I don’t like fancy hotels.
Hotel. Lodge. Guest House. Mansion. Villa. Palace. Place. Whatever. If it is fancy it makes me feel meh.
And while I, like most people (I think), also had dreams of staying in these la-di-da larney fancy places once upon a time, it didn’t take too long to realise that it might be for some, but not for me.
The first time I ever stayed in a place other than a tent, caravan or chalet/hut forming part of a national park/caravan park was after school. I think. Family holidays always included camping. There was never a need for any other type of accommodation. But then, a few years later, I waltzed into South Korea and decided that it was time for a “treat myself” vacation. I stayed in fancier places than I’d usually stay in and it was nothing short of amazing; some even had a private pool (this can be strangely almost affordable in Indonesia), and one was bordering on being Honeymoon Capital (which probably made me – a solo traveller – look like someone who was left at the altar but still went on the honeymoon). I even went to a spa for a facial and things – my first facial, at the age of 23-ish – five minutes into it and I knew, nope, never again (I wrote something about it for Traveller24, have a read: Head to the spa, just for the hell of it.)
It was pure bliss. Pretty spectacular and super spickerish.
(The vacation, not the spa.)
But even though it would be tough to complain about having a private pool, something was missing in these fancy places: the human connection.
I missed the random conversations, jokes and recommendations from the hotel staff. I missed eating my breakfast while someone’s inquisitive daughter played a game of peek-a-boo from behind a pillar. I missed the resident cat or dog. I missed the granny baking in the sun, the owners striking up a conversation and giving you tips. I missed normal things. I missed being treated as just me: Anje, human being, traveller, not some royalty who needs their bed turned down at night. I missed feeling at home.
Needless to say, the next holiday came and I went back to the basics: affordable, in a good location, clean and something that didn’t look like a chop shop.
When I explore a destination and I’m out for most of the day, all I want is a bed for the night. Any added on-site activities and facilities are a bonus but first and foremost, it is about a bed.
But due to the freelance writing and my blog, I’ve been afforded the opportunity in the past to be invited to and stay in some pretty spectacular and super spickerish places.
Places where you are treated like royalty with in-house chefs, a barman at your beck and call, someone who runs a bath for you with bubbles and candles, meals with words you can’t pronounce and courses you can’t finish, luxurious rooms with fine art and one-of-a-kind décor and staff constantly smiling and making sure everything is as comfortable as it should be.
Spectacular and super spickerish.
And then I go home and write about these spectacular and super spickerish places on my blog (and sometimes for another publication).
This went on for a while before I took a long hard pause nearly two years ago.
And then it clicked.
I didn’t belong.
Others did, but I didn’t; there’s a place for luxury travel, and there are people who write/blog/cover this in spectacular ways to their audiences who can afford it, but I didn’t belong.
I reflected on the invitations, I reflected on the prices and I reflected on who reads my blog.
And then it clicked again.
The people who read my blog are people like me, it is people like my parents and people like my friends. People who can’t afford to pay R3000 or R5000 and more per night per person (and don’t want to pay that even if they could). People who’ll much rather spend money on activities, fuel and travel in general than splurging on accommodation. People who don’t want all their meals included in their stay. People who just want to be treated with friendliness, not like royalty. People who want to have normal conversations with those working there, not conversations with trained smiles. People who don’t care about thread counts and designer toiletries. People who explore the destination during the day and use the accommodation just as accommodation. People like me.
I found myself in a moral dilemma. What’s the point of “promoting” a place when I know it is not affordable for me, when I know it is not affordable for those reading and when I know it is not the kind of money I will ever spend on accommodation? Does it not just create a distance and ignite unobtainable one-day-dreams instead of showing that travel can be affordable?
Incredibly beautiful place, and I think I thought that by staying there and talking/writing about the place I added value, but in retrospect it didn’t and I didn’t belong.
Other publications have different audiences and I treat that as such, but when it came to blog-related accommodation invitations I decided to say “thank you, I love you, but no thank you” (which roughly translated into closing some doors).
I gave myself a price-cap and made the exception that if it is a place that I would save up for to stay at or if it is has actual affordable alternatives on-site, then yes. For example, the self-catering Nyathi Cottages are not in my average price range – works out about R1000 per night per person for the two sleeper – but it is a place I’ll save up for, just like the huts/caves of Kagga Kamma Nature Reserve in the Cederberg Mountains. Or old hotels and old rooms with old furniture – like the heritage rooms of the Royals St Andrews Hotel in Port Alfred or the Queen’s Hotel in Sri Lanka and a few others. And if you’re wondering what my average price range is when I make a booking then here’s it: the cheapest possible (which is not always possible – or rather fair – when you’re travelling alone) and sometimes I choose the one slightly higher priced than the cheapest possible, especially if it is an old place (it all depends on what the destination and accommodation location offers).
The thing is: I just want to be comfortable enough between comfortable average sheets to *poep in bed without feeling guilty.
Maybe all the years of camping and making a bed out of a backseat and a boot has made me numb to something slightly fancier than average? Maybe I’d feel different if there were a few extra zeros in my bank account? Maybe? Who knows? But in a nutshell, I don’t like fancy hotels because I want to poep in bed but in another nutshell: I feel more at ease – more human, more Anje, more at home – when I stay in affordable places, the conversation between staff and guests has a more personal connection (that’s just my observation), you get a unique insight into someone’s life, business and destination and when it comes to writing about and recommending these places I have peace of mind knowing it is not a place reserved for a selected few but instead accessible and affordable for the average South African, for people like me, people like my parents and people like my friends.
Just a small disclaimer: As mentioned, I didn’t belong. Others did, but I didn’t; there’s a place for luxury travel, and there’s a place for luxury travel bloggers and writers who write/blog/cover this in spectacular ways to their audiences who can afford it. These luxury spots are the top and only choice for some travellers –things I don’t like, others do like – and these fancy hotels play a big role in our tourism industry. This is just about personal taste and personal opinion.
*Poep translates to fart.