When Travel Diversion Did Not Require Headphones

7953202532_85954dfb46_zI inherited a travel-sized cribbage board from my parents, and it still evokes memories from the ’60s of early evenings at motels during childhood vacations. My brothers and I would cannonball into the hotel pool, as my parents “supervised” (a term used only loosely then) while engaged in a friendly game of cribbage. Usually next to the cribbage board sat the travel flask, which appeared precisely at five o’clock, and two hotel glasses with doses of Scotch over rocks. (With four kids on a road trip, who could blame them?)

Travel requires–or perhaps invites–hours of diversion, and today that diversion is mostly digital consumption. We stream movies, we play games, we shop online, we read books on tablets. It’s even packaged for us in our seat backs or we preload it on our devices before a long flight. Now, power management is an essential skill set for travelers.

At the risk of sounding ancient, I bemoan this. When we’re playing old-fashioned games, sans headphones, there’s room for conversation and shared experience. That cannot happen when we’re plugged into our own little worlds.

I’m certainly no analog saint. I binge-watch movies on international flights as often as the person in the next seat. And I have said literal prayers of thanks for digital entertainment when my kids were little and could be occupied for hours on a transcon flight with movies on a laptop. Today, the iPad has transformed the travel experience for parents, never mind their kids.

Maybe I get too much digital entertainment at home, but even for business trips these days I like to unplug. I like having the time to read an actual book. I can’t remember the last time I turned on a TV in a hotel room. And, honestly, my favorite flight activity is looking out the window. This all feels a little shameful to admit. So very unproductive.

Yet, travel is the perfect time to go analog, at least for a little while. What’s in your carry-on? There’s a simple beauty in pulling out a deck of cards. Or a pencil and paper (Hangman, anyone?). Or a magnetic chess board. When all else fails, word games can be pulled from thin air. Or daydreaming, the ultimate diversion. (If you’re stumped, check out The Simple Dollar, which has lots of suggestions for non-digital games and pleasant ways to pass time the old-fashioned way.)

My husband and I have been playing a lot of cribbage this holiday season with my kids. We play on my inherited cribbage board, with all my ghosts and memories. And it’s just perfect that our favored deck of cards sports a photo of the Dreamliner aircraft. In my mind, travel and cribbage–they’re inexorably linked.

What do you like to do without headphones to unwind when you travel?

Photo: Flickr/Bruce Guetner

 

IGI Seeks Hotel That Understands

6841555155_5e5b2590dc_zDon’t get in my way. Sometimes, that’s all you ask from a hotel.

I was talking with a writer this week about a trends piece for business travelers, and she mentioned a conversation she had with Langham Hotels about a certain type of traveler Langham calls the IGI  or “I got it” guest. This traveler is highly experienced, knows what they’re doing and doesn’t want the hotel to slow them down. For certain trips, I am definitely an IGI (could this be the Myers-Briggs of travel?), and there are some crucial touchpoints when I’m in IGI mode.

Check-in:

Don’t make me wait in line and please, please, please don’t insist on carrying my bag to my room. Do offer online check-in and have flexible staffing at the front desk. Plus, a pet peeve of mine: If you have a dedicated line for loyalty program members, actually staff it (or remove the sign).

Wi-Fi:

Don’t make me pay, don’t make me log in every day, and don’t disconnect me. Do make Wi-Fi free, fast and seamless. This affects my opinion of the hotel as much as anything.

Breakfast:

Don’t make me sit for an hour-long meal. Do offer options for a quick breakfast. I’d love a place in the lobby where I can stop after my run and pick up some oatmeal or a hard-boiled egg, fruit and tea. Or add a self-serve or buffet option in the restaurant, so I can control the length of time my breakfast will take.

Parking:

Don’t make me wait 15 minutes while you disappear and hunt for my rental car. Do offer self-park. Or ramp up your valet services so I receive my car in a timely manner. At the very least, let me know how long it will take. What happens outside the hotel affects my review just as much as what happens in my room.

The very smartest hotels, like Langham, are thinking about where they can add value to IGI travelers without slowing them down. Those are the offerings that surprise and delight, the little touches that matter to me. Are you an IGI? Which hotel brands “get it” that you’ve “got it”?

