The Art of Conversation with Grumpy Expats

Grumpy Expats
Grumpy Expats

One perk of traveling the world with no guidebook is that it gives you a valid excuse to strike up conversations with other foreigners you might meet while you are traveling. I’ve been to some of the coolest places in my travels on the advice of local expats I met in random places. A two minute conversation can lead you Kipu Falls, the House Hotel in Sokcho, South Korea, a hidden restaurant on Istanbul’s Prince’s Islands, or a natural hot spring in the Sahara. It’s worth it to talk to the foreigners who live wherever in the world you might go.

As a small aside; I like to live in countries where I was not born, and honestly, there is little more annoying than someone coming up to me and saying “Hi, I’m a foreigner too. I’m a tourist here on vacation, where are you from?” This might be one reason I take the approach I do when I am introducing myself to expats, travelers, or people who look like they might be from other than where they are. Here is my approach, I suggest you either use it, develop your own, or expect to be snubbed by jerks like me who probably left their countries to avoid just the kind of person you might be (if you approach as above.)

Me: Excuse me. Do you live here?
(This is far better than asking “Are you a tourist?” since grumpy expats like me tend to think of most tourists as one step below pond scum. Even if they don’t live there, they will probably be a bit flattered that you thought they might)

Grumpy ExpatsExpat: (cautiously) Ughhh
(Don’t expect more than a grunt since they have no idea what you want and probably are hit up by art students who want to ‘practice their English’, merchants who always offer a ‘free’ cup of tea, and all manner of locals who see them as a cash machine of some sort. Also keep in mind that expats choose to live away from their countrymen so saying “Hi, I’m American and you look American too.” is usually the wrong approach.)

Me: Sorry to bother you, but I’m traveling without a guidebook and purely going on the recommendations of the people I meet. Since you look like you live here, I wonder if I could ask you a question.

Expat: (gruffly) What’s your question?
(All of this is assuming that they speak your language (which, if they don’t makes this all impossible) and that you’re not a hot young woman or George Clooney type (which probably makes things much easier but since I’m neither, I wouldn’t know.)

Me: Oh, nothing much. I just wondered if you could recommend a restaurant nearby that serves great food at a reasonable price. (The truth is, I want much more information than that, but everyone has a restaurant they like and most people aren’t scared to share that information)

Expat: (Warming up a bit) Oh, is that all? Sure, there’s a great little place over there called something or other.

Me: Sounds great. I’ll check it out. Thanks. Bye.
(Wait a minute, I want more info, right? Right! The key is that I now give them the chance to answer the questions they are thinking by prematurely ending the conversation and staring out the train window, sitting on a nearby bench, or sitting at a nearby table in Starbucks…)

Grumpy Expats
Not Grumpy Expats

Let a few minutes pass so the person really begins to wonder “Wow, that was it? I wonder where this person is from? Why are they traveling with no guidebook? What other tips have they gotten from the locals? Is that really it?”

The thing is, it takes someone to start a conversation and the first conversation is the hardest. By just keeping it simple, you open up the door and make it easier for the other person to approach you. You demonstrate that you are not a threat and you make yourself both interesting and approachable as a result.

At this point, one of three things will happen. 1) The person will be glad to be rid of you so easily and will leave 2) The person will take the bold move of striking up further conversation by asking something simple like “Where are you from?” “Why are you here?” “Why do you travel with no guidebook?” In this case, you can jump wholeheartedly into the conversation. or 3) They may need more reassurance or might need you to start the follow up conversation (for example : Excuse me, sorry to bother you again, but I want to take a short day trip from town, can you recommend anyplace?)

This might all sound crazy to you, but for me it works. Give it a try!

10 Ways to Travel Internationally with an Infant

I wrote this back in 2012 – still smarting from my wife being unable to get a visa to France in time to our first family trip abroad – my wife was not an American yet at that point and the visa restrictions were far more onerous than we later found traveling with our infant daughter to be. We traveled to four continents and quite a few countries with our daughter as an infant, so this advice is travel tested!

Traveling with infantHaving a newborn baby can completely change any life – probably more so if you travel a lot than if you don’t.

But then again, a life disrupted is a life disrupted – no matter how joyful the disruption itself may be.

To be completely honest, my wife’s nationality (Moroccan) gets more in the way of our traveling as a family than the fact that our daughter needs to be cared for. Our daughter has a U.S. Passport and is free to travel just about anywhere without a visa, the wife- yeah- look at what happened with going to Paris – a month wasn’t enough time to schedule even a visa appointment!

