warnings). – Steve Jessop Apr 21 '17 at 10:47
0

Airbnb by app or airbnb.com homeaway by app or homeaway.com

I use them all the time for my travels. In fact, I don't remember the last time I had stayed in a hotel.

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    This doesn't actually answer the question, hence my downvote. – Giorgio Apr 19 '17 at 16:13
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    @Dorothy But it does! See, that's the problem with broad questions. Also, if you think this genuinely doesn't answer the question, you should flag/vote as NAA. – Dmitry Grigoryev Apr 19 '17 at 16:20
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    The response time on airBnB prevent it from last minute bookings as was asked... – TS. Apr 19 '17 at 18:24
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    @DmitryGrigoryev This is why I might flag the question as too broad / list-based / opinion-based.; I'm in agreement that SE is not the site for a continuing list of resources, even though I like the question. – Mikey Apr 19 '17 at 20:32
  • Upvoted. AirBnB is the first thing I would try if I were in this situation. I have used it many times and the response times are usually great. It's not free, but it's usually ~30-60% cheaper than the cheapest hotel in most areas I've stayed. – Dan Apr 20 '17 at 21:09
-4

This is a guess, and I'm not a woman. But if you are a woman and you are in this situation, maybe you should phone the local rape crisis hotline, and explain your situation. I'm sure that the people at the other end would understand that although you are not yet a victim, you are certainly at risk, and would at least find you a chair in a safe place for the night. Do offer to make a donation. These places need all the support they can get.

Of course it might open your eyes to things of which you'd prefer to have remained comfortably ignorant. Better second-hand experience, than first-hand.

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    I think this is a bad idea and that equating "stuck at night" to "imminently at risk of rape" is, in most cases, seriously exaggerated. Rape crisis hotlines are not in the business of providing cheap accommodation for anyone who feels unsafe (justified or not) at night. Using them as such drains resources from those who really need them, and a donation does not resolve that imminent problem. – gerrit Apr 20 '17 at 17:16
  • @gerrit Depends on stuck where, of course, also on whether really stuck. If there's any hotel room even at several times one's usual maximum price, then take it. But this suggestion, because I'm no longer comfortably ignorant. (And no more, because I promised). – nigel222 Apr 20 '17 at 18:39

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