Hey, This Room Is Occupé

351206750_c2e1f9862d_zHave you ever been in a hotel room and had someone else enter (or try to) because they were assigned the room at check-in? I have, with the discomfort compounded by being in the middle of the night and the person trying to enter only speaking French. Most business travelers I know have been in a scenario like this (minus the French), on one side of the door or the other.

This week I was working on a project that addressed the evolution and automation of hotel check-in. Here technology is moving towards web check-in and eventually keyless entry to your room via smartphone. As I thought about this I realized I am a little uncomfortable with it, precisely because of the situation I described above. Somehow, I trust the technology less than a human to be sure I’m given an unoccupied room. Silly, I know, but it’s my instinct.

I’m curious now to learn more about the technology behind smartphone keys and how the digital safeguards will prevent this uncomfortable (at best) and unsafe (at worst) rare-but-real snafu of sending a guest to an already-occupied room.

In the meantime, maybe I’ll remember to resume an old-fashioned practice I’ve gotten away from: I’ll put out the Do Not Disturb door hanger. That should be clue enough, even for the exhausted guest just off an Air France flight from Paris, that the room is occupé

Have you ever checked into a room that was already occupied, or vice versa?

Photo: Flickr/JoeShlabotnik

Travel Tip: Take a Photo of Your Hotel Door

4455716138_5093fa541e_zToo many hotel stays in too many weeks? Even for the most “present” business traveler, it can all become a blur. You get in the hotel elevator and rack your brain to try to recall which floor you’re on…in this hotel.

Problem solved: on your phone. A hotel executive told me one of her best travel tips is to take a quick photo of the room door–and number–when checking in. Then, when you find yourself in the elevator drawing a big blank, just pull out your phone’s camera roll, murmur, “Oh, that’s right,” and punch the elevator button.

I tend to keep the paper key sleeve on which the front desk clerk has written the room number, for just this purpose. But my friend points out that, especially for women traveling alone, it’s a safer bet to throw away the sleeve and use the photo instead.

Photo: Flickr/Xavez

The Great Debate Over Tipping Hotel Housekeepers

A tip with cash and kisses (Photo: Flickr/DanaRobinson)

A tip with cash and kisses 

There’s some chatter this week about a Marriott initiative to encourage tipping of housekeeping staff: An envelope will be placed in rooms within Marriott-managed properties expressly for housekeeping tips. While the envelope is tasteful and has a little panache (it’s titled “THE ENVELOPE PLEASE”), it stirred up some tipping questions for me.

Over the years, I have dutifully tried to tip hotel housekeeping as expected, but I’ve never felt good about it. As I read about Marriott’s new envelope, I sorted these feelings out and uncovered a few reasons these tips trouble me, none of which includes begrudging the housekeeper the cash:

Housekeeping is stealthy service. It doesn’t sit right with me to tip someone you do not see or interact with. And I’ve always wondered how I know the person who cleaned my room yesterday is the one who actually gets the cash today.

The standard deviation is minimal. Tipping, in my book, is meant to acknowledge good service. And if a housekeeper does something special, I’m right there with the tip. But I can’t say I have had many instances in the last few years of any deviation—positive or negative—from expected service. The checklist has been followed. So, I’m not sure what is being acknowledged.

It’s a big world behind the scenes. While I appreciate the work the housekeeper does, I also appreciate the work so many other non-customer-facing hotel workers contribute. Yet they do not expect a tip.

Inconvenience can trump the best of intentions. Practically speaking, coming up with cash in small bills can be a challenge. Business travelers won’t be reimbursed without a receipt. And occasionally when in another country for a brief time, I won’t even change any currency so literally do not have cash. Why not make a place to add a gratuity on the bill or charge me a service fee (though alas, so many are, thanks to the “resort fee”) and divvy it up behind the scenes?

Real empowerment comes from the employer. Marriott’s efforts are supported and being publicized by a woman’s empowerment group called A Woman’s Nation. Wouldn’t a slightly higher wage be more empowering and dependable?

I hate to sound curmudgeonly, but judging from the conversations here and here, I’m not alone. What do you think about tipping housekeeping staff? Do you do it? Would you use Marriott’s envelope?

(Photo: Flickr/DanaRobinson)