Here are ten tips to make things easier, more fun, and less of a headache. Long distance travel with kids can become a nuisance and if the child is newly born, it can be dangerous. Most people will avoid traveling along with a newborn infant. Yet, sometimes, it may become necessary or just be desirable. There is no reason to worry about traveling with an infant child.

1) Infants less than 4 weeks should not travel by air. Their delicate systems have not yet become capable of adjusting to the air pressure. It is also not advised (or allowed) for late term pregnancies to travel by aircraft. After 4 weeks, all systems are go.

Traveling with infant2)Book in advance and make certain you ask about baggage allowance. While trains and buses often let children travel free and with no notice, you must notify aircraft and often buy an infant ticket. Also, infants are often not allowed a baggage allowance which is idiotic considering you need to bring the nappie bag, clothes, and baby things.

3) You are better off sitting in the front of the aircraft or bus. Find a seat that offers extra legroom. Just trust me on this.

Traveling with infant4) Baby travel documents. Just because she or he is a baby doesn’t mean that the governments of the world don’t want to see identity papers, visa’s, and passports. Get all the baby’s paperwork in order ASAP.

5) Contact the airline you are flying with and ask about changing facilities, if you are allowed to bring a pram/stroller, and other services/options available for those travelling with kids.

6) Pack more diapers, baby wipes, bibs, and what-not into your bag than you think you will need. Ever get stuck in the airport longer than you expected? Ever done it with a screaming baby and no clean diapers? Yeah, be prepared.

7) Dress yourself and the baby in layers and dark clothing. Expect to be spit up or spoiled on. Taking off a layer is easier than changing…

8) Breastfeeding during takeoff or landing helps the infant cope with the pressure changes. A bottle with formula also works.

9) Bring extra bottles, extra formula, and by all means get a pacifier (bobo) – even if your infant strictly breast feeds, you will be glad to have the formula when your wife needs to take a nap (assuming like me, you are a man and don’t lactate)

10) Finally, like me, you may find that this one nulls and voids all the above hard won knowledge – make sure your wife has the visa before you book the tickets because if she doesn’t – you can be sure the baby will be staying at home with Mama while you travel without your family – which by the way, isn’t so different from how things used to be, but it sucks to lose those tickets so travel insurance is a great idea.

Overall, just enjoy the time with your baby and happy travels.

Six World Travel Tips for Worry Warts

 

Leaning Tower of PisaI know that a lot of people don’t travel because of the worries associated with it. Travel can be stressful and the media doesn’t help much by telling us about every travel disaster, terrorist event, or travel nightmare. The truth is that it doesn’t matter if you are heading to Pompano Beach, Houston, or Tahiti because the dangers are all about the same. Of course, if you are heading somewhere and really worried about it, you can always invest in some travel insurance.

Whether you are planning an extended stay or visiting tropical island beach hotels, the following tips will take some of the worry out of your vacations, cruises, or outdoor adventures.

International travel has always appealed to students because students are those most likely to enjoy obstacles and dangers. Being out of your familiar environment is something that can cause confusion and misunderstandings so the first tip for worry warts is about paperwork.

Worry Free Travel Tip #1 : Have your papers!

I’m not talking about your New York Times here, I’m talking about documentation. I was once asked about my birth certificate when I was getting a car hire in London. So, this is about more than just your passport. Your passport is important too. Make sure it is still valid well before you leave. Make sure it still has blank pages which can be stamped. Ensure that you have the proper visas or can get the visa upon arrival.

Here are the list of documents I recommend you travel with:
* Passport – walid with blank pages
* Country Visa
* Copy of Birth Certificate
* Student ID
* Driver’s License
* Credit Cards
* Copy #1 of all the above in your luggage
* Copy #2 of all the above hidden in a coat or pants pocket or inside a different bag
* 10 passport sized photos

Two copies? Yes. You don’t want to worry right? Having copies makes a huge difference if you lose something or if you run into problems. The photos will come in handy if you have to do anything relating to consulates or embassies. In regards to photocopies of your credit cards, I recommend you blank out some of the numbers on your copies and just remember which number is blanked out like ’23’.

