The trouble with luxury travel accommodations

I don’t aspire to be a luxury traveler. I’m happy to travel with my family within a conservative budget, flying in economy class and staying at clean, comfortable, mid-range hotels. Actually, since we started traveling with our children, more often than not we have chosen to stay in self-catered rentals which have spanned the luxury spectrum. The few times we were able or were treated to truly luxurious accommodations, I found myself in a conundrum: I did not want to leave the property to go and, you know, travel. When I travel, whether it’s close to home or in faraway countries, my objective is to have authentic, meaningful experiences; my travel style is defined by immersing myself in the local culture as much as possible. But it’s a challenge when staying someplace that tempts me with glorious amenities, unrivaled comfort, the hottest gadgets and technology, soothing surroundings, or sweeping panoramic vistas.

At no point in my years of travel was I tempted to not leave my hotel at all than when we were guests at The Istanbul EDITION (now known as Hotel Levent Istanbul), where my husband and I celebrated our ten-year wedding anniversary. After a long day (or was it two?) of travel from Chicago to Istanbul, and then a harrowing, almost three-hour taxi ride to the hotel from the airport, arriving at our room at the EDITION was like walking through the gates of heaven. Our deluxe room featured rosewood and soaped oak wood decor, which was offset by the bright, oversize, glass-enclosed bathroom. A sectional couch positioned in front of the wall-to-wall windows provided a quiet view of the busy Buyukdere Caddesi below. Immediately, I felt relaxed and just wanted to fall into the huge, custom design platform bed with its luxury linens and down comforter and pillows. Before my husband and I passed out that first night, we drew the room-darkening curtains and turned off all the lights, using the panels of electronic controls on either side of the bed. Twelve hours later, we woke up, refreshed and ready to take on Istanbul…. except we didn’t want to leave our room. Here we were, in one of the most beautiful and historically significant cities in the world, and it was a struggle to actually walk out of the hotel. And this was before we discovered the 20,000 square foot, three-floor spa. Never had I witnessed such opulence and luxury, which came in the form of a vitality pool; sauna; polar room; steam room; and the biggest, most comfortable lounge chairs I have ever planted my behind on. Yet, Hagia Sophia and the Bosphorus River were waiting for us. It was difficult to eventually leave all that luxury behind and experience Istanbul. Very, very difficult.

The Istanbul EDITION

The Istanbul EDITION

Thanks to a couple of online contests, I had collected certificates for three free nights at any Omni Hotels property. As a family, we looked at all of our options, factored in logistics like taking days off work and travel time, and decided on the Omni Bedford Springs Resort and Spa in Bedford, Pennsylvania. Dating back to the 1700s, the original hotel is designated a National Historic Landmark, and it is stunning. The property underwent a multi-million dollar renovation in 2007, which preserved the charm and integrity of the hotel while implementing facets of technology and modern design to provide an appealing mix of history and luxury. Furthermore, the property itself spans 2,200 acres in the Cumberland Valley of south-central Pennsylvania, so the grounds are gorgeous. Our room itself was comfortable and well-appointed, but it was the other features of the property that made me think I wanted to live there: the Roman-inspired indoor pool, still fed by natural hot springs, and attached to a two-story solarium; the grandiose lobby where complimentary tea, snacks, and sweets are served every afternoon; and the expansive veranda, lined with oversize rocking chairs, with pleasant views of the green, rolling hills. I wanted to never leave. The good news is that, for the duration of our stay, we did not need to leave the grounds. There are five restaurants on site, a top-ranked spa, and enough activities to keep the whole family going for days. Again, I had to deal with some internal conflict. I adore small-town America and wanted to leave the resort to spend some time in nearby Bedford, but I could not tear myself away from the beauty, peace, and luxury of Omni Bedford Springs Resort.

