Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Rules of Travel (Why I Love Sleeping Single in a Double Bed in a 5-Star Hotel)

My bedroom at the Melia Dubai in Dubai
My bedroom at the Pullman Bali Legian Nirwana in Bali
The view of Bangkok from my bedroom balcony in Lebua at State Tower
When you're right you're right, and I can't remember the last time anyone was this right. A friend sent me an email this morning in which she laid out her key travel preferences, namely accommodations and the company she likes to keep. I nodded the entire time I was reading it, delighted that our taste in travel are in as near-perfect alignment as our taste in movies. It was almost as if she'd been reading my mind. I easily could have written the same thing and called it a blog post. Her point of view was so me:

"When I travel, I'd rather spend money on lodging than food. For example, if I had $200, $190 would go to a hotel and ten bucks for dinner at the grocery store. 
"Don't get me wrong - I'm all for finding the best pizza in town, or the best ice cream in town, or the best whatever. And when I'm home, I do sometimes drop a couple of hundred on a nice meal a few times a year. 
"I also don't like traveling with people because I always wind up having to wait for them. I'm always the first one up, and they inevitably lose something."

Ain't that the truth. Where I stay (and with whom I stay there) and whether it has perfectly functioning Wi-Fi and a spotless bathroom have been able to make or break any city/holiday since I was old enough to know and afford better. When I used to travel to Europe on a pauper's budget in my 20s, I stayed in a series of dumps but loved most of the cities anyway. I was fine with staying in nice hotels only when I was traveling for work, and Time Inc. paid the bill. But after I treated myself to a 5-star experience at St. Martin's Lane in London shortly after turning 30, this beggar started to become a lot choosier.

I wonder if I would have loved Dubai as much as I did had I not had a 5-star base there, and I can only imagine how much more I might have appreciated Phnom Penh, Cambodia (which I enjoyed immensely as it was), if I hadn't had to go to sleep there in a windowless room with terrible Wi-Fi. Perhaps I wouldn't have despised Koh Samet in Thailand as much as I did had I upgraded from that mosquito-infested dump on the beach. To this day, I credit LoiSuites Recoleta, where I stayed during my first three trips to Buenos Aires, with setting the scene for the blooming of that particular love affair.

In all my years of travel, I can remember nearly all of the hotels in which I've stayed -- from the airless hovels to the palatial suites -- but I recall few of the restaurants in which I've had meals and especially what I ordered in them.

I credit this in part to the fact that I've never been much of a foodie. Even with a city that has as many fantastic food options as Melbourne, the edible things I miss most about it are the raspberry and white chocolate cookies at Woolworths and the raspberry and white chocolate muffins at 7-11. (Clearly I have a strong weakness for raspberries and white chocolate down under!)

Whenever I used to splurge on expensive dinners at places like The Place in New York City, I did it more for the company than anything on the menu. Yes, people are more memorable to me than meals, and I'll less likely recall what I ate than with whom I was talking (or not talking) while I ate it. I recently had two amazing dinners with my best friend Lori and her husband John at two off-the-beaten path restaurants in the rolling hills in Tuscany, but I'm convinced that I would have had an equally memorable time back at the hotel with a cheap bottle of wine and a take-out meal for under 10 euros.

I don't believe I've ever asked for a restaurant recommendation in my life, and I've certainly never paid attention to an unsolicited one, but I'm always interested to hear about where people stayed. Food pictures on Facebook inspire me to keep scrolling down, while I can spend hours looking at photos of the interior design of five-star hotel suites in luxury-travel magazines.

My predilection for traveling solo has less to do with my loner, semi-reclusive tendencies than the difficulty in finding friends with a comparable travel ethic. When I'm in a new city, mindlessly running around town, crossing things off my to-see list, is hardly my idea of a good time. Sure there are always must-sees in certain cities, but in general, I like to allow a new place to unfold as I casually and aimlessly wander its streets. Some of my favorite moments -- the magic ones -- of my recent stint in Rome arrived when I was wandering around, often lost, with no particular place to go.

Lori and my friend Dave are two of the few people who share my vacation view, and I travel with either of them perfectly. (Incidentally, along with my brother Alexi, they're the only two people I can think of whose homes I'd choose over a hotel.) As for tripping with boyfriends, they say it's the best way to kill a relationship. I've never murdered one of mine on the road, but with one exception (and if he's reading this, he'll know who he is), I can't say that I've ever felt compatible with a boyfriend on holiday. I approach love on the road in pretty much the same way that I approach love at home: You do your thing on your side, while I do my thing on mine. When our desires converge, we can meet in the middle.

Incidentally, that also applies to what happens in bed -- on and off the road. But at the end of the day (on and off the road, but especially on), when I lay me down to sleep, and my head hits those two fluffy white pillows stacked one on top of the other on a queen-size bed with the AC at full blast, I prefer to be on the right side, on my right side, with an empty space beside me. Good night.
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