Monday, March 25, 2013

Eight Reasons Why I Hate 5 Star Hotels

FM and I travel. A lot. Because our travel generally is dictated by his work, we find ourselves in capital cities around the globe for extended periods of time (3 weeks to 9 months, typically). FM's company makes his travel arrangements, and they usually involve a four or five star Hotel close to the work site. This in its self is not a hardship.
They also have a fleet of Rolls Royces. Not bad.
I do enjoy the lap of luxury. The problems seem to stem from the hotels themselves and our long stays. Hotels are nicely designed and appointed for people who are breezing in and out. Four days in Tokyo? Sure, The Park Hyatt in Shinjuku is a wonderful place to sleep off your jetlag and explore the city. Three days in Bangkok? The Mandarin Oriental should suffice. But when days turn into weeks and months, even a Five Star hotel gets a bit stale.

1.   Extra Guest Charges:  

I can't tell you how many times we've checked into a hotel and because the reservation is for one (FM's work) and there are two (because I'm tagging along), we get hit with an extra guest charge. Admittedly, times are changing and this doesn't happen as much, but it still happens. I remember the Isrotel in Tel Aviv hitting us for $60 extra PER NIGHT because I was along. Please. I'll wash my own towel. 
These are pretty towels, though.
2.   Internet:  

Again, this is changing, although VERY slowly. Usually FM's work manages to get unlimited internet included in our hotel rate, but the few times this has not happened I am horrified at the rates displayed in the room. Another profit center for the hotel that is charging you upwards of $200/night. Does not make me feel at home. 
There are times I would pay A LOT for some decent internet.
3.  Laundry:  

I absolutely refuse to pay anyone $5 to wash a pair of my underwear.  In fact, for what hotels charge for laundry service, I could probably just throw away all my clothes and replace them cheaper than I could pay for a wash in their special water. Between exorbitant laundry charges and the crazy mini-bar, you'd think hotels make enough money to give you your room for free. I typically try and find a local laundry or laundromat, but still hate dragging my clothes in and out of fancy lobbies. Makes me feel I should be wearing a T-shirt that says, "I'm too cheap to let you do my laundry". Which I am.  
Unless it's a dire emergency, you won't find me using this sheeit.
4.  Hotel Living:  

Living in a hotel is not fun. Over the weeks there will be days you just don't feel like running around town. There will be days of rain. Unendurable air quality. Freezing temps. Extreme heat. Sickness. Whatever it is that makes you just want to hole up and not leave your room for 24-36 hours. This is not conducive to a hotel. It seems they ALWAYS need to be doing something inside your room. From bringing you extra towels, turn down service, stocking the proverbial mini-bar, quality checks, service calls, to fruit basket deliveries. ENOUGH. Get out of my ROOM!
I do like cookies.
5.  Breakfast:  

Yes. Your breakfasts are nice. Very nice. Too nice. When you are charging anywhere from $35-70 per person, they better be damn nice.  And when it's included in my room rate? I simply eat too much. Yogurt and toast or a couple scrambled eggs and some fresh fruit are sufficient. Prime rib, miso soup and brisket are not necessary at 8 AM.  Or 10 AM. Or whenever I'm eating breakfast. Plus, I had a huge argument with the manager at Raffles in Phnom Penh about throwing away all the leftovers in a town where people were starving just outside the hotel gate.
More food options than I usually see in a DAY!
6.  Isolation:  

Especially in developing countries, staying in a Five Star hotel makes you feel like you're in a fortress. I find I spend a lot less time out meeting the neighbors, experiencing the local culture, smelling the smells and seeing the sights. My perfectly climate controlled surroundings and everything I need at my fingertips leaves me feeling I could be anywhere. I'd rather get a little grit under my fingernails and actually experience the city I'm in.
Beautiful kids in the fishing village.
7.   The Jones':  

Despite our international lifestyle, we are not rich. We are not in town to hit the Opera, dine at the finest restaurants, or be entertained by diplomats. Quite often FM comes home from work dirty (GASP!). Sometimes I do, too. I hate to expose all these beautiful people in evening clothes to my unstylish nastiness. I always feel like I just don't belong.
We only do this sometimes. HAHAHAHA
8.  The bar:  

After a nice night out on the town, FM and I sometimes would like a nightcap when we return home. Hotel bars are wonderful places to meet fellow travelers, and we've had plenty of good times in such a setting. What I abhor is the bill. I would gladly pay more than the "local rate", but hotel bar rates seem a bit stiff. Unless you are providing me with a 360 aerial view of town or a nationally known band, your San Miguel in a bottle is not worth 6x the rate at the bar on the corner. Enough said.
Fake fancy. Usually the only person there is the bartender.
Of course, this is all a little tongue in cheek, but I really don't like staying in hotels for long term visits. There are times it has been absolutely necessary, but for the most part I find us furnished apartments for much less cash outlay and try to live a bit more locally than a three month hotel stay can provide.  Check VRBO, local Craigslists (yes, they are international) or any other long stay website. And there are thousands.

