Solving the Problem of Dimly Lit Hotel Rooms

This light folds up into a compact space and can unfold to shine in your choice of convenient direction.

Don’t you hate checking in to your hotel room and finding yourself groping around a dimly lit room, with insufficient lighting to allow you to conveniently read or do other fine-detail work.  Particularly as we get older, our eyes have greater difficulty focusing clearly in lower light – we increasingly need better light in our working and living areas.

Sure, by replacing normal wattage bulbs with lower wattage bulbs, and by having insufficient light fixtures in the room to start with, the hotel might save between a penny and a nickel a night in electricity charges.

If the room really needs another 75 – 100 watts of incandescent light bulb equivalent light, and that the light needs to be on for four or five hours, and electricity costs about 12c per kWhr – the extra electricity for extra light would cost about a nickel with incandescent light, and more like a penny with CFL or LED lights).  Yes, the hotel just collected $100 – $250 from you for the use of the room for the night, and it is now impacting on your convenient comfortable use of the room so as to make one more penny from you.

What can you do in such a case?  There are three things you can do.

1.  Complain

The first thing you should do is call to the front desk and ask for more powerful bulbs and some additional light fixtures to be brought to the room.  Yes, an obvious response, but often an overlooked one.

Don’t passively enable their poor service by not complaining about it.  Make the hotel realize that we do value having sufficient light in our rooms.  If possible, ask the front desk ‘why is it you’ve plenty of light where you work at reception, but we don’t have the same light in our rooms?

Don’t accept the nonsense responses that you’ll probably receive such as ‘no-one else has ever complained’ or ‘our guests tell us they prefer a softer less harsh light in their room’.  Your response in both cases is ‘How do you know that other guests weren’t unhappy but didn’t want to get the same brush off, such as you are now trying to give me?  How many guests have called you from their room to tell you how happy they are with the dim light?  Are you telling me that I don’t count?  Am I not also a guest?  If someone wants softer light, let them turn off a light, but what about me wanting normal light – what can I do?’

You might be successful – we know some hotels stock portable lamps that they’ll bring to rooms when guests complain.

In the second part of this series we’ll also tell you how to equip yourself with facts and figures to back up your request for better light.

2.  Bring Your Own Brighter Bulbs

The second thing you could do is travel with higher powered light bulbs and replace the bulbs in the fixtures with brighter bulbs.

Back when the only type of bulbs most of us ever encountered were the traditional incandescent bulbs, this wasn’t a very effective strategy, because many fixtures wouldn’t support brighter bulbs.  The brighter bulbs were hotter and risked overheating the fixture and possibly even leading to a fire.

The bulbs were also large and fragile, and so not easy to travel with.

But now, tiny LED bulbs no longer suffer these problems.  Because they generate very much less heat, you can put a much brighter LED bulb in any fixture and not have to worry about the heat melting or charring or setting fire to the fixture.  They are also smaller and usually stronger, and so are now more practical to travel with.

If you are going to do this, we suggest you get bright LED bulbs with the narrow screw bases, and also get the narrow to standard screw base adapters.  That way you can use the bulbs in any type of fixture.

The two issues with this strategy is firstly creating a protective carry case that you can keep your bulbs in while traveling (but a quick visit to an office supplies or packaging store will offer you dozens of plastic containers, and if you line one of those with a bit of bubble wrap, you’ve solved that problem) and – perhaps the most difficult challenge – remembering to take your bulbs back at the end of your stay.  A reader suggests these bulbs, which he travels with.  The are more flat than spherical, so are easier to travel with, and will increase the light to the equivalent of a 60W incandescent bulb.  That’s great if the hotel is only using 25W bulbs, it is an improvement if you are replacing 40W bulbs, but clearly won’t get you ahead of the problem if the room already has 60W bulbs, just too few of them.

As long as you prominently have your empty carry case somewhere, that should help ensure you don’t forget to reclaim your bulbs.

Note that this strategy doesn’t work so well if you are traveling internationally, due to different light fitting types and of course the different voltages.

 –  Bulb Brightness Measures

Most of us have grown up with the concept of measuring bulb brightness in terms of its wattage – the power it consumes.  Interestingly, there is not a linear relationship between power consumed and brightness – a 100 watt light bulb, while using 2.5 times as much electricity as a 40 W bulb, is typically more than three times brighter.  Power consumption has never been a good way of measuring bulb brightness.  And with the newer technologies with very different light per watt factors, it has become totally meaningless a measure.

The best way to measure light is the scientific way, in lumens.  We’ll discuss this in more detail in another article in the series, for now all that is needed to know is that the more lumens, the brighter.

