Lessons from a Big Box Hotel...

lessons for clara

Dearest Clara,

On this recent trip to Mexico, our last few days were spent in what I tend to call "big box hotels".  Big, behemoth structures on the beach that cater to hundreds---if not thousands---of sun-seekers at a time.  Some people love them, but I typically don't.  It's just not my style.  I prefer something quieter, something less engineered to be a not-quite-right replica of home.  But after one time in Tunisia where, after a desert adventure that nearly went awry, I paid the ludicrous day entry fee for the luxury of a clean shower and an afternoon spent next to a beautiful pool with a lemonade, I realized that I needed to change my approach to these hotels.  They are still not my favorites that I seek out, but life will bring you to them in some form or other.  Maybe you have a wedding to attend, maybe you have points to use up, or maybe there is a family vacation.  Or maybe you find yourself far away from home, and like in Tunisia, it happens to be the best place to cure homesickness.  In any case, here are a few things I keep in mind to make sure I have just as good a time:

  • Manage your expectations: Big box hotels are not quaint, and often times, but not always, they are not particularly personal.  Don't look for those qualities here as you won't find them.  You can likely guess well what will or won't be there, and what might or might not happen from a service or food or entertainment perspective.  Manage your expectations accordingly---pleasant surprise is always a better feeling than unprepared disappointment.
  • Play to the hotel's strengths: While a larger size might prevent the hotel from doing certain things, it does enable them to do other things well.  Maybe they organize activities of some sort, maybe they have a grocery store on the property. . . Any big hotel has some things that they are good at---seek those things out and make them a priority for your time.
  • Make a smaller world for yourself on the big property: Carve out a small corner for yourself where you can find one.  You'll find that no matter the size of a hotel, there is always a terrace or a part of the garden or the library corner that largely goes unnoticed by all the countless other patrons.  Make those spaces of calm your own.
  • Claim your chair early: If there is one thing larger hotels do well, it's usually the beach and pool scene.  But everybody knows that.  It's worth getting up a little bit earlier to stake your claim on the best chairs with the gorgeous views and a bit of fruit or coffee.  Enjoy the cooler morning view or breeze on your chair, and as things get crowded stake your claim while you leave to have a late breakfast.  If you have breakfast first, you will always have second tier beach seating.
  • Pack books: Several of them---when the world outside with all the people and hustle and bustle becomes too much, you can create your own world in the pages you choose to bring.  I like to bring books that are particular to the destination---while a big box hotel doesn't lend itself to leaving the property easily, you can still continue to learn about it through books.
  • Find ways to eat off the property: A break in routine is always a good thing, especially when hotels are bigger or more generic.  Your taste buds and waistline will thank you.
  • When in doubt, look out at the ocean: Big box hotels are often amongst other big box hotels and the sight can be overwhelming.  So many stories, so many people, and it makes you wonder how different it all must have looked when the coastline was bare.  When all this development feels too much, just look out in front of you rather than the world behind you.  The ocean and the horizon will always give you a sense of infinite possibility.

All my love,