Omni Bedford Springs Resort & Spa

Omni Bedford Springs Resort & Spa

In 2006, I made my first-ever trip to the motherland – Italy. I traveled there with my sister, also on her first trip to Italy, and we met up with my father in Umbria. He and his wife rented a casale (rural home) near the town of Guardea. I was expecting a quaint, cute little farmhouse in the country. The casale was just that and a whole lot more! The frame of the house and a pair of giant, wooden doors inside are originals; just about everything else is new and modern. The styles do not clash, though; the result is a best-of-both-worlds environment. I fell in love with the kitchen sink, an enormous, marble farmhouse basin. I wanted to spend all my time reading in the upstairs loft, reclined on one of the chairs; or soaking in the jacuzzi tub in the adjacent bathroom while admiring the view of the Umbrian hillside. Each evening, the only place I wanted to be was out on the terrace, watching the early autumn, pink-hued sunsets. A few of the days of our visit were warm enough to enjoy the private, outdoor pool and gorgeous patio, where I wanted to sit all day, snacking on antipasti and sipping Vipra Rossa. It broke my heart to leave the casale to go on day trips to places like Todi, Assisi, and Amelia. But it was my first time in Italy; I had to try to see as much as possible, right? My sister and I took off on our own for a number of days to travel to Florence and Venice. We had a blast and both fell in love with Venice (Florence is another story for another time), but I could not wait to get back to the casale. Travel throughout Italy or remain inside the casale for the duration of the trip? You feel my pain here?

Il casale - Umbria

Il casale – Umbria

And then there is the GowithOh apartment in Prague that was our base this past April. Probably not luxurious by anyone else’s standards, I found it to be comfortable and welcoming – a luxury in itself – appointed with all the modern conveniences we are accustomed to at home. The bathroom and the master bedroom are huge. I loved the bedroom the most, not because the bed was comfortable or it offered plenty of storage space. I loved it because of the simple desk and chair set up in there, a spot where I could see myself sitting for hours and writing. I’d open the windows on either side of the room, bask in the cross-breeze, and breathe in the cool air while working to the beat of the city life going on outside below. But I was in Prague, one city that I’d dreamed of visiting for years. I’d miss out on the incredible people-watching in Old Town Square, and the beer and trdelník. Instead, in the evenings when we returned to the apartment from full days of exploring, I found luxury in watching Lucia sit at that very desk, drawing pictures inspired by what she experienced that day. Witnessing my five-year-old daughter translate her travel experiences into art was well worth sacrificing my own opportunities for my idea of luxury.

GowithOh apartment in Prague

GowithOh apartment in Prague

I am grateful for all of my travel opportunities, especially the bits of luxury I’ve experienced since they are so few and far between. Perhaps if I traveled luxuriously more often, I wouldn’t feel so obligated to not leave my accommodations. You luxury travelers out there, what say you? How do you balance it all out?

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24 Responses to The trouble with luxury travel accommodations

  1. @mrsoaroundworld May 9, 2014 at 7:21 am #

    Hum… not sure if I agree. I always stuck by my mother’s motto – if you leave home, it has to be better (and home is pretty nice!). So for me, it is part of the experience – if I go to Istanbul, I want a lovely hotel, but I will go out, a lot. The exception would be a destination hotel, like I did recently, Qasr al Sarab in Abu Dhabi, miles from civilisation and all you had to do was enjoy the facilities. And just one thing… not all rooms are small in ‘Europe’. It is not a place – it is a mix of 27 countries (EU states) which have incredible diversity. NYC hotel rooms may be usually small, but Arizona or California rooms are bigger – depends on where you go and how much space there is available 😉
    Great article, the point is to travel in a way that makes you comfortable and enjoy – otherwise, there is no point.
    @mrsoaroundworld recently posted…A luxury break in Abu Dhabi, UAEMy Profile

    • Francesca May 9, 2014 at 7:27 am #

      Thanks for the insight, Mrs. O! I appreciate your mom’s motto, too. This topic is something I’d been thinking about for a long time. I’d go the luxury route more often if I could, but we travel within our means so that we can travel more often. And we are quite comfortable with it 🙂

  2. Raul (@ilivetotravel) May 9, 2014 at 7:54 am #

    Yes, I sometimes struggle with a hotel so nice that I just want to enjoy it. That happened to with the Marriott in Santiago, Chile where I stayed the best part of a year in 2010. Also with the one in Manila but that also had to do with the incredible hard rainshowers that never seemed to end that weekend! Good piece and good to know of the EDITION hotel in Istanbul!!
    Raul (@ilivetotravel) recently posted…Sope Creek: A Hike, a Creek, and an Old MillMy Profile

    • Francesca May 9, 2014 at 4:26 pm #

      Thank you, Raul. If/when you go to Istanbul, definitely consider the EDITION. I cannot rave enough about it. Breakfast is also included – I didn’t even mention that – and it is unreal. Cheeses and olives, breads, pastries… my goodness, the most delectable hotel breakfast buffet I’d ever encountered.

  3. Pola (Jetting Around) May 9, 2014 at 11:22 am #

    Francesca, I’ve had similar thoughts about luxury accommodations. On the one hand, I want/need to be comfortable (that goes especially for beds & mattresses, since I’ve had back problems), but on the other, hotels are not why I travel. I want to explore the destination I came to see, be surrounded by locals, go where they go, and not lounge in hotel bars.

