While He Was Gone

While he was gone…

A few times a year, my husband and I go on our own vacations. Yes, we vacation together too, but we don’t always enjoy the same places, so instead of arguing about it, we do our own thing.

Last week, my husband visited the beach where he grew up. He got to hang out with his friends there, and I didn’t have to go! Seriously, I didn’t have to go…thank you, Lord. It’s a lovely beach, but it’s just not somewhere I want to spend my vacation time…so he goes when he wants. I go several places each year without him. We take vacations together too…no big deal.

But this time was different. He left Wednesday. He had a routine departure early that morning, and honestly, I was looking forward to having a few days to myself…to enjoy the peace and quiet, catch up on some reading, watch some rom-com movies I’ve seen advertised, and just do whatever I wanted to do. But my plans were foiled as early as the first night.

About ten minutes after I got into bed that night, I heard chimes in the hallway outside our bedroom. The chimes were followed by a loud female voice saying, “The battery is low on your smoke detector. Please change the battery now. The battery power is very low.” Yes, we have a weird talking smoke detector. I felt sure it couldn’t be too low, and I thought it probably wouldn’t talk to me again before the next morning. I was wrong. The “lady inside the smoke detector” repeated her message ten minutes later. I promptly grabbed my pillows and went upstairs to sleep in the guest room.

The problem? I’m short, and we have ten foot ceilings in the hall. I could reach the smoke detector with a ladder (which we have), but I have vertigo. Ladders are not my friend. And any time I lean my head back to look up, the vertigo kicks in…I’d likely fall backward off the ladder. I know my limits.

The next day, I got a neighbor to come change the battery. Problem solved, right? I will be able to resume my peaceful weekend, right? Wrong.

That very afternoon, as I climbed the stairs to retrieve my pillows from the guest room, I noticed that as I got closer to the top of the stairs, it got warmer. Not good. I walked over to the upstairs thermostat, and it was blank. It’s electronic, so I tapped it, hoping it was just in sleep mode. It wasn’t. My husband always deals with the HVAC company, so I called him and asked him to call his contact there. A couple of hours later, the technician arrived, and after an hour or so, he told me we needed a new upstairs HVAC system. I wasn’t surprised, because I knew it was about time for that, but I didn’t expect it to happen when the husband was out of town.

The next day, I sat down with the representative from our service provider, and the day after that, we had a new system installed. It was pretty quick, but it meant I had to sit home half the day while they worked. Not exactly what I had in mind for my peaceful weekend at home.

As soon as the new HVAC was installed, I sat down in the kitchen and thought, “Well, at least I get two more nights to myself.” Not…so…fast! Less than ten minutes later, my husband called and said, “I’m coming home today. Hurricane Ida is coming in, and even though it won’t be a direct hit here, the traffic is going to be impossible if I don’t leave now.”

OK. OK. The peaceful weekend of rom-com movies simply wasn’t meant to be. My husband arrived home safely last night, and we are back to watching the shows he wants to watch. Don’t get me wrong…I’m happy he’s home. I just feel like I missed an opportunity. At least he was grateful that I had handled all the issues in his absence.

It’s OK, I’m driving our daughter to Asheville next weekend for her to meet some friends, and I will stay in a hotel by myself…eating room service and watching rom-coms!

What Makes A Good Hotel Stay?

What makes a good hotel stay? Lots of things. Summer is almost here, and since we are hoping places are opening up more, travel is on lots of people’s minds…including mine. I’m always researching hotels.

Over the course of my 53 years of life, I’ve stayed in a lot of hotels. When I was a kid, a couple of things were important for me at hotels: a swimming pool and good vending machines. But times change. My wish list is different now. If you ever visit a city I’ve visited in recent years, I’m happy to give you my own review of hotels where I’ve stayed, and here are some of the things I will mention:

