Traveling in Style Part 4: How to Choose Hotels
A hotel means much more to me than a bed or a place to sleep after a day of exhausting sightseeing. The right hotel lobby has the drama of guests moving about with all kinds of colorful attachments, grand or cozy nooks to quietly converse or drink coffee in, and hustle and bustle that create an air of excitement. Breakfast is much more than the bountiful buffet. It is the interaction of people dressed up and ready to take on the day and it is the style that uniquely reflects that city at that moment.
On the last leg of our road trip through the south, we checked into the Williard in Washingtion DC using our Hotels.com reward night free for a final weekend hurrah. On Saturday, after a morning of synagogue hopping and a tour in the Smithsonian American History museum, we reentered the back doors of the hotel and encountered a chuppah with the most spectacular floral arrangements EVER! After a bit of a rest and a bite, David and I settled in on a comfortable settee at the end of the long hallway, ordered drinks and waited for the wedding to begin. Towards twilight, the wedding began to unfold; most georgeous bride, stunning groom, and wedding party and guests right off the pages of Town and Country magazine. You don’t get that at every hotel.
Hotels are a huge factor in traveling and can make or break a vacation. One should always implement a cost benefit analysis when choosing a hotel. It can mean the difference between a good trip or a great trip. You have to spend -x- dollars on a hotel no matter; a better quality hotel is that increment just beyond the basic level that becomes your discretionary additional expense.
When I first began traveling, I penny pinched on every expense, it was the difference between being able to take the trip or it being totally out of my league. I only flew on charter flights, last minute package deals and there were even instances when I stayed in a single with a shared bathroom. I would make my informed choices because I read the hotel was in a central, safe neighborhood, was within walking distance to the sites I was interested in, and all the stars were aligned to make all the components of the trip fit. Certainly, one must not sacrifice the opportunity to travel when the budget has a ceiling. You can make it work, options for affordability are a wide range. Hotels that are acceptable, sometimes the small boutique ones are even fantastic and can be three stars instead of four or five. The really luxurious hotels can often be four stars instead of five and that difference can end up saving you hundreds of dollars.
When I first started to travel, the internet was slow and it took forever to investigate hotels and book train or museum tickets. So I abided by a small boutique hotel policy and would sometimes even call or send an email to inquire what kind of bedding they had, was it Egyptian Cotton Sheets and did the blankets have Duvet covers? Did they have a buffet breakfast with smoked salmon, how about vegetables? These inquiries can be time consuming, but why should I relinquish that level of quality I desire. Remember, hotels are used to unusual inquiries and there is nothing they haven’t seen and heard before!
I try to travel by train when I can from city to city. One of my sons explained to me after one of his sojourns, in his twenties, that you always book first class and sometimes a long first class train ride can substitute a night in a hotel. It really adds a wonderful dimension to any trip and can save a night in a hotel. Think Orient Express. My no taxi guideline is also consistent with the “don’t trust anyone and don’t make eye contact” strategy in a foreign country.
Example, I was traveling to Vienna with my parents, who are as particular and discerning as I. We had to be centrally located to be within short walking distance of the many sights and I wanted the proximity to the sights in case they wanted to rest and I wanted to grab an express museum visit for a quick hour. We needed a small, boutique hotel because they love the attention they get in smaller hotels, and they do not like to spend alot of money. These parameters dictated the hotel.
Important travel sites Expedia, Priceline, TripAdvisor, Trivago, and Hotels.com, as well as new ones that are rapidly gaining popularity. Hotels.com has a membership program for every 10 nights the average equivalent one night free. Those sites are full of information and help tailor trips to my specifications. Tripadvisor rates the hotels in specific areas by many different criteria, i.e. customer reviews, star ratings and reviews in that specific neighborhood, to name a few. Right at the top of the page is the information #24 of 300 in Vienna, for example. In the Hotels.com website, right below the hotel picture is a listing of “what’s around” with the amount of minutes to walk from the hotel.
Back to Vienna, down the street from the five star fancies is a Hotel Austria, small, 46 rooms, beautiful breakfast with smoked salmon, tomatoes and cucumbers (I know because I called), and 5-12 minutes from the museums I was interested in, the Albertina, the Secession and the Opera House. Down the street is the Meridien, 300 rooms, some fish (not smoked salmon) and the room rates are $100 more per night. My parents and I loved the Hotel Austria. They gave them so much attention. I was prepared, got exactly what I anticipated and it was so comfortable.
The flip side, on another weekend jaunt with my parents, which coincidentally was the same weekend as the Paris air show, no hotels rooms were to be found. I got impatient with all the research and frustrated by all the sold outs on those dates, that I grabbed a hotel and we paid over $500 a night, not really that unusual for Europe, but this hotel was a rip off. While the location was perfection, near restaurants and on the square of the Bastille, the hotel itself was difficult to navigate, too many stairs, the suite was not efficient, and I SHOULD’VE HAD MORE PATIENCE. Each trip is a learning experience.
In Vienna, I found that train travel is still amazing, taxis are still questionable, and no matter how many clothes I pack in my little overhead boarding bag, I always have extra I don’t wear. European, small boutique hotels, that are not chains, mostly, are high quality and aim to please. Starched cotton bed linens are standard in most European small boutique hotels and the staff are usually very charming and treat you almost like family.
But the really great news is that Italy and Spain celebrates middle aged elegant women with curves and older gentlemen with graying temples or long locks, and they all look super attractive! On every corner are couples, singles, young and the mature! Their hair is perfectly coiffed and they all look like that country’s equivalent of Catherine Deneuve. All the subjects in the sculptures and paintings have real bodies with curves. It was all very refreshing, as opposed to the American version of skinny and young obsessed.