    I’ve done resort hotels for work and was bored to death. Often times they’re chain establishments, and I tend to go for locally- and/or family-owned places, even if they’re not as lux. I often end up in boutique hotels that have just the right amenities, but don’t try to hold me hostage inside (and their design is usually an inspiration for home decor).

    I’d consider a destination hotel if I were doing e.g. a spa giveaway, but that’s a different game. Vacation vs travel.

    • Francesca May 9, 2014 at 4:30 pm #

      “…hotels are not why I travel. I want to explore the destination I came to see, be surrounded by locals, go where they go, and not lounge in hotel bars.” BOOM. Perfect explanation. In fact, as I was writing this piece, I kept thinking about how I’d rather sit in a pub with the locals than in a fancy hotel bar with non-locals.

  4. Gerard ~ GQ trippin May 13, 2014 at 2:17 am #

    We can understand why you’d have trouble leaving a hotel like that! Istanbul is an amazing city, I’d say it’s on my top 5. We didn’t have the same problem of not wanting to leave our hotel because like usual, we slept on a budget. =-P
    Gerard ~ GQ trippin recently posted…Weekend Getaways: Mini-moon in Napa ValleyMy Profile

    • Francesca May 14, 2014 at 6:46 am #

      Nothing wrong with sleeping on a budget! Fortunately (or not?) we stayed at the EDITION for only part of our stay in Istanbul. The other part we spent at a much less luxurious hotel in Sultanahmet. The room was a fraction of the size of the EDITION room so we were happy to head out the door each morning and return in the evening only to go to sleep.

  5. SarwatAJ May 13, 2014 at 11:37 am #

    so detailed and lovely post. liked it

    • Francesca May 14, 2014 at 6:46 am #

      Thank you!

  6. Lance | Trips By Lance May 13, 2014 at 12:49 pm #

    I don’t travel to find something better, I travel to find something different. I love my home city but I travel because I feel there are lots of other fabulous places and I want to see them all. I feel uncomfortable in luxury, honestly. I grew up in rural Arkansas. We didn’t have much growing up. Some people move on from that, find a little money and want to experience things. Well, I got my grandmother’s frugalness. They were dirt-poor farmers trying to make it through the Great Depression. When I was a kid and went away to summer camps, my mom would give my brother and I spending money. He’d spend every dime while I’d come home with almost all of the money. I don’t know any of that information has anything to do with why luxury accommodations are desirable or not, but I think it explains my reasoning. I just feel there are other things I’d rather do with my money. I want a clean bed in a safe location. I do feel awesome lodging choices are good, but I want it to be a romantic getaway where we aren’t traveling to sightsee.
    Lance | Trips By Lance recently posted…The National WWII Museum Remembers HistoryMy Profile

    • Francesca May 13, 2014 at 4:32 pm #

      Thanks for sharing your stories, Lance. I can identify with your upbringing, for mine was quite similar. I didn’t grow up in rural Arkansas, but I was raised in a five-room apartment in the middle of Chicago. Two of those five rooms were bedrooms. There were three of us kids. You do the math. I shared a bedroom with my brother AND my sister, most times sharing a bed with my brother (sounds weird, I know; he’s six years younger than I). So from a very young age, I learned to appreciate the smallest things and it’s continued on into adulthood. Getting to travel in the first place is a luxury for me; like you, all I ask for is a clean bed in a safe location.

  7. Traveling Ted May 13, 2014 at 10:05 pm #

    This is why I like to camp. Never once have I said, “gosh, I could stay in this tent all day,” even if it was cold and rainy out. When it comes to staying in a hotel, all I need is wi-fi, a shower, heat/ac, and a bed. Actually, I could even do without a bed, but no need to sleep on the floor unless you have to.
    Traveling Ted recently posted…West Texas road trip with 2014 Cadillac EscaladeMy Profile

    • Francesca May 14, 2014 at 6:46 am #

      And this is why I love ya, Ted 😉

  8. Leah May 14, 2014 at 5:59 pm #

    Although I am quite spoiled in regard to luxury hotels, I know and struggle with exactly what you’re talking about. Sometimes my room is just so perfect I find it hard to leave. And if I’m at a five-star resort, leaving becomes such a chore. I have to remind myself that I can sit in an awesome hotel at home in Houston. There’s a whole world out there that needs to be discovered. That ain’t gonna happen within the plush confines of my fancy four walls.
    Leah recently posted…Initial Thoughts on Life in Rio de JaneiroMy Profile

    • Francesca May 17, 2014 at 2:38 pm #

      You nailed it, Leah. There is an entire world out there that needs to be discovered. I’m so glad you understand!

