Note: This was originally publish on Portland Travel Tips in 2014. I am reposting miles and points related posts from that site to here.
I just completed a short trip to Belgium and France and wanted to share some of my thoughts. This trip was a new experience for my wife and I. I have been collecting miles and points for about 4 years now. We have redeemed those points for many domestic trips, but this was our first international trip with points. We flew business class, stayed in fancy hotels, and did it all for $600 in taxes and fees. On our flight home, I was continually thinking about something Rick Steves said in an interview a few years back when he was asked about the difference between a tourist and a traveler.
I’ll give you an example. A few years ago, my family was excited to go to Mazatlán. You get a little strap around your wrist and can have as many margaritas as you want. They only let you see good-looking local people, who give you a massage. There’s nothing wrong with that. But I don’t consider it travel. I consider it hedonism. And I have no problem with hedonism. But don’t call it travel. Travel should bring us together.
For the most part of our trip, especially at the Park Hyatt Vendome, I felt like I was on a cruise ship, minus the boat. Instead of a wrist bracelet, I had my hotel elite status. I had twice daily housekeeping service, heated stone tiles in the bathroom, a rain shower, and I was surrounded by good looking people with money. What was there not to like?
What was not to like was that the Park Hyatt was missing something that I value, highly, when traveling abroad. People. The hotel is not in a residential area. It is in a mostly commercial area surrounded by high-end stores like Cartier, Tiffany’s, Mont Blanc, and more. This is what window shopping looks like by the Park Hyatt.
I do not travel to pretend I am a part of the 1%. I travel to experience new cultures, to learn about myself, and others. The Park Hyatt, is no different than a cruise ship occasionally dropping you off at port so you can see the sights and say you’ve been there.
When I travel I prefer to stay in neighborhoods where people live. The restaurant food is better, people are friendlier, and you can experience a new place in a more intimate way. As opposed to just dropping in and retreating to the confines of your luxury suite at the Park Hyatt.
Part of the reason I chose to travel in this way was because I wanted to experience something new. I have never flown international business class, I have never stayed at a $1200 a night hotel, and to a large degree I was influenced by mile and point bloggers who present this as the way to travel.
What I learned about this way of travel is that the bloggers are wrong. For me, at least, it is not the way to travel. In fact, I hardly consider it travel at all. The bloggers (who are the face of this hobby) have lost perspective (or maybe they never had it). Instead of the flight and hotel being the vehicle by which you experience a new destination and culture. The destination has become the vehicle by which you experience a hotel and flight. Like passengers on a cruise ship, it is hedonism, and there is nothing wrong with that. Just do not call it travel. “Travel should bring us together.”
Let me give you an example of how travel should bring us together. My favorite lodging in Italy was a place called Manuel’s Guesthouse in Cinque Terre. Manuel had about five rooms to rent in his house. He had a wonderful terrace that doubled as his outdoor kitchen. In the evenings you could chat with him, his nephew, and fellow travelers from all over the world, while taking in this view.
By limiting yourself to lodgings where your hotel elite status gets you a suite upgrade you are missing out on what travel should be about. Connecting with people. Next time, I will confine my hedonism to the flight and skip the fancy hotel. This trip reaffirmed my love of small B&Bs and pensions, located in residential neighborhoods. I may not have a nightly turn down service and bottles of Evian every morning but I will happily trade that for a more intimate connection with the people and place I am visiting.