Worry Free Travel Tip #2 : Money without Stress

Big BenIf money makes you crazy with worry, here is what you can do. Change a little bit of money before you leave your home country for the local currency. You’ll get the worst rate at home most likely, so I wouldn’t change a huge amount. I would say about $200 or the equivalent is enough. This is just in case you can’t find an ATM when you get there. In addition, put $100 in USD, Euro, or Pounds in a couple different spots for emergencies, these are safe currencies that you can use just about anywhere in the world.

Don’t count on your ATM working or a currency exchange being open and available when you arrive. Sometimes they aren’t.This can be especially true when you fly into airports serviced by cheap flights. Now you don’t have to worry about it. Make sure you know your PIN numbers by heart. There’s little that’s worse than having your card shut down because you used the wrong pin. It’s a good idea to have someone who you trust have your pin #s and copies of your information too.

In terms of exchange, ATMs often offer the most competitive rates. My recommendation is to forget about traveler’s checks. You lose on both ends with them and often you can’t use them in restaurants, cheap hotels, or guest houses.

Worry Free Travel Tip #3 : Dealing with Taxi Drivers

It’s true that in many cities, taxi drivers are just waiting to rip you off. This isn’t just true in third world countries but also in cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Orlando too.

Use the internet before you leave home to see how much a trip from the airport should cost. Often driver’s won’t use the meter for set trips and you need to know what the cost should be. Look out for ‘special discounts’ and make sure you have local currency because they usually won’t accept foreign cash, credit cards, or traveler’s checks and if they do, they usually will gouge you on the rate. If they offer to take you around on your first day for a small tour, take their card or number and feign interest since if they think you are going to be coming back, it is unlikely that they will try to gouge you. Know where you are going to stay or pretend you know, taking taxi recommendations for hotels is usually a way for them to make a few bucks at your expense.

Worry Free Travel Tip #4 : World Travel with Kids

MaltaIf you are going to bring your children bring their birth certificates. If you are traveling in some Arab countries, single women traveling with children need written permission from the children’s father and there are other odd regulations that you should know about before embarking upon your journey. Airlines often have special promotions for kids that are worth finding out about.

Worry Free Travel Tip #5 : Lost Bags

There are a million travel nightmare stories about lost bags. If you pack everything you need in your checked bag you are asking for it. Have a change of clothes, your trip information, and essentials like glasses or medications in your carry on.

Most airlines will provide you with a small amount of money if they misplace your bags and most bags are found within 24 hours. Make sure that you have information about your rental cars, vacation packages, and hotel rooms with you and don’t trust that your checked bag will make it. It usually does, but why create an extra chance for yourself to worry?

For summer travel remember that you can’t carry big containers of sunscreen in your carry on. If you must bring it with you, buy a small bottle that conforms to airline regulations.

Worry Free Travel Tip #6 : Your Emergency Paper or Travel Book

Travel Tips for worry wartsWhile it would be nice to be able to memorize all the essential information about your vacations, this usually isn’t very practical. This is especially true for extended travel.

Create a piece of paper or small notebook with information about your hotel rooms, rental car, airline confirmation numbers, and any addresses or phone numbers you may need such as those of local institutes you plan to visit.

I call this my travel book and it is essential that it fits in your pocket. It’s also a good idea to have emergency phone numbers, consulate information, and maybe even your passwords or pin numbers inside. The way to do this is to write something that contains your passwords, looks natural, and doesn’t scream out password. Don’t write: “UBC Pin = 6767” or “Citibank Password = HungryMonkey 101” instead write something like
“6767 South Vegas Street, New York, NY” or “Places to eat in Florida – The Hungry Monkey on Route 101”, you’ll know what the pin or password is but it’s very unlikely any thieves would be able to figure it out.

It’s important to include the contact information for your banks and credit cards and the number to call if they get lost or stolen. Keep this piece of paper or travel book on you at all times.

Now, stop worrying and start enjoying your travels.

25 Reasons to Avoid Hostels

Polynesian Hostel Beach ClubI wrote this nearly a decade ago – it was one of the most popular posts on the old Vagobond.com – feel free to disagree. I don’t even agree with me at this point. I have not stayed in a hostel since I wrote this, so I hope that things have changed for the better.

I know this might go against the grain with a lot of you, but as someone who has stayed in a lot of hostels, ran hostels, and written about hostels – this is what I have to say.

