In an increasingly digital age, the art of letter writing has all but disappeared from American culture. Simply look to the struggles of the U.S. Postal Service, or the over-hyped handwriting crisis for proof.
In terms of convenience, it’s an understandable cultural loss—why take the time to jot down a message, pay for postage, and drop an envelope in the mail, when sending a quick note via text or captioning a photo on Instagram offers instant gratification?
But despite what it lacks in immediacy, there’s a beauty, and certainly a nostalgia to letter writing, especially when it comes to travel.
There’s something romantic, exotic even, about receiving a card postmarked in a faraway country adorned with a foreign stamp, and some hotels have starting tapping into that wistfulness, offering amenities for lovers of the epistolary tradition.
The Line Hotel in Los Angeles, for example, is hosting a calligraphy class taught by artist, illustrator, and expert calligrapher Maybelle Imasa-Stukuls in their on-site Poketo shop later this summer. Guests and community members alike can brush up on their cursive before penning a note home. The course costs $225, and all students will receive a starter kit, which includes black ink, a penholder, nib, practice book, and sheets, so they can continue the practice long after the vacation is over.
Hotel San José in Austin counts a typewriter-loan program among its amenities. Guests have access to a Remington Premier model, along with paper and ink, and staff members are at the ready to assist with its use. "When the hotel opened 15 years ago, we wanted to invite creativity and spontaneity into the guest experience,” said General Manager Meghan Hughes. The program, which she said is most typically utilized by millennial leisure travelers, is just one example of how the hotel is encouraging artistry. It also offers tablets and pencils in each room, for guests to use and take as they please.
New York’s Ace Hotel is turning the tradition of letter writing on its head with its Dear Reader Project. The 29th Street boutique property, along with curator Alexander Chee, teamed up with twelve writers, inviting one wordsmith to spend the night and to craft an open letter about the experience. These limited-edition notes are then placed bedside in each of the hotel’s rooms on a surprise date the following month.
"When I stayed at Ace Hotel, I had a Chris Kraus quote in my head: 'Isn’t every letter a love letter?' I'm not terribly good at writing from prompts, but I thrive in states of longing, so I can always write a love letter," explained program participant Chelsea Hodson. "I named my recipient John, but I got a little thrill out of knowing something so personal would eventually arrive in every room of the hotel for anyone to read."
The response has been equally positive on the receiving end. "Some [guests] have been curious about them and called the front desk to make sure they haven't been left behind," explained a hotel spokesperson. "It's nice to discover that it's an unexpected literary surprise."
Of course, the most common epistolary amenity offered by hotels is complimentary stationery. Once a given in both luxury establishments and affordable accommodations alike, many are now ditching the practice in-favor of souped-up tech amenities and a commitment to green business practices. However, a few properties continue the tradition.
At the historic Hermitage Hotel in Nashville, for instance, personalized stationery is a gift provided to VIPs and guests staying in the Presidential and Executive suites. Other guests have the opportunity to buy vintage-inspired postcards from the hotel's gift shop.
The St Regis gifts some guests customized identification cards, though they’re hardly large enough for a letter. For the real deal, they’ll need to check out the Thornwillow Press boutique located in the hotel lobby.
All that said, free Wi-Fi still reigns supreme as America’s most in-demand hotel amenity, but sometimes it’s nice to push the envelope, and simply disconnect.
Caroline Hallemann is the associate digital editor at Travel + Leisure. You can find her on Twitter at @challemann.