Here is a helpful table of power and light output for the different types of bulbs :

20025   –   –
450409 – 134 – 5
8006013 – 156 – 8
11007518 – 259 – 13
160010023 – 3016 – 20
260015030 – 5525 – 28

 –  What About CFL – Compact Fluorescent Lights?

We are recommending you travel with LED lights, not CFL lights.  The CFL lights are more fragile, not as efficient, generate more heat, and don’t last as long.

Additionally, if broken, they run the risk of releasing mercury which may be a health hazard.  So pass over this technology, and go for the far superior, albeit somewhat more expensive, LED lighting.

3.  Bring Your Own Lamp

If you bring your own bulbs, this of course requires you to be able to access the light fittings in the room and easily change over the bulbs within them.  It also means that the light, while brighter, is still coming from whatever (and sometimes inconvenient) locations the light fixtures are placed within your hotel room.

Another approach is to bring your own lamp with you.

Until recently this would have required a large and possibly weighty object to be added to your suitcase.  But the miniaturization possible with LED lights is now making much smaller traveling lights a practical possibility.  But – how practical?

To answer that question, we did a review of a wide range of different small, lightweight, portable and bright ‘traveling’ lights currently for sale on Amazon.  The most important thing was that it should be capable of giving a reasonable amount of light and being suitable for the slightly rough treatment it would get when being tossed into our suitcase repeatedly.

Many of the lights gave no information about the light they actually emanated, but in some cases we could try and guess by coming to some sort of approximate understanding of the power they consumed and the likely LED output that such power would provide.  Clearly, more watts is better than less watts, but as the table above shows, there can be a difference of 30% or more in light output between two LEDs with the same power consumption.

We also noted that there were many different brands of what appeared to be the identical light – sometimes with identical specifications, sometimes with different specifications.  Unfortunately, not all these specifications can be completely trusted, and from our knowledge of typical Chinese manufacturing and marketing practices, if the units look the same, they almost certainly are the same, no matter what their brands and model numbers may suggest.  Furthermore, claims made in poor English that one model is a ‘new and improved’ version, while still looking the same as the other models, are usually of very dubious probity as well.

We ended up buying a unit that has now been discontinued, so we bought a second unit that remains current (Dec 2019).  This new unit is even better and lighter than the original unit, and what we like the most about it is that it can be powered from any USB power source, or from four AA batteries.  We generally use it without batteries – it keeps it lightweight (under 6 ounces) and convenient, and using our multiport charger means we always have a spare USB power source for it.  It folds into a compact 5″x3″x1.75″ space for traveling.

The unit has three power levels, activated by a touch sensitive switch.  We always use the brightest level.

It runs cool with no ‘hot spots’ anywhere, even when run at the brightest power level for hours nonstop.

So is this lamp an effective additional light source?

As an area illuminator, to brighten your entire hotel room, it makes a small amount of difference, but is hardly, to misuse the phrase, like night and day.  To provide a smaller pool of stronger light in a single task area, it works much better.

It it ridiculously inexpensive – $8.70 on Amazon. Recommended.

5 thoughts on “Solving the Problem of Dimly Lit Hotel Rooms”

  1. Enjoyed your article! I recall staying in dimly lit European hotel rooms during my grad student days in the 1970s. Usually I carried my own 75 watt bulb to replace the miserly hotel bulbs–in France often 25 watts at best. Hotel managers explained there was a risk of overloading their 1920s electrical wiring, starting fires and blowing fuses. They had good reason to fear when American guests turned on their blow dryers. “But monsieur, who uses a hotel room for reading a book?’
    I think British hotelkeepers were the most difficult. They installed non-standard plugs and outlets to prevent guests from using ANY personal electrical appliances. Grudgingly they did allow low-wattage electric razors on 120/240 volt converter boxes, barely enough to recharge a laptop computer. The British have a fuse-mania: they put fuses in every plug and switches on every outlet to cut power immediately!
    No wonder the European Union has had disputes about standards for simple electrical plugs!

    1. I noticed the special “lamp plugs” in the UK during my first trip there. By the time I took my second grip, I had an adaptor for those as well as the normal British adaptor. But I now carry one of these lamps.

        1. I had experimented with USB lights for years, but the first time I considered carrying one as a lamp to use in hotel rooms was at your suggestion. I could not get the one you suggested years ago, but this one is the best I’ve had so far. I carry it in my computer bag, and it plugs into a USB port on my computer power supply, so it is all quite convenient.

  2. I agree 100%. I usually on the start of a more than 5 day trip to Europe get a 100 watt type bulb and leave a sticky on my door or safe to retrieve bulb when departing. One problem is the bulb sockets can differ from one hotel to the next. I will get the portable light you suggest (and carry a small clamp to put it on headboard) and as always have an extension cord.

    I hate the idea of one more devise and cord to carry, but what can one do?

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