  9. Aggy May 16, 2014 at 10:16 am #

    I can see the dilemma, I’ve not really been to any super luxurious hotels and I’ve been to pretty nice ones and have felt the same thing. Especially when outside is super hot and it’s cool inside (a problem in any South-East Asian countries!), however the point of travel is to see what’s going on out there, that’s what I have in mind, and it always motivate me to go out there and explore 😉 (at least I have a nice comfy bed to return too, which is always comforting!)
    Aggy recently posted…10 Perfect Hideaway SpotsMy Profile

    • Francesca May 17, 2014 at 2:42 pm #

      You bring up something else I hadn’t even considered: air conditioning! It is indeed a luxury and one I’d really have a hard time leaving behind. I hate hot, humid weather, which is why I tend to not travel to tropical destinations.

  10. craig zabransky (@StayAdventurous) June 2, 2014 at 5:28 pm #

    I don’t struggle per se, but totally can understand your thoughts…. And I like to plan escapes just like your Istanbul one… sometime at a luxury place, other time at a place with a great location for “experiencing” the destination on the outside……

    my advice is simple, embrace the type of adventure you want to have and focus on that… if you want the luxury buy it, do it… love it, if you want to spend your time and resources elsewhere do that…

    stay adventurous and at times stay luxurious, Craig
    craig zabransky (@StayAdventurous) recently posted…Sunset Sunday-The Mayan Sunset at XcaretMy Profile

  11. Erin - The World Wanderer July 24, 2014 at 11:22 am #

    Love this article. I, too, feel this way about luxury travel. I’m not sure you always get the real experience of the country. In Santiago, Chile, I stayed at the Ritz Carlton the first three nights. It was beautiful, but the area was so sterile, so clean and proper, perfect for business travelers. That’s not to say that there wasn’t culture, but it wasn’t as much as I was looking for. A few days later, we moved to BellaVista, an area covered in street art and busy cafes. Needless to say, everything I was missing was right here. My hotel was nice, not luxury, but clean and in the middle of it all. In Ho Chi Minh City, I also had a similar experience. Our hotel was so beautiful, and outside was so foreign and overwhelming. The first day we stayed in bed watching movies, haha, it was rainy and after traveling, we wanted a day to catch up, but then I started to feel guilty. Why was I actually in the country? So we went out, asking the people at the front desk to send us to the most Vietnamese places. We were the only people who were not Vietnamese and they were so excited to have us in their restaurant. It was the best experience. From then on, we spent no time in the hotel. What’s funny though, is that there were five of us, and two of the girls didn’t leave the hotel or eat anywhere else the whole time we were in HCMC. I couldn’t believe it, and was so happy that my cousin and friend ventured out with me. We had the best time.
    Erin – The World Wanderer recently posted…Delayed, but Not Denied.My Profile

  12. Property in Bhiwadi December 11, 2014 at 11:15 pm #

    We know that everyone wants to be live in a luxuries accommodations. But for conservative budget families or people if it is happens than it is like true a dream. But the Splendor of these accommodations makes me luxuries person and we all feel like a king. Don’t want to alter these conditions. But the sustainability of that time is not possible. We feel it in dreams after journey.

  13. Solage Calistoga March 3, 2015 at 9:47 am #

    Yeah I don’t think that I would be in too much oh a hurry to leave a luxury hotel or luxury anything for that matter. It would be really tough to want to leave and go back to where there isn’t quite so much luxury.

  14. Randolph Hoover June 23, 2015 at 4:45 am #

    Those interiors look sleek and the view looks awesome! I hope you had a good time in Prague Francesca!
    Randolph Hoover recently posted…Hospital Etiquette: General Rules that Visitors should ObserveMy Profile

  15. Victoria@celebratetheweekend August 29, 2015 at 7:23 pm #

    Interesting comment about hotel having to be better than home! I actually have similar motto- but about eating out! as far as hotels during our travels, who wouldn’t love a nice place to stay but we too are travelling on a budget, with 2 kids (and 4 air tickets alone is an investment!)- so our hotel choices are more often than not less comfortable than home (for better or for worse:)
    Victoria@celebratetheweekend recently posted…American Teen’s Trip to Japan. Part 2.My Profile

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