Wednesday, March 14, 2012


DEBORAH CROMBIE: It's mid-week confession time on Jungle Red, and mine is that I am a travel tramp. (You realize, of course, that I'm using the most polite terminology so that we don't turn up in the wrong search engines.)

This last year I was 500 flight miles short of keeping my Priority status on American Airlines, which I'd had for years. No longer do I rate priority check-in, security clearance, priority boarding, or upgrades, AND I have to pay to check a darned bag! I didn't realize how spoiled I was until I no longer got special treatment. I'd like to say I've shrugged and sanguinely come to terms with this, but NO. Such is not the case.

And then there are hotels. (Can you guess I've been on book tour, folks?) I'm married to a guy who would happily sleep in a Motel 6, but would prefer a sleeping bag and a tent. He watches self-sufficiency videos, where men (and a few hardy women) make fires with flints and sleep in snow caves in the Austrian Alps. I like watching them, too. Do I want to actually do this? I do not.

I like 4 Star. I like nice clean white linens and puffy down comforters. Boutique bath products and complimentary candles. Soaking tubs. Spa robes. And most of all--room service. Having someone bring me nice food on a tray, which I can eat while I read a good book or gaze at a nice view, is close to my idea of heaven. (And then they take it all away again and you don't have to do the dishes. What an amazing concept!)

I am unapologetic about this. In my ideal life, I would always fly business class and stay in the best boutique hotels. Maybe I would agree to camping if it was one of those luxury safari trips in Kenya... Maybe.

In the meantime, however, I'll be cleaning out kitty litter boxes and figuring out what on earth to fix for dinner.

What about you, REDS? Would you choose the high life, or would you rather rough it? (My husband might be up for a camping buddy...)

: At the risk of winding up on the wrong search engines, my husband and I swing both ways. I can be very happy thank you very much at The Hassler looking down at the Spanish Steps and wondering where to have my evening bottle of Prosecco and I can be just as happy at Curry Village wondering if they're serving the gooey mac and cheese that night.

When I'm traveling on a book tour I'll stay anywhere that has free wi-fi and a free breakfast - even if I don't eat it, I like to know it's there!

BTW, the luxury camping I've done in Kenya and Tanzania with white table cloths, champagne brunches and Pimm's delivered to your tent was pretty nice but as we know, I've also stayed in a hut, so I'm flexible.

DEBS: Ro, you are too funny! But I do want the white tablecloths and the Pimm's delivered to my tent!

: My husband went to great lengths so we could stay in the St. Regis in New York. It annoyed me. Although I got to run on a treadmill next to Morton Downey Jr., the number of hotel employees fussing over every last thing made me wildly uncomfortable. The whole concept of the room valet - I think that's what he was called - coming in to instruct us how to use the TV remote and wanting to pour our coffee - reminded me of that scene in Coming to America with Eddie Murphy as king sitting in the bathroom calling for his "wipers."

I go for local character over opulence any day. But clean linens, yes. And when I fly, although I don't need first class, I pay extra for leg room.

RHYS BOWEN: I used to be an avid camper but these old bones do prefer the luxury bed these days (but what is one supposed to do with ALL THOSE PILLOWS?) I certainly don't like to be fussed over by a hovering attendant. But having had my share of boutique hotels on book tour recently, I opt for a normal Marriott-type room. No strange art work on the walls glaring down at me as I try to sleep. No Afghan tribesman in the shower (yes, there was a life size photo of such in the shower area in one hotel. I thought I should be wearing a burka) And I don't need a dining table for 12 or a book case full of eccentric books when I'm only there to sleep. My observation is: the more time you are going to spend in the room, the smaller the room you wind up with.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Two little words. Room Service. Absolutely. And nice little soaps.

But you never know. Recently in Dallas, I was at a very very chic hotel where my room looked like a library, and the decor was gorgeous--but there were NO LIGHTS! NO LIGHTS! I called the desk and said--almost in tears because it was midnight and I was exhausted--can you send someone up here with a LAMP?

And this says it all--I just bought this little purse that has a woman on the front saying: "I love not camping."