First of all, here are the main reasons you might choose to stay in a hostel:
1) Cheaper than a hotel – good for budget
2) You want to hook up (or hang around) with foreign women/foreign men
3) Budget group activities/free breakfast

That’s it for the positive as far as I can tell. In my opinion, these are all bullshit. Here are the 25 reasons not to stay in hostels while you travel.

1) They aren’t really that cheap. Generally, you can find a 1 or 2 star hotel for the same price as a bed in a hostel dorm room. In the past few years, hostels have gone way up in price so in many cases if you take the time to look, you can find a private hotel room for less than the cost of a hostel or something even better on AirBnB.

2) If you want to make friends with foreign people you should go with Couschsurfing or AirBnb instead. If you want to have sex with foreigners, there are probably better places to meet them than at hostels.

3) The truly interesting, intrepid, and attractive travelers usually aren’t at hostels. Instead you find boring, cheap, and unattractive in just about any way you can think of people – often not travelers at all, just down and out.

4) Hostels are filled with thieves and creeps. I know, not everyone is a thief or a creep, but as a former hostel manager, I can tell you that there are a lot of both in hostels. If it can be stolen, someone in a hostel has stolen it whether it is food you put in the refrigerator, your laptop, money from a ‘security box’, or your girlfriend. Date rape, by the way is very common in hostels.

Polynesian Hostel Beach Club
5) Rubber sheets. If you like sleeping on rubber sheets – just stay at a hostel. If there aren’t rubber sheets you may want to consider how many drunk pukers, bed wetters, or droolers there have been before you.

6) Bed bugs and other pests. More likely to happen in a hostel than in a well run hotel.

7) Squeaky top or bottom bunks. There’s nothing like sleeping in a bunk bed as an adult and having to wake up every time the person above or below you moves or needs to take a piss.

8) People who snore, fart, or breathe loudly. In hostels you are sharing a room with strangers and you get to know all their bodily sounds and smells intimately.

9) People who turn on the lights while you are sleeping. – My drill instructor used to do that but I don’t want some 20 year old English kid to wake me up that way either.

10) Crappy breakfasts. The breakfast in the Shelby County Jail of Memphis Tennessee consists of white bread, jelly, and tang. That’s pretty much what most hostels offer guests. How much would you pay for that? How much does it cost? $1 or less – is that really worth it?

11) Shitty locations. Out of the way, in bad neighborhoods, or in disgusting buildings. It’s probably worth it to pay a few bucks to avoid these – there are exceptions, but not many.

12) A total lack of privacy.

13) The sound of people’s bags when I am trying to sleep another hour.

14) One television set to a program I don’t want to watch or hear.

15) Drunk teens or 20-somethings – there are websites you can watch drunk teens if that is your thing, me, I’m not amused by them.

16) Rude staff. I don’t know if they get this way because they are used to dealing with people who don’t speak their language or if they become condescending to people with no money, but far too often, hostel staff are rude as hell. It could also be that they are working for no money and so don’t feel they have to be nice.

Polynesian Hostel Beach Club17) Hostel rooms are generally about as cheery as a jail cell and just like a jail cell you don’t get to choose your cell-mates.

18) You won’t meet the locals staying in a hostel. If you do, they are the down and out locals.

19) Filthy bathrooms. Even good hostels have filthy bathrooms after the 4-8 people you share the dorm room with use it. Or, maybe it’s shared with everyone in the hostel…no thank you to gas station toilets.

20) Uncomfortable mattresses. Hostels make a lot of money and they squeeze every penny they can by keeping old uncomfortable (usually cheap to begin with) mattresses.

21) Cigarette and change bummers. I watched a guy bum a cigarette from four different people this morning in 30 minutes.

22) Wankers. Seriously. In hostel dorms…give me a fucking break.

23) Couples sharing a single bunk. Seriously. In a hostel dorm. Give me a fucking break.

24) Pukers. Just tonight (the last time I will stay in a hostel) some kid in the bunk next to mine puked all over himself and made the whole room smell like red wine vomit.

25) Having to navigate around other people’s messes. There are usually lockers so why is there always a huge pile right next to or hanging on the ladder to the top bunk?

Yeah- I’m not 25 anymore. I’m married and not looking to screw some drunk Danish girl or British girl away from home for the first time. I’ve done my share of ‘partying’ and I don’t have much tolerance for it any longer.

The fact of the matter is that a hotel can be cheaper, get you a better night’s sleep, and provide more of everything else too. If each of the above is worth $1 to avoid, then you can add $25 to the $20 you pay for a hostel bed and get a decent 2 or 3 star hotel and buy your own breakfast. Or, if you are really broke, you can just go to jail and get the same experience as being in a hostel cell.

