They say that a good indicator of overall mental health is how well one’s image of oneself lines up with reality. It’s fine to have dreams and goals, but if you claim to hold on to one set of beliefs and then don’t carry them through to your real life you’ll never be able to have a healthy, realistic self image.
I like to think that I’m keeping things pretty real in my own life, but there is one area where I know I fall short. You see, the ideal me that I have in my mind is a champion of individuality and the open market. This person shops local, supports independent business and drives right past that chain restaurant to spend her money at the quirky little hole in the wall next door. The homey welcome of a family owned inn will always win out over the bland, cookie cutter chain hotel in this person’s books.
Unfortunately, the real me is quite different. The cute little toy store that just opened in the historic downtown may have the Lego set I’m seeking, but I know Walmart will, so why make two stops? The independent hotel may be run by the nicest, friendliest and cleanest owners you’ll ever find, but it might be a nightmare. And who cares if every Hilton looks the same when all you want is a clean room and soft bed? And when you’re six hours into a 12 hour road trip that giant yellow M is like a beacon, promising a quick, predictable meal that won’t bring any complaints from the backseat crew.
And then there’s the fact that most chain hotels and restaurants are franchises; owned and run by people in the community. I remember feeling enraged once when I read a blog post by a dad who was road tripping with his young daughter. He boasted that he supported local business by staying at a non-chain hotel, then sneaking into the chain hotel with his daughter for the free breakfast. Even beyond the fact that he was boasting about teaching his child to steal, who does he think owns and runs the hotel he’s stealing from? His theft was coming from the local owner’s pocket, not the corporation’s! But, all ranting aside, it’s not like staying at chains sucks all our travel dollars from the local economy. And free breakfast really is a great perk.
For us, the main reason we usually stay in hotels and eat at restaurants that are part of national chains is predictability. When I’m on a holiday I don’t want to risk the hassle of a bad room and I don’t have the local knowledge to know if a restaurant is good or not. Life on the road is full of surprises and it’s nice to have some familiarity. And yet, I do feel a bit of guilt sometimes.
For example, the excuse of not wanting any surprised doesn’t really fly when you consider that there are all kinds of tools out there where you can check reviews, read sample menus and look at pictures online. I usually check with Tripadvisor even when I book new hotels that are part of familiar chains, so I could quite easily do a bit of research and look up some independent places online. I could quite easily look up online reviews when faced with finding a good family restaurant in a new town rather than just going to the same ones we have at home.
So one of my travel resolutions for 2015 is to be more adventurous in my bookings and to try to get away from automatically going towards the same hotels and restaurants we have at home. I’ve started this already by going outside the box in booking our hotel for our “west” trip in February to Victoria BC. I saw a story on a travel website about a new hotel called Hotel Zed in Victoria and decided to check it out. It looks like someone took an older motor inn on the outskirts of the downtown and remodeled it with a retro, 60’s theme. It looks like the owners have put a lot of care and thought into the hotel and have put a really personal touch on the place. It’s still an older building with exterior corridors, but the price was great, $94 per night for a two room suite with three beds and kitchen facilities, and it has a free shuttle to the downtown core. It will be a bit of a change from our usual cookie cutter hotels, but it’s just a short trip to a familiar city, so it felt like a good time to take a chance. We’ll see if we end up fleeing back to the chain hotels after this little experiment!
What about you? Are you braver than us and more willing to take chances when you travel? Or do terms like “quirky” and “unique” send you running for cover? Either way, at least you’re getting out and seeing the world!