: For book tours and business travel, I agree with Rhys; give me a sold Hyatt or Marriott. All I want is a comfortable, clean room where I can order my Caesar chicken salad from room service and get out fast for the flight in the morning. I don't want to have to deal with "high-concept" or "cutting edge" rooms (those phrases always seem to translate into "barely larger than the bed.")

Some of the best fun trips we've been on have combined the high/low concept. (Notice I don't say "top and bottom," which, combined with Deb's "tramp" and Ro's "swing both ways" would plunge this blog entry into the internet's Meatpacking District.) Ross and I have done the luxury safari thing in Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe (before things started to fall apart there) and it was fabulous. Fishing on the Zambezi while drinking cold beers, then eating a five-star dinner at night. Another time, we took the whole family to Michigan via Canada, alternating camping (at those beautifully well-run Canadian campgrounds) with staying at B&Bs. We finished up with a long weekend at the Grand Hotel, which I commend to you all as THE most perfect hotel experience of my life.

I can rough it during the day so long as I can take a shower and have a comfortable bed (or at least an air mattress) at night.

: I think I'm all over the map on this question, Deb. I grew up camping, and traveling across country with 3 siblings and one or two German shepherds crammed into a station wagon. Hmmmm, good memories, but I think I'm over that. The trouble with camping is you can hear everything. If someone stays up late and drinks too much beer and fights with their spouse, it's as if they were in the tent with you. On the other hand, I'm quite squeamish about the possibility of bedbugs...which wouldn't be a problem in my own tent or camper. And because we sometimes travel with Tonka the wonder dog, we are limited to dog-friendly motels. Which are sometimes icky...let's just say I spend more time than a normal person would perusing the reviews on Tripadvisor.

And ps, we've stayed in a few Ritz's and Four Seasons and gotten annoyed by the way they charge you for everything. Separately. If you're going to charge me an arm and a leg for the night, couldn't you just fold the parking in?

DEBS: Okay, I have to admit I've never stayed in a really, really expensive hotel, and I probably wouldn't like it. Probably. I suspect it would be like Upstairs on Downton Abbey, never having any privacy. I can put on my own nightie, thank you very much.

And, um, Hank, that snazzy hotel in Dallas with no lamps? They did a story on the local news recently about people in the convention center complaining that they could see into the guests' bathrooms from the convention center windows... maybe it's a good thing there were no lamps...

Rhys, was the place with the Afghan tribesmen on the wall by any chance the ZaZa in Houston? I've never stayed there but have heard about it. Um, I might pass on that, although my two favorite boutique hotels are definitely on the funky side, both restored motor courts--the Belmont in Dallas from the 1940s, and the Valley Ho in Scottsdale from the 1950s. So for me it's more about atmosphere than big bucks. (And please, no rooms that reek of industrial cleaning chemicals...)

But I'm still day-dreaming about the deluxe safari, or a tropical bungalow, and I still
want to be rich and famous enough to fly business class on the Dallas-London route. Actually sleeping on the night flight does wonders for one's attitude, and one's jet lag.

How about you, readers? Roughing it, or red carpet? (I know what Hemingway would choose.)

(P.S. Lil Gluckstern is the lucky winner of Hush Now, Don't You Cry, so Lil, can you email me your mailing address at: deb at deborahcrombie dot com, and I'll pass it along to Miss Rhys.)


  1. My last camping event was at a truck stop on the autobahn. Never do that. Never. Never, never, never.

    I used to backpack the Sierra and do the beach thing back home in New England, especially on some of those teensy island-like thingies you could walk to at low tide in Marblehead.

    Now I much prefer cushy and interesting but very nice. Chateaux are good, but they have to be warm in the winter. I also don't want to smell the stable at dinner time.

    Really though, luxury is what I want now. Call me boring, but give me good wine, okay?

  2. Debs, you'd probably like the Montecito Inn in Santa Barbara, too. Very atmospherie-erie-ish... built by Fatty Arbuckle. I love that place, but it isn't for wheelies, so haven't stayed there in years.

