I have stayed in approximately three hotels in the last 3 years. One, a bnb in sad Seaton on the Dorset coast. Sad, as while Dorset’s Jurassic Coast is outrageously fascinating, and sister towns Beer and Axemouth are delightfully quaint, Seaton is the equivalent of a wet weekend in a static caravan. Several new year nights in a Novotel with questionable construction-site security – we were able to get into the under-construction basement spa simply by exiting the lift on the wrong floor. And more recently in a Bristol hotel for work where my room wasn’t ready and I had to wait with my free drinks vouchers in the bar. None of them are memorable for good reasons, obviously excepting said Bristol Mercure.
Hotels once held excitement for the touring traveller or corporately mobile. Now, by the comparison, they’re sterile boxes with hermetically sealed, triple glazed windows to keep the noise down, the health and safety record high and the real world out. Anyone who has ever so much as opened an accommodation website, let alone stepped on a plane, could tell you that they want just the opposite.
I am one of the number who don’t want to be set apart from the place I’ve gone to experience. I want to feel the place like I feel my home; deep in some unacknowledged place that can move you to tears, or produce a sigh of contentment just from proximity.
Some 8 years ago in Thailand, I stayed at the Radisson Bangkok on my first few nights, a glorious multi-storey with a high rise restaurant. I dug into dressed crab and a seafood fest, overlooking a slum in the arch of a nearby freeway, unaware for the only time in that trip. Taking tuk tuks from those glamorous heights to tour the shimmering gold palaces and temples, eating in local bijou restaurants, passing dead dogs in crowded streets lined with trinket vendors making tourism of poverty. The reality of a place isn’t always palatable but it is real, if sobering. Otherwise it was hostels or home stays; a days trek from Chang Mai with our tour, in what would be generous to call a cattle shed, at the home of a local village family; on Koh Phi Phi Don, a hut so much part of the mountain it was built out from that there was a frog in the shower soap dish each morning; later, a balconied bamboo hut facing onto the beach where morning yoga awaited if you were so inclined. The reality of a place isn’t always sobering, but it is intangibly real.
Closer to home, a reasonably recent obsession with the Eurostar (Alun’s) has taken us to Lille, Brussels, Bruge and Paris, each weekend bolthole sourced with ease in mind, including ease of easing into a city like we’d never not been there. Hosts whose passion for their city is infectious and whose knowledge invaluable: a level we aspire to. Apartments so unique, each so notable, memorable that each future booking is done a disservice by a former.
With each trip that we eschew hotels for homes, we reframe our own frame of reference for travel. It’s not just about escapism from the norm or gaining awareness of another culture, although we seek that too. It’s increasingly about being as comfortable away as you are at home. To breakfast on jam and croissant with even the early morning sun strong enough to warm your skin, to slink in from the cold of a wintry European city and have a sofa and a blanket to curl up in, to perch on medieval buttresses with strong beer or pour in from humid, happy dinners and watch the stars blink awake around you on the rooftop of a beachside villa. It’s the opportunity to live the life you might if you had truly escaped which is the draw. To remove the lens of a hotel, which invades the space between you and a true escape.
Increasingly, we’re all trying to remove the distance between leaving and arriving. To have left and to feel at home. To be immersed in the real of a false, temporary reality. Alienation X assimilation; the fusion collection for our generation. I want to feel at home when I’m gone so I Airbnb. I trip advisor. I booking.com or homeownersdirect it. I verb the noun to live the verb.