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Auto Hotels: What Does Luxury “Love” Accommodation Have to Do with Overland Travel?

After a long day on our motorcycles, my riding partner, Dave, and I, were in Guanajuato, Mexico, looking for a place to stay. We found a hotel on the side of the road, just out of town. The place looked nice—possibly too expensive for our budget, but we decided to see how much a night would cost.

I rolled up to a window that seemed to be Reception and thought it odd that the upper half was blocked off. I had to duck down to see the person—or rather, just his chest. When the glass slid open, I inquired about the cost of a room.

“¿Cuantas horas?”

He asked how many hours I wanted the room for. That’s when it hit me. We’d found an auto or “love” hotel.

auto hotel mexico

For the most part, auto hotels are mostly used by people who want to carry out illicit acts in secret. For example, each room has a garage, so spouses or work colleagues don’t drive by and see familiar vehicles parked outside a place with beds and showers.

A rate was negotiated for 12 hours, likely with some amount of snickering in the office. Dave and I rolled past a 10-foot-high concrete wall that looked like a jail surrounding the entire building. There was even a one-way sign and a secluded exit, so people didn’t drive past each other coming and going.

Inside the room, we laughed at the heart-shaped bed and mirror on the ceiling. A plastic chair the color of red licorice sat in the middle of the spacious room, curved so that anyone sitting in it would be exposed in certain ways.

We took some time trying to figure out a clear tube and canister on a shelf by the front door. This turned out to be the payment method—a vacuum pipe, not unlike today’s drive-thru bank deposit stations. Here, patrons could order food, alcohol, condoms, and other “delightful pleasures” and send money down the tube. Purchases would be dropped inconspicuously at the door with a knock. Love hotels are set up so that occupants and hotel staff don’t have to see each other. The only entry and exit is through the garage door, and almost everything can be bought through vending machines.

auto hotel payment method

“Love hotel payment system” by kalleboo is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I was grossed out knowing what had likely occurred in our room recently, but it looked spotless, and there was no denying the safety and security of having our bikes and all worldly possessions for our round-the-world trip parked in a garage below our feet.

parking at auto hotels

Later, when we inquired about where to get dinner, the hotel’s owner came outside the office and offered to drive us to a restaurant. En route, he pointed out a bus station and said we could catch the 192 to return to the hotel when ready.

After our meal, we caught the bus back. When Dave asked the driver to let us off at Hotel Addiction, the driver snorted, and a few folks on the bus started laughing. They probably thought Dave and I had just met, and now he was taking me to a love hotel on a public bus.

There are “short stay” hotels around the world, but they were more prevalent during our ride down to South America than anywhere else we traveled. We often kept an eye out for this style of accommodation as it provided secure parking for our bikes—an added stress for many travelers with vehicles. Auto hotels are safe, clean, and—if you only need a few hours of sleep before continuing onward—cost-effective.

Some of the fancier rooms come with jacuzzi tubs, pools, ceiling swings, and poles—and even small gymnasiums for amorous athletes. (I can hear Borat’s voice right now saying, “Let’s go to sexy gymnasium!”)

But auto hotels are not just for cheating on significant others or hiring prostitutes; the rooms can provide romantic solace for those in relationships who can’t easily find privacy. Imagine being a young couple in love, living in a multi-family dwelling, or dorm rooms with roommates? Or parents who have small houses and share their bedrooms with kids. Maybe this is why auto hotels seemed more common between Mexico and Argentina, where there can be as many as three generations living under one roof.

auto hotel mexico 1

Hotel: A “Love” Hotel by timtak is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

As for the “auto” namesake, this perhaps is the most accurate description for temporary accommodation that comes with a garage—it’s a hotel for your vehicle. In Japan, love hotels are pronounced “rub hotels.” I’m not going to touch that one.

No matter what you call these places and whether you’re there to carry out something taboo or romantic, there really is only one good reason to go to a love hotel—to securely park an overland vehicle, of course.

Have you ever stayed in an auto hotel for the purpose of vehicle security while traveling?


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Heather Lea has traveled to over 60 countries, 40 of which were on a BMW F 800 GS during a 708-day round-the-world motorcycle adventure with now-husband, Dave Sears (Trip Blog: Riding Full Circle). Heather has been a freelance writer for over twenty-five years and a book and magazine editor for more than fifteen. Aside from Expedition Portal, her stories can be found in Overland Journal, Canadian Geographic, Kootenay Mountain Culture, and Canadian Alpine Journal. She loves doing anything in the backcountry, including backpacking, four-wheel-driving, ski touring, and climbing. Heather is a Canadian now living in Bellingham, WA. Find her on Instagram @writer_heather_lea or on Facebook @heatherleawriter.