Earlier this year, I had to go to a conference really far from where I live, but really not-that-far from a party that everyone in my family was attending. I was stewing over with FOMO as I considered the cruelty of being a mere 635 miles (instead of my usual 2897 miles, it’s all relative) away from all my favorite humans and dogs having fun together without me, all because I had to sit through 8 mind numbing sessions about sending emails every day, when I arrived at my cold, lonely, dark hotel room. I was on the edge of throwing the biggest pity party for myself that I’ve had all year when I sat down on my bed, turned on the TV, and realized: I can make this better, because I’m in a hotel. You can do anything in a hotel! I put my pants back on (oh yeah, step one of a post-conference pity party is putting on your pajamas at about 5pm), walked past 4 people peeing on the street (San Francisco), got some take out tikka masala, brought it back to my room, put my pajamas BACK ON, and then ate it in bed while watching Wayne’s World. And it was the best, because they change your sheets every day so you don’t have to worry about naan crumbs! Staying in a hotel freed me from the restrictions that I put on myself in my own house, or that I put on myself when I stay in someone else’s house, so I could soothe my FOMO by indulging the decadent, lazy slob inside me.
Growing up, I never really thought about hotels. I am lucky enough to have parents that really valued taking vacations and who really hate the Houston heat, so we tended to leave for long chunks of time in the summer. Getting out of town happened often and it could mean anything: sometimes we took rather luxurious last-minute trips to a hill country resort or we were adventurous and stayed in freezing tent cabins in Yosemite National Park. Sometimes we camped out in soggy motels on a Washington State Indian Reservation or rented a posh apartment in central London. For the most part, we’d go on 2 month long road trips across America — we drove from Texas to Montreal or Vancouver multiple times. Even though we’d have plans to see family, visit new cities, hike in national parks, and try new foods, I always had one most favorite day of the whole trip. Our ritual on the first night of vacation after a long day in the car was parking at the La Quinta Inn in Amarillo, TX, where my brother and I would jump in the pool and then spend the rest of the night eating pizza in bed and watching Spongebob on Nickelodeon. Just staying in a crappy hotel somewhere different than normal, where we didn’t really have anything to experience or explore or expect felt so freeing and luxurious, even though it was one of the least fancy hotels in one of the least fancy towns in all of Texas.
I have been a pretty avid fan of Airbnb, mostly for the reason that I think where you stay has a big impact on how you experience a new place. If your goal, like mine almost always is, is to pretend you live in a different place for a few days what better way is there than to live in someone's actual apartment? Even if my studio in Prague was across from the largest brothel in Europe or my flat in London smelled a little like stale cigarettes, it all added to the experience. That is, until, earlier this year when I got locked out of my too-good-to-be-true Paris chambre de bonne (literally translates as maid’s chambers — I thought it was romantic, with a room tucked underneath the roof, a view of the Sacre Coeur, a shower in the kitchen, and a price tag of less than 50 euros a night!). Turns out, it’s important to have the toilet actually in your rental, not down the hall, because if your hungover butt forgets to grab the key and the door locks behind you, there are not a lot of options for a person with no shoes, no glasses, no money, no phone, and excellent restaurant French but not a lot beyond that (Le cle...n’est pas ici?). Thank God I chose to wear my matching J Crew pajama set that night *praise emoji*.
Anyway, after paying a French locksmith more money than I had rented the apartment for to get back inside, I started questioning my whole thought process behind renting apartments. Was staying in a cheap Airbnb really helping me experience Paris as a local? It made me think that maybe I just want … a front desk. A key card. A bathroom INSIDE my room. Clean towels every day.
The truth is, there is one major thing about hotels that gets me every time: the towels. I’m a recycling tyrant at home, and have no problem shaming housemates for wasting water when they take 90 minute long baths, re-sorting other people’s garbage, and compulsively turning lights off in rooms when they are empty. When I stay at a hotel, all of that goes out the window. Eco friendly hotels that allow you to reuse towels? No thank you, please replace these babies with freshly laundered fluffy soft towels every day. Even if i steal them for the day to take to the beach or use them for a picnic, I LOVE that there are always clean towels to use at the end of the day.
Hotels are a total luxury, don’t get me wrong — I know that this is the basis for the entire concept of staycations. But maybe sometimes it’s OK to admit that the point of traveling can just be to hang out inside the place you’re staying. Even when you have nothing planned but to walk around a city and get lost, there’s still pressure there to get lost enough. To have some kind of adventure or be absorbed in something you can’t grasp. As a traveler, I can get stressed when I feel like I (or my traveling buddy) is sleeping in too late or not taking advantage of our brief time of attempting to immerse ourselves somewhere, but I found that finally admitting that it’s ok to enjoy being away, even if that just means hanging out in your hotel or your Airbnb or your yurt rental, you’re not wasting your time at all. Because honestly, watching cable on a real TV and eating curry in a bed that will have clean sheets on it tomorrow? Nothing's better.