    I stayed at the Valley Ho when I was in servy-dog boot camp. After the first week, Kendall stayed with me, and I learned service dogs know how to get you out of bed in the morning.

  3. I'm a sucker for Grand Old Hotels--the ones with lots of real wood and marble and polished brass. I even like the antique bathroom fixtures (as long as they work).

    But I'll admit having someone serving me makes me uneasy. I never know how much to tip. I'm with Lucy: just include it all in the humongous bill. (And write about it all, so it's tax-deductible!)

  4. OH, Debs, you know I thought about that when I was in Dallas! A person looking up from outside could DEFINITELY see into my room. Absolutely. I closed the curtains, but it was downright strange. (I suppose there might have been some reflecty thing to prevent it, but it sure didn't seem so..)

    And oh, the room service tip? So frustrating..because there's already service included, but they insist they don't get it all. SO I always add 3 more dollars. But when I get egg whites and toast and coffee and its FORTY DOLLARS it kind of stops me in my tracks.

  5. My parents took me camping all the time when I was little, and that was enough for me. I say camping is Motel 6. My problem is I'm always cold and I always have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Campgrounds just aren't fun.

    I'm most comfortable with the Hyatts and Marriotts, and haven't ever tasted life at the truly posh places (but suspect I could get used to them, except for the room valet).

    Whereas I usually prefer the anonymity of a big hotel, my husband has gotten into B&Bs with all the book travel last year. Those are usually lovely, but sometimes there's the hazard of my husband chatting endlessly with the owner, which can put us behind schedule.

  6. I can and have done both but anymore as long as the place is clean and the area is interesting I can adapt to almost anything. For me it's all destination.

  7. Reine, was your boot camp stay at the Valley Ho AFTER they renovated it? I certainly hope so!

  8. Yes Deb, it was the Zaza! And I've stayed at the Valley Ho several times...also weird with a bathtub in the middle of the room. A single, ordinary bathtub. How unsexy would that be if one was there with a date and he had to watch you climbing in and out of an old fashioned bathtub with no room for him to join you?

  9. Rhys, friends of ours recently remodeled their master suite, and the bathtub is now smack in the middle of the room, with access to it via large double French doors leading to the hallway, and big doors leading to the bedroom. From my standpoint it's the most horrifying thing I've ever seen in a private home. ~shudder~

    Love to travel, and have been to 49 of the states (just Alaska to go), and four continents, so far. My husband and I have talked about taking a two-monthlong car trip around the US, but the bedbug thing is a stopper. Even nice hotels have been known to have them. That also makes me shudder.

    He likes to economize; I'm unwilling to settle for nothing more than a bed. We compromise. Mostly. Our trips to France and Australia together, though, he pretty much let me lead, and we had lovely experiences, except for one night in Newcastle. The best was on an organic farm in the Hunter Valley, which was also a vineyard. They had six guest houses, but no other guests, so we had a darling little cabin alongside the vineyards, with perfect privacy. The proprietors delivered our fresh-laid eggs and other produce every morning before we were even awake. It was idyllic.

  10. I've definitely roughed it in my life. (Hitching up a hammock while camping in the Amazon is the best story.) But these days, no way. I'm such a wuss for sleep. I'm not too, too picky about hotels, but that said, I've loved the few chances I've had to stay at primo-luxury hotels. Wow. I felt glamorous and special, and I like that feeling. I could live that lifestyle, for sure. (Which reminds me that my mom and sisters used to call me "the princess" when I was a teenager. :-))

  11. Rhys, the Valley Ho has big, lovely soaking tubs now that are enclosed in the bathrooms. Maybe the weird tub was pre-update? Or in the midst of update? Great service, wonderful food. My friend Diane and I have made friends with the chef, Sean Currid, who is fab.

    A note, however, to prospective visitors--make sure you get a room on the front of the hotel or that faces the pool. You do not want to be overlooking the parking lot in the back of the hotel. A serious lack of atmosphere there:-)

    And for authors signing at The Poisoned Pen, it's a block from the bookstore, and they give PP authors a special rate.