World Travel for Almost Nothing #6

One of the biggest impediments to world travel is your stuff. Not just your physical stuff, but your mental stuff too. It’s hard to get rid of the baggage you’ve spent your life accumulating. One of the reasons I’ve been able to see as much as I have is that I’ve gone through the painful process of saying goodbye to people, things, and ideas…it’s never easy and if I were better at it, I would have seen much more than I have.

World Travel for Almost Nothing Tip #6: Leave Your Crap Behind You

We all like the physical comforts that a sedentary life brings us. The nice lazy boy (yeah, I miss mine), the kitchen gadgets, the easy way we can lounge around the house, and most of all the comfort of routine.

Routine is the biggest killer of adventures. It’s comfortable, we’re used to it, and even if it isn’t good for us, we hang onto it. I say that as I realize I’ve been smoking for nearly 25 years and refuse to think of how much that has cost me in terms of money and health. Or how much it will.

Yes Virginia, habits are nothing more than comfortable routine. It’s hard to leave your city, it’s hard to put yourself in a new environment, it’s hard to leave the friendships and places you are used to. But if you want to see the world for almost nothing, that is what you have to do.

Most of the time people think of travel in terms of leaving home and then coming back home. Well, a home costs you whether you are there or not. Same goes for a car, electricity, and all the other physical things you own. You have to keep them somewhere, right?

The bulk of my things are sitting in six small boxes in my brother’s garage. When I say small, I mean you could put them all in the front seat of a compact car. These are the things I’ve temporarily let go of with the knowledge that it might be permanent. I’ve also managed to somehow get a house full of things in Morocco, but I’ve very little attachment to any of them this time. My wife doesn’t count as a thing by the way, she isn’t a possession. 🙂 Besides, she’s small enough to fit in that front seat with the boxes…

Anyway, the point is that if you want to travel for almost nothing you need to get rid of that stuff or find a place where it will sit and not inconvenience anyone while you explore the world. One nice thing about traveling is that you don’t have to pay any of those expenses unless you hold on to them.

The truth is that traveling takes less money than being sedentary. As you travel you don’t need to pay those bills, you don’t need to have a job, and you don’t need to worry about what the Jones’ will think.

That also gives you the chance to let go of some of the harder possessions. Obsessions and habits need to hit the garbage can. To Truly find the joy of travel, you need to walk away from it all and experience what comes at you with your whole mind, body, and spirit.

If you have to plan everything six months in advance and you can’t live in the moment and ‘carpe diem’ than you might as well book that cruise vacation or the all inclusive package and spend the next six months working to pay for it.

The only way to really travel for almost nothing is to have almost nothing.

If you enjoyed this series you should buy my books, buy things using the affiliate links on the site, or donate a couple of bucks towards my future travels and the upkeep of this site.

You’re Not Going Anywhere! How to Travel Constantly!

Lao Tzu, the father of Taoism, said that ‘without opening your door, you can see the world’. He was right, because travel is a state of mind more than a journey from place to place. Still, it’s nice to change your environment from time to time. So, even though now you can put on some VR goggles and see the world without opening your door – let’s not go that far.

Oregon CoastA few years ago, I submitted a reality TV show concept to Mark Burnett, the creator of Survivor. The show would be called “You’re Not Going Anywhere” and it would work like this – casting would solicit families, couples, and groups who were interested in the trip of a lifetime. They would submit videos about their dream vacation – where they would go, why it would be amazing, what they would do, and background. Once the finalists were selected, the entire season would be shot before airing.

Here’s how it works. The hosts show up at the home or location and meet with the family to tell them they have won, they have been selected for the show and then ask them to prepare. Then, when they are all packed and ready to go they are picked up by a bus/van and the host would say the tagline/show title “You’re not going anywhere” .

And the truth is, they wouldn’t be going anywhere. They would be staying in their own town/region and would be introduced to it as if for the first time. A team of experts would identify the best hotel, spas, innovative entrepreneurs, restaurants, history, historic points of interest, natural attractions, and famous citizens. Without going anywhere, these lucky people would learn that travel is a state of mind, it’s a willingness to look at the world with fresh eyes, it’s a way of thinking, feeling, and relating to your destination. Any location, any town, any village – all of them are remarkable places. You don’t really need a team of experts to discover where you live. And, let’s say you live in the most boring place on the planet – well, once you’ve spent a day or two exploring it, you can move on to the next village, the next town, the nearest city. This is how you travel all the time.

