Like many travelers, I went through a phase where I monotonically increased the luxury of my travel, especially business travel. I was always held back somewhat by my personal cheapness, but I totally bought into the idea that I should be seeking out the largest hotel rooms, the most central locations, the buzziest new restaurants, the biggest entertainment, and the fastest transportation options that my dollar could command. When we talk about travel with our friends, or when we put photos on social media, aren’t these the things we assume will be cool? (Don’t try to deny it, I saw your pix of Hamilton tickets and hut-hotels in Bora Bora!)
But recently I realized I wasn’t really enjoying the whole production as much as I thought I should. Thinking it over, my most memorable travel experiences of the last 10 years involved dirtbag camping, local museums, learning about food production, and the kind of restaurants that feature photos of the Little League teams they sponsor. My aspirations for the future include bike touring and hiking vacations, both of which generally involve sleeping in cabins with a bunch of other sweaty, muddy people.
So this year I decided to take a trip to NYC where I stayed in the smallest hotel rooms I could find, so I could see what is the LEAST I need to be happy in terms of square footage, amenities, and services. I tried out a hostel, two hotels with shared bathrooms, and one pod hotel with private bath — none of which cost more than $125/night.
What I learned is that I don’t care very much about sharing a sleeping room and bathroom with multiple people, but it objectively matters HOW MANY people are sharing said rooms. Also it turns out my personal amenity is phone charging in bed (sorry Mom, I still like to read until I fall asleep no matter how many times you tell me it’s bad for my eyes!)
The spot I expected to enjoy the most was the Jane Hotel, hard on the West Side of Manhattan between the Village and Chelsea. It’s a historic seaman’s hotel with shipshape cabin-like rooms and a woozy Wes Anderson aesthetic. Unfortunately there turn out to be only 2 toilets, 2 sinks, and 2 showers for every ~40 rooms… and even though most of the other visitors seemed to be from parts of the world where shared-bath hotels are the norm, I’m not gonna lie it was a lot of sharing.
The spot I personally enjoyed the most was the Pod 39 hotel on the east side. I’d go so far as to say this was the perfect hotel room for me. It was only 110 square feet but everything was so well thought out — the miniscule desk with built-in power strip, the minimalist bathroom, and yes the twin bed — that it felt like a full-size room, or at least an exceptionally nice dorm room.
But to my surprise I felt the most at home in the hostel, a brand-new spot in Long Island City (what we used to call Hunters Point) Queens called The Local. I was a little worried because my heart failure makes it awkward for me to share bunk beds and bathrooms, and to walk up stairs carrying luggage — but this hostel amazingly has a private toilet and shower for EACH 4-person room, and everyone I met was supremely kind and friendly.
Coco Chanel said luxury isn’t the opposite of poverty, it’s the opposite of vulgarity. It’s knowing what works for you as an individual, not just accepting what the travel industry or your social network says you need or want. I enjoyed giving myself the luxury of trying out pod hotels and generally downshifting on consumption!