  12. I should also mention that lately I've gotten into either house swapping or renting a full condo or house.

    I've done this in Aix-en-Provence, Rincon Puerto Rico, and Queechee Vermont.

    No room service - sorry Hank - but you get SUCH a greater feel for wherever you are going AND there is no one to tip

  13. Hmm. I think I'll compromise: a tent valet. Like when my husband brought me hot tea and I drank it from my sleeping bag while watching the sunrise and morning mist on Upper Holland Lake in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. (Of course, that was the last morning of a 9 day, 60 mile trek, on foot, across the Continental Divide, and I was the only one in the group who still had an intact Thermarest. No wonder the guys got up early.)

  14. We went to England in September. We were traveling with friends and booked a night at a cozy B and B. My friend has a bad hip. She and her husband got the ground floor room with the king size bed. My 6'3husband Alex, and I got the top floor, under the attic eaves room,which had a double bed and a single bed. Okay, he'd sleep crosswise in the double bed and I'd take the single,which happened to be the tallest bed I had ever seen. That baby must have stood at least three feet high from floor to the matress. About 3:00am I had to make my nightly trip to the loo.It was okay getting out of bed but upon returning...oh dear. I couldn't quite get my knee up on the mattress. I jumped up, attempting to throw myself onto the bed, but alas, slipped back and landed on the floor. For a second I considered just pulling down the blankets and sleeping under the bed but I decided to give it one more try. I backed up to the door and took a running start. At the last instant, nightie streaming behind me, I took a flying leap,and landed on the bed.
    No more cozy B and B's for me. give me the Ritz anyday...

  15. Leslie, you have just made me officially give myself the WIMP award...

    Pinny, LOL, but you poor thing. Made me think of a trip to England once with my parents and my ex, staying in a B&B--happily I have completely forgotten the location--when my ex and I got the guest room that was in an outbuilding across a yard (in the British sense) from the main house. And the bathroom. Oh, and they locked the doors to the main house at night, so even if I'd wanted to down the steep stairs and across the courtyard in the middle of the night, out of luck. They gave us a chamber pot. Really.

  16. Definitely 4-star. But my budget often runs to 3-star or no stars. If it's clean, comfortable, quiet, and private I'm happy. Which rules out camping, RVs, B&Bs that are a little too friendly, and many motels.

    I camped a few times as a kid and once as an adult, but a strong aversion to bugs made that very unfun.

    Small hotels can be amazing if the owners and staff strike the right balance between attentive and intrusive. I stayed in a tiny hotel in Bath with amazing local food and lovely rooms. Mine had a plaid carpet and walls, which was very cool for a few days.

    My favorite hotel of all time was the Skt Petri in Copenhagen. Designer furniture is soft neutral tones, an acrylic end table that lit up, and a balcony that looked over the old city. There's a pretty hip bar on the first floor, but the rooms are super quiet.

  17. Tammy, you reminded me of the period of time we were into renting rooms in people's homes. We did this in San Francisco, but it meant the couple moved out of their bedroom and the man was forced to sleep in--I swear--a closet. It was a little too weird and we gave that up shortly after...

    We did stay at the Greenbriar one long weekend, which was lovely. My favorite part was the sign they put up in the halls after 10 pm: Shhh, it's sleepytime down south...

  18. When I was younger with 4 children and a hubby I loved to camp. Especially by the ocean. But I appreciate a nice hotel now that age has caught up with me. Indoor plumbing is a must now! Plus I do like the hotels that offer a breakfast in the morning. Then too and lovely B&B is always nice too.

  19. I wouldn't mind a luxury hotel for a weekend, just to see what it's like. Otherwise,
    Shizuka describes I want: clean, comfortable, quiet, and private. That means NO camping. I tried it once for one night. Uh-uh. Not again. I was visiting a friend who was an executive with the Girl Scouts. Instead of working in the office during the summer,she ran their sleepaway camp. She invited me to visit with her and some of the youngsters for part of the weekend,Saturday morning to Sunday afternoon. My favorite part was when we went into town for pizza Saturday night. (I think this was an unscheduled trip.)