Hawaii Rainbow

Travel is not about getting on a boat or plane. It’s not about taking a tour. It’s not about buying a guidebook. Travel is about the openness to feel the texture of the air. It’s about the ability to be thrilled with foul weather. It’s about the sound of traffic charming you instead of annoying you.

One of my favorite parts of travel is sitting in travel terminals – bus stations, airports, train stations, ferry terminals – and lets face it – these places are rarely wonderful (Okay, Seoul and Kuala Lumpur both have pretty awesome airports) but what is special about them is that they are the space where your mindset changes from a day-to-day one to a travel mindset. Think about it and you know it is true. If you can find the mindset all the time, you can travel all the time.

Lao Tzu was right – you don’t need to open your door – you only need to open your mind and heart.

Tips For Improving Your Travel Experience – Anywhere – Anytime

Travel tips

Here are 27 quick tips to make world travel better. What are your quick tips for world travelers?
1) Say hi to other people who are traveling
2) Don’t flash your bling
3) Catch a cab and talk to the driver about cool things to do (Cabbies are almost always multi-lingual)
4) Scan a picture of your passport and give it to someone you trust
5) Get a nice padlock and use it when necessary (It takes two to steal: the thief and the one who left an opportunity)
6) Wear long pants during long transport
7) Look at the mattress…know what bedbugs look like
8) Stay where you get breakfast for free
9) Make sure hot water is included
10) Find paperback exchanges

Travel Tips

11) Stay longer and get cheaper room rates
12) Fill out your couchsurfing profile completely
13) Look for free fruit on the trees
14) Look for language exchanges
15) Don’t leave your phone in your room
16) Bring your own condoms
17) Don’t get so drunk you can’t take care of yourself
18) Trust your instincts about people
19) Eat the local food
20) Always ask for a second price
21) Don’t wander around alone late at night
22) Don’t give up your passport
23) Bring your valuables to the shower with you in a hostel
24) Eat lots of cheese if you get diarrhea
25) A handful of nuts makes hunger go away
26) Get a haircut and a shave (or a wax and a style)

What are your quick tips for world travel?

Hotels vs. Hostels vs. Couchsurfing vs. Vacation Rentals – Where to stay when you travel!

Enjoying travel is easy. The hard part is making sure everything works.

Kahala Mandarin ResortIn terms of accommodation, it comes down to 1) figuring out how to get where you want to go and 2) figuring out where to stay when you get there. Sure, there are other factors like finding the money to travel, what to eat, how to stay in your budget, and of course the biggest challenge for those not born with a magic ticket passport – getting the visas.

But, by and large I would say that transport and accommodation are the two biggest challenges. What are the relative merits of a few types of places you might consider staying.

First of all hostels – I’m not a huge fan of hostels now that I’m no longer in my twenties,  but, for people who aren’t like me, there might actually be some very good reasons to stay in hostels. Here are just a few – hostels are great places to meet people, hostels are sometimes cheaper than a hotel (but not always), and hostels can be good places to find cheap tours, activities, etc.  My personal recommendation is to avoid the dorms and get a private room – even if it means finding a new friend at the hostel and sharing a private the next days you are there.  A private room at a  hostel is probably the best value and you don’t have to deal with inconsiderate, crazy, or drunk dorm-mates. Here’s another but though- if you are going to get a private room at a hostel, have a look at hotels nearby because you have a pretty good chance of getting a more comfortable room for the same or less money at a one or two star hotel and sometimes even the three stars can surprise you. Don’t assume that hostels are the cheapest option because often they are more expensive than a nicer room somewhere else.
As far as hotels go – there are really a few different types of accommodation that fall under that category.

Polynesian Hostel Beach ClubBed and Breakfasts are essentially hostels for grown ups as they generally have common areas where guests can converge (for breakfast for example) and more personalized service than a hotel – this can, in some cases, be annoying if you just want to have a place to sleep and be left alone by other guests and staff but most people find it to be pretty nice. The staff and owners at good B&Bs are generally interested in who you are and getting to know you…if you don’t want that, just get a hotel.