Travel on!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

27 Good Things (really 9, but whatever, I didn't make up the challenge)

A trending trend on Twitter is #27GoodThings, where you share 3 things you like to read, watch and use. God knows I like to keep up on a trending trend! 

(Obviously, the creator was either mathematically challenged or it has somehow morphed to just nine, which is WAY easier.)

So, without further ado, my response to the challenge!


By far, the easiest section for me. I could read these three books once a year. 

1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  Narrated by a kind and sentimental Death, the book recounts the story of Liesel Meminger, an orphan of WW2 who is adopted by the Hubermann family, living in small village near Dachau. Although classified as Young Adult literature, there is nothing juvenile about this book.  It is no The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, which I would not recommend to anyone.  It is also not your classic retelling of Nazi Germany. It is both beautiful and haunting.

2. Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. Admittedly, this book isn't for everyone. I talked my Book Club into this selection and only half of them finished. Once you get past the premise of a talking gorilla (I know, right?), it's a fascinating look into the human condition and man's place in the world. Some call it socialist, some say it's too simplistic. Others call it complicated and preachy. Whatever you end up thinking about the book, I dare you to read it and not walk away contemplating many of the concepts and lessons discussed.

3.  The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron. Set in post-WW2 Barcelona, this is a surreal and wildly woven tale about The Cemetery of Forgotten Books and young Julian Carax's first exposure to a book that changes his life. The book provides a mystery to chase down and an introduction to an amusing cast of characters who will continue with him through his entire life. Exquisitely written, this is a book for readers. And the rest of Zafron's books don't suck either. I've read them all and await any new ones he decides to give us mere mortals.


A bit more difficult, but doable.

1.  People
No matter where you are, there are probably going to be people around. I find people interesting to watch. I like to imagine other people's life stories, loves, pets and dramas. Plus, sometimes they do interesting things.

2. Your Money
Unless you have an endless supply, keep an eye on your expenses. They are supposed to be less than your income. No matter how much or how little you make, there's always something and somewhere to save. The better spending habits you develop when you're young(ish), the more "extra" money you'll have when you are old(ish). Don't let peer pressure, the Jones' or anything else keep you from living within your means. You'll feel so much better.

3. The Princess Bride
Not just because Cary Elwes is a complete (if not very young) hottie, but because it captures the imagination of all age groups. It's a romantic,   heartwarming adventure that will have you saying "Inconceivable" forever. . . 



1. Your Brain
I couldn't solve that problem if my life depended on it, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't use my brain. Try new things, read different genres, listen to avante gard music, solve puzzles, study a new language, watch the news, wiki things you do not know. LEARN. It's important. 

2. Your Camera
No, you don't have to be a professional. No, you don't have to take a picture of every meal you eat. But DO get a camera and record monumental and mundane moments in your life. And take pictures of the ones you love, they won't be here forever. 

3. Your Feet
Don't do it just for your health (although a great reason). Walking slows you down. Walking allows you to take in the world around you at a different level. Take a hike. Or a walk in your neighborhood. Or a tour of a new city. I guarantee you'll notice more on your feet than you would in a car/bus/taxi/trolley. Most of us could use the exercise, too. Make walking part of your daily habits and your body will thank you.

OK! That was fun. If you have a blog and are reading this, do it! Send me a link. I'd love to actually get 27 things! 

Thanks to @turnipseeds for the idea and thanks to Google images, from whom I "borrowed" all but one of these images.

Also, if you have a spare moment, would you vote for my entry at Travel Addicts photo competition? It's right here.  THANKS!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Oh, the Places You'll Go and the Packing You'll Do

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting.

So...get on your way!” 

How simply inspirational. Although published well after my Dr. Seuss days, I adore all things Seuss. This book absolutely would have been one of my favorites as a child. 

What the great Theodor Seuss Geisel forgot to warn us about was packing. I hate packing. In a very Seuss-like fashion I've found myself on the floor, surrounded by things I long to take that simply will not fit in my bag. And I can hear him whisper:

Your passport, your toothbrush, your tennies, your hat. .  .
Make your life simple, you don't need more than that.

And maybe I don't. But I so do. I'm not that girl who can pack 16 pieces and magically create 40 outfits for any weather or occasion. I hate that bitch.  