    I do not believe in sharing my living quarters with creatures that are not house pets. That includes harmless creatures like crickets. I prefer not to share the same PLANET with spiders!

    B&Bs are okay if I have a private bathroom. I grew up sharing one bathroom with four younger siblings. it was not easy,and I sure don't want to pay to share a bathroom with strangers!

    Last April I stayed at a really nice chain hotel in a small town in NC. We were there for a family wedding. It was the closest I have ever come to luxury. Mainly it was just really well-run by staff who treated us like we were guests in their was spotlessly clean...the buffet breakfast was constantly replenished so that the food was never luke-warm. My stay there felt more like a vacation than a weekend away. THATwas the kind of experience I prefer when I am away from home!

    Hank,can you use your NO lights experience in a mystery!?

    Pinny,I was afraid you were going to say that you cracked a rib!

    And Deb,I don't know what to say about being lcked out of the main house overnight! Chamber pot? Ugh!

  20. Deb-- oh yes! It was 2005 for Power Paws of Scottsdale boot camp... oh nightmares still. Really wonderful getting a service dog, but tortured work not to mention written exams? That I cannot do? What? Having a great place like the Valley Ho to go "home" to at night made it comfortable and pleasant, at least for a few hours.

    We had the opportunity to buy a truly accessible house here in Tucson. It had a roll-in tub and even had a raised wheel-up-to baby's crib that the owners had built (not that I needed it, but I would have used it for visiting grandchildren one day)? Then we looked at the bedroom. The bathtub was in the middle of the bedroom as was - the toilet - aaaaaaaargh!

    There are still middle of the room tubs in some special rooms at the Valley Ho. I forget what they're called. I suggest asking when reserving.

  21. Oops oops oops! 2008 for Power Paws' boot camp! I wasn't even in Arizona in '05! And Kendall could not possibly be 7 years old!

  22. Reine, as much as I love the Valley Ho, I think it is so cool that you did your service dog boot camp there!

  23. Deb Romano, thats a great idea. Thinking about that, right now. Hmmm. xoxo

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  25. I have never stayed in a 4star hotel, so not sure if I'd like it, prob not, I like to unpack my own things and repack them!

    Our trips over 33 years have consisted 99% of traveling to see my parents or his parents. Dog(s) in tow, so whatever place I found via AAA highest rating that allowed dogs (my dogs are neater and quieter than some kids I've run across in hotels)

    We had one trip to colorado to see D's brother, A christmas north of Calgary in '89 to see his Uncle and Gma (our xmas gift was the plane tickets from his Mom - she wanted us to go with her, our budget said not, so she gave us a nice Christmas gift)

    We spent 2 weeks at Uncle Pete's. We drew the pullout couch for sleeping,I think we had the best bed in the house, we woke up every morning staring out a picture window at the Canadian Rockies covered in snow - that I could wake up to every day!

    Before we were married we spent 4 months traveling with his parents and a pop up camper, Lord what was I thinking!

    I have to admit I saw a lot of places in USA I probably would never have seen and spent 2 weeks camping in the canadian rockies with his Uncle and family. While his parents were staying at his grandparents; DH & I spent 6 weeks in a tent on a 28 square mile lake in Saskatchewan -2 small campgrounds - 1 large indian reservation - that was heaven on earth - would I do that Now - NO WAY - I want clean linens, a bathroom that has a sink, toilet shower, jacuzzi would be nice, and plenty of hot water, and I dont want to walk across a campground to get to those necessities !

    Last time we camped in '89 with his brother and family, I must admit was an amazing 5 days -we camped in some mountains an hour or two from Pueblo, state land, the only thing I disliked was sharing a bathroom with the bears, that was my last "roughing it" camping trip, but the scenery and the peacefulness was awesome, though the coyotes howling all night were a tad creepy.

    I've never flown to England, but I can't imagine that many hours on a plane in coach, they'd probably have to make an emergency landing on an aircraft carrier to take one ballistic passenger off the plane (that would be me)!
    That is one time first class would not annoy me, blankies, pillows, good food, and lots of space YUP, only way to go, so I probably will never see England