Guesthouses are along the same lines but without the interest in you from staff. You may or may not have breakfast or common areas – these can range from a lakeside house in Koycegiez, Turkey to a Dar or Riad in the Fes Medina – to me, a guesthouse is characterized by a host who lives in the house or somewhere nearby and is available to answer questions or help arrange activities, transport etc.

Vacation Rental Vacation rentals are a mixed bag. This could be an extra room in a family house or a whole property dedicated to being rented out on a short term basis. These days, you can find vacation rentals  that fit with everything else that is described in this article from a spare couch or van parked in someone’s driveway to a luxury home with a butler and private chef.

Motels are places you can drive your car to and park. Motor + Hotel – In South Korea, they tend to be places where you can get some loving with a special someone (either that you just met or who you already know – up to you) and they also tend to be much cheaper than hotels. They call them Love Motels for a reason. In the USA, these are hotels that are along motorways, highways, and freeways. I grew up staying in motels since my dad was a musician early in my childhood..

Hotels are places generally in cities where visitors can stay. Service tends to be detached, professional, and standardized. A managerial staff usually runs the hotel rather than the owner of the property. This is your best bet for privacy, comfort, amenities, and location. Hotels are rated by stars, but there are many hotels that have never been rated that offer exceptional value. Many that have been rated degrade over time or fail to provide the standards you would expect. In general – no stars means it has not been rated, 1 star means basic room with toilet and shower, 2 star means the room has additional comfort features (like shower gel and soap, daily cleaning etc)  and the property may offer food or drink, 3 stars means that there are additional features like telephone, television, hair dryer, extra pillows or blankets etc.  It also means the hotel likely has a complaint system in place and works hard to make guests comfortable and happy.  4 stars brings you additional comforts like a bathrobe and slippers, minibar, room service, couch and/or upholstered chair, patios, cosmetic products, etc. And finally, the 5 stars (or five diamond) hotel brings you fresh flowers in the rooms, welcoming drinks, personalized service, shoe shining, ironing service and everything else you can imagine in terms of comfort and service.

WaikikiFinally, a resort is a hotel in a specific setting usually with shops, restaurants, activities and much of what you could want on holiday all in one location. Examples would be Hilton Hawaiian Village on Oahu, Hawaii ; Disney Resorts; or Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore.

So, which is the best hotel? As with most things in life- it depends. The star or diamond system is a great general guide but in many cases hotels don’t live up to the stars they have or far exceed them. For my money, a three star hotel that aspires to four stars is the best thing going.  Or – a hotel that hasn’t yet been rated that aspires to four or five stars. The worst? A four or five star hotel that is living on it’s reputation from long ago – these are the kinds of places that charge you for internet access or have terrible expensive restaurants in the lobby.  If you are just looking for a bed and a place to stash your bag – a one or two star will usually give you the same or better accommodation and rates than a hostel private room. Even if they are one star, they value it and want to keep it- a hostel doesn’t have stars and won’t get them – although in some cities I’ve seen hostels that behave as if they are five stars while giving less than one star treatment.

Brussells CouchbsurfingA final note on what used to be my favorite means of making friends and learning about new places. Couchsurfing. For a while Couchsurfing was an amazing underground way of finding free accommodation and making new friends. Then it became more mainstream. Then it tried to monetize itself like AirBnB had done. Then it all fell apart. I’ve tried to use it over the last seven years and found it to be more trouble than it is worth. However, it may still be worth it if you can figure out how to make it work.

I need to emphasize  this – you can’t really put couchsurfing on the same level as hotels, hostels, or motels.  First of all, you aren’t paying with money. You are, however, paying with a guest/host relationship that has responsibilities.  If you are going to couchsurf but don’t want to interact or spend time with the hosts – you shouldn’t couchsurf. Often, your hosts will provide you with experiences you wouldn’t find elsewhere, but never forget that couchsurfing is about friendship. Would you call your friend in a different city and say “I’ll be arriving on the 5th at 10 pm, please have my room ready. I’ll work all day the 6th so you won’t see me and then I’ll leave on the morning of hte 7th at 6 am. Can you arrange transport?”

If you would do that, I’m guessing you have no friends. I certainly don’t want a friend like that and neither do couchsurfing hosts.  Couchsurfing can provide you with all kinds of levels of comfort from filthy, stinky, sketchy drug shacks to mansions and villas with private gyms and saunas.  It depends on the host. The reason they are hosting is because they want to know you and become friends – if you don’t have the time or desire for that – don’t couchsurf.

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