In the past, I blamed my over-packing tendencies on prolonged visits or changing seasons. I did need sandals and boots and sweaters and tanks to get through six months in Tokyo. There was no way I would be able to buy clothes and shoes in Japan. At least not womens clothes and shoes.

But our last four trips have been short, sweet, and one climate. And I'm still somewhat perplexed on how to get everything I need for six weeks or less into one bag weighing less than 50 pounds.  

Excuse me. I misspoke. I meant to say everything I want.  

I do, however, know a few secrets.
  • Dump vitamins/TUMS/other boxed OTC drugs into ziploc bags.  You'll be surprised the places you can cram them. In a shoe, for example.
  • I own heavy belts. I hate wearing belts to the airport just to take them off. Although at least one of my buckles could be considered a weapon, I put my belts in my carry-on. Less weight and after security you can put it on. Or strangle someone.
  • I always pack at least one pair of shoes I intend to leave behind. Frees up space for last minute purchases. Like the forty bracelets I just bought. 
  • Try not to bring anything white. If you're like me, you can only wear it once before it needs a wash. I prefer to pack things the color of dirt.
  • Keep ALL medications in your carry-on. Not only does it prevent them getting lost with your luggage, it's not good to expose medicines to huge temperature variations. Same with electronics and batteries.
  • Layering several thin shirts can be as warm as one big, bulky thick sweater. And more versatile. And you can pick and choose which one is next to your skin. 
  • When packing shoes, stuff them with socks or other items to help them retain their shape and conserve space.
  • Find that elusive handbag that goes with everything, crosses over your body for security purposes and fits the essentials. This trip it was a turquoise Fossil crossbody. I love Fossil bags.
  • Bring tampons.
  • After finally settling on what you are taking, remove at least five pieces of clothing, 1 pair of shoes and the bulkiest item. Keep in mind, whatever you remove will be the ONE thing you wish you had.  
  • Buy lighter, soft-sided, wheeled, duffel bag-like suitcases.  It's far easier to stuff them to capacity.
It takes me anywhere from 3 hours to 3 days to pack before a trip.  It's tedious and time consuming. FM watches with a combination of dismay, amazement, and mirth.

The good news is today I'm packing to go home. This usually takes about 20 minutes. 
After spending an hour contemplating which shoes are being left behind.

This post is dedicated to my dear friend Joycey Joyce Clark. As promised.  

Saturday, March 2, 2013


I like easy. Always have. Twist off beer caps rank in my personal top ten of things invented in my lifetime. 

Travel, however, can be hard.  Hard on the body. Hard on the budget. Hard on your feet.  

But after thirteen years on the road, things have become so much easier.  It's difficult to imagine life out in the world in 2000. Skype? Didn't exist. Facebook? A thing of the future. Even MySpace was yet to be invented. We kept in contact the old-fashioned way;  expensive long distance phone calls, postcards and email. 

I remember paying for dial up internet connection by the minute in hotel rooms from Cairo to Korea, Amman to Bulgaria.  No (as in none) internet access in all of Burma. Internet cafes were new and exciting places to meet other travelers. WiFi was a year old in 2000, and not found in every public place and pub.  Nor did we have extremely portable and convenient devices to connect with.  I didn't even have a cell phone until 2004, let alone a smartphone to surf the web. 

Today, if I need a restaurant recommendation in some foreign place, all I need to do is go to TripAdvisor or Yelp. And probably googlemaps. If I get lost on the way? Check my GPS on my iTouch. 

Need to know what to expect when I arrive? I swear there's not a destination left unphotographed, blogged about, and possibly podcasted. Sometimes it feels the joy of discovery has vanished.

Was travel more fun then? Probably not. But it was more surprising. And possibly more interactive. I certainly had no idea what to expect from Chisnau, Moldova or Nouakchott, Mauritania. If there wasn't a Lonely Planet or Fodor's guide, it was up to me and FM to work it out. Today, a few clicks on the web will provides more in-depth knowledge than I actually care to know. And probably a contact or two from

Even the thought that FM and I's life is unique has been squashed.  As a new Twitter account holder (@rickistout) I've connected with numerous people and couples living the ex-pat life in various countries and blogging about their trips, trials and tribulations.  Most of them doing a better job than I.  

Today, our lives on the road are infinitely easier. And all the picture gazing and blog reading will never substitute for the experience of actually being there yourself. It also doesn't prevent finding your own special experience, whether a great new restaurant, avant-garde boutique or the simple pleasure of talking to the locals and travelers you encounter.

As long as you remember to look up from your smartphone every once in a while.