  • Friendly Staff. I love outstanding customer service. Our favorite hotel in the Los Angeles area knows how to do it, and I love it. A hotel can have beautiful facilities, but if the staff isn’t friendly and helpful, I don’t want to return. There’s a reason I listed this first…because it is important to me. When I visit a hotel, I like for the staff to smile and look like they enjoy being there. I like to feel like they are my friends. If I get that vibe in a hotel, I’m likely to remember it, and I’m going to return. I write dozens of complimentary letters a year, because I appreciate great service, and I love when someone gives me a reason to write one.
  • Large rooms. I simply like to feel comfortable. I don’t want to feel like I’m living in a closet for days. When I’m booking hotel rooms, I always look at the square footage. Unless the hotel has something special to offer, the size of the rooms is very important to me. For example, if I’m looking at two hotels in New York, and they have similar pricing and quality, the size of the rooms can be the tie-breaker. One is 350 square feet and the other is 550 square feet? You know which one I pick.
  • Air Conditioning. In the United States, most hotels are air conditioned, but they don’t all have good air conditioning. For me, it means the difference in a fabulous stay and a terrible stay. I need air conditioning to sleep at night, and that’s a fact…and it needs to be good air conditioning that actually keeps me cool. Preferably, it needs to be a relatively quiet air conditioner, but I can always cover that noise with white noise from my smartphone. So if a hotel room can’t reach a nighttime temperature of 67 degrees, I don’t want to stay there…and I won’t return. I also carry a small, folding fan in my luggage. I put it directly on my face. You can purchase one here.
  • Room Service (preferably 24 hours). Nobody loves room service more than I do. If I’m traveling for my daughter’s sports, I can suffer through a night or two with no room service, but traveling for pleasure? I want room service. It makes a big difference. I love to wake up to delivery of a pot of hot coffee and sometimes, a light breakfast. And if I’m going to have late nights, I like to know I can order a late night snack delivered to my room. When we are at hotels for my daughter’s sports teams, though, the hotels are rarely luxurious. But all the Marriott properties (Fairfield Inn and Suites, Towne Place Suites, Springhill Suites, etc.) have had market shops near the front desk, so we can get snacks or necessities 24/7. That helps. See the Marriott website here.
  • Location, location, location. In bigger cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, the location of the hotel is crucial. I like to be where I feel safe. I like to be close to the places I want to visit…or centrally located between them. In New York, I prefer to be near Central Park. In the LA area, I prefer Beverly Hills, and in Chicago, I prefer the Magnificent Mile. In addition to location, if the hotel offers a courtesy car for nearby restaurants/shops/attractions, that’s a big plus. On islands or in beachy resort areas, unless a hotel is in a remote area for a reason, I prefer to book hotels/resorts that are relatively easy to get to. I don’t want to waste two or three hours on the front end or back end of the trip getting to and from the resort and airport. It ruins it for me. 
  • Good restaurant(s). Ideally, a hotel has a restaurant where I want to eat, and ideally, the people who work there are friendly. I love knowing I can walk right down the hall to enjoy a great meal or snack. And I love knowing I will feel comfortable there.
  • Good bar. This mostly refers to vacation hotels for me. I don’t really care about a bar when I’m traveling with my daughter’s sports teams, but when I’m on vacation, I want my hotel to have a good bar. I want some people-watching. I want good drinks and friendly servers. I want a bar menu. I want a place to relax with friends over a cocktail…or two. I want to want to spend an afternoon there, and I want to have a nightcap after dinner.
  • Private Outdoor Space. No one loves private outdoor space at a hotel more than I do, and it’s likely no one uses it more than I do. Of course, in some cities, it’s not as feasible, but in places where the climate is mild, it’s a fabulous addition to a hotel room. I love ordering room service and having breakfast on a patio or balcony first thing in the morning. Coffee tastes better outdoors. Am I right? For me, a private patio or balcony is just an extension of the room. And cocktails on the patio in late afternoon are pretty great too! When we went to Cancun for spring break last year, I loved sitting on our gigantic patio overlooking the water, watching the people on the beach and the clouds in the distance.
  • Comfortable beds. We’ve all stayed in hotels with uncomfortable mattresses. We suffer through it and pay for it the next day. If a hotel has comfortable beds, I remember. I love to wake up thinking, “I slept better than I sleep at home!”

These are just a few things I look for in a hotel. Like I said, some hotels we stay in for sports tournaments are purely functional, but if they have the extras, well, that’s a bonus. But when I’m on vacation, I look for the extras. And a friendly staff might mean I’ll overlook imperfections in a hotel. A few years ago, in Chicago, we stayed in a hotel (in a great location) that was in need of a facelift. The rooms were comfortable, but they looked tired…as did the public areas. But you know what? From the moment we arrived, we were greeted warmly. The bellman rushed out in the rain to help us with our bags…and he was smiling! The front desk staff chatted us up at check in, and when we had some questions for them later that evening, they acted like old friends! Everyone there was so friendly, and though I haven’t had the opportunity to stay there again, I wrote a complimentary letter to the manager. I also gave a glowing review on TripAdvisor, and I’ve told friends to stay there when they were traveling.

My favorite resource for researching hotels is TripAdvisor. I can weed through the reviews that are “outliers”..like the ones someone wrote when they were angry about something. I also look at the profiles of the people who write the reviews and try to get a feel for the person who wrote them.  I look at where they have stayed before to see if we have similar taste. My own profile on TripAdvisor tells my story…I’m a 50+ mom who often travels with my teenage daughter…sometimes we take luxury vacations, and sometimes we have to travel with sports teams. I give a lot of outstanding reviews, because I do my homework before I travel, so I know what to expect. I recommend TripAdvisor to everyone I know. See it here.

Happy travels!