I’ve never been so happy to stay in a hotel.
After six months without traveling anywhere, my family and I drove from our home in Kentucky to the North Carolina coast at the end of September. This beach vacation with my wife’s family had been on the books since the beginning of the year. There were moments during the worst of the pandemic restrictions when I feared the trip wouldn’t happen. But as the summer went on, it became clear that we could travel safely. So off we went.
It took about 10 hours of driving to reach Southport, North Carolina, where we boarded a ferry and sailed 20 minutes to Bald Head Island. We didn’t want to risk missing our reserved ferry departure, so we broke the drive up over two days. In between, we spent the night at a Hampton Inn on the outskirts of Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
There was nothing particularly remarkable about this property — it had the same layout, design and amenities as thousands of other Hampton Inns around the United States. But this was the first hotel I had stayed in since the coronavirus pandemic swept the world in March. And that made it remarkable to me.
I’ve probably spent about 1,000 nights in hotel rooms during my career in travel journalism. Those hotels have varied widely, but some parts of the experience have remained constant. I’ve found a way to make any hotel room feel like home. That means arranging my things in the same way when I arrive and packing in the same order before I depart.
I always sleep on the same side of the bed. I always use the fitness center but never the pool. I always give myself about 10 minutes for breakfast on my way out the door, and I usually grab the same items from the breakfast buffet.
When I travel for work, I’m alone in my hotel room. When I’m on vacation, though, my wife and kids stay in the hotel with me. That throws a wrench into my process. I don’t get to arrange things the way I like; my breakfast routine is upended; and I don’t get to choose which bed to sleep in.
I’ll admit this: Sometimes sharing my hotel room with the family leaves me a bit grumpy. I don’t like changes in routine, especially my hotel routine.
But when we checked into the Hampton Inn a few weeks ago, there were a lot of changes. Everyone had masks on; the housekeeping staff had left a fixed seal on the door after they finished cleaning the room; and there was no breakfast buffet, only to-go bags.
Normally, these changes wouldn’t sit well with me. But after being grounded for six months, I found it easy to overlook these small inconveniences. I was simply excited to be in a hotel again. I remembered everything I love about the hospitality experience, and even though the details felt different, the heart of it felt the same.
I missed that feeling. And I was thrilled to feel it again.
Travel has always come with its share of hassles. But the pleasures have always outweighed the inconveniences, and they’ll outlast the pandemic.
As people return to travel, they’re rediscovering those pleasures. I’m betting you will too.