Think of a hotel as a carwash for your overactive brain.
“Hotels make me feel like a beast in a cage,” laments my roommate. A poet by profession, he’s been known to hyperbolize, but somehow this sentiment hits home. I get it: hotels can be bland, impersonal places. The stuffy decor, the cookie-cutter room layout, the uneasy feeling of transience. Unlike the lovely, light-filled south Brooklyn apartment he and I share, hotels aren’t places you can really settle.
But that doesn’t render them totally useless. Certainly not in my eyes. I incorporate hotels into my life in a way that some might deem reckless, or just plain bizarre. Every now and then, I book solo hotel stays, in my own city, just because.
I don’t make a habit of it, but during particularly stressful periods, when the cards feel stacked up against me, and I have obligations (social, work-related, and otherwise) coming at me from all sides, hotels seem to offer the only true escape. A safe, secure hideout away from the people and places I know, where I can just lay low and find much-needed peace and quiet.
I know what you’re thinking. If your apartment is so lovely, why can’t you just “hide out” there? Here’s the thing: home is home, it’s comfortable and safe and private. But there’s something to be said for displacement, for the feeling of stepping outside our surroundings. Disassociating from the familiar rituals and places that comprise our day-to-day lives is what gives you that glorious ‘aahhh’ feeling when you’re on vacation. It’s why many of us bother to travel at all: to connect with new sights and sounds and, in doing so, re-connect with ourselves. Then again, when money and time prevent a proper overseas adventure, hotels can be the next best thing.
Think of a hotel as a carwash for your brain: a well-oiled machine set up to take care of you—except instead of sprayers and sponges there are amiable doormen and nightstands rigged with bendy, gooseneck reading lamps. From the moment you check in and flip the Do Not Disturb sign, you answer to no one. No nagging to-do lists, no kitchen sinks piled with dishes, no distractions, period. It’s all about you.
Of course, I’m a full-blown hotel geek. Love everything about them. Love how, the minute you set foot inside one, it’s like you’re a character in a children’s book. That miniature world and all its trappings—the friendly, costumed bellhops, the gleaming luggage carts wheeling down hallways, the abundant lounges and little lobby kiosks—exist independent from reality. Everything you need (a bathroom? a double whiskey? theater tickets?) is available, all the time.
On a recent Friday afternoon, I check into the Conrad New York. Golden sunlight filled the all-glass foyer, and giant aluminum shapes dangled, immense as grand pianos, on wires from 60-foot ceilings. In its former life, the hotel was an Embassy Suites, but rather than do away with its cavernous atrium, the designers re-purposed it as a contemporary art installation. Fifteen stories up, from the interior-facing guest room hallways, you can peer down over the staggered metal frames, bathed in a neon blue light, and pretend you’re inside a Star Wars battle station.
Now, technically, anyone—guest or no guest—could just show up, poke around the lobby, take a couple selfies, and be on their way. But I’m not here to play tourist, or even to enjoy drinks on the rooftop bar. After a draining work week, and a recent traumatic landlord dispute, I’m after one thing: peace and quiet.
For the next 20 hours, I deal with a total of three people (front desk agent, a smiling housekeeper, and the waiter who serves me breakfast the next morning). Otherwise, I’m left in blissful solitude. Even when you’re out of your room, the whole ‘Do Not Disturb’ ethos has a way of permeating all aspects of hotel life.
And isn’t that what we’re all looking for? A break? In today’s age of infinite news feeds, being reachable by five modes of communication, and hopelessly ‘liking’ the newest viral cute-pet video, it feels like, more than ever, we’re all just in need of a break. Overstimulated doesn’t even begin to describe it. New York magazine recently devoted six pages to a feature titled “The Everything Guide to Doing Nothing,” thoroughly outlining all the ways we can actively free ourselves up to do, well, nothing.
Once inside my suite, I latch the deadbolt behind me, and do a quick lap of the space, a ritual shared by hotel geeks worldwide. The coffee table, stocked with a decent array of magazines (at the top of the pile: Travel + Leisure), makes an inviting place to stop and sit, but I barely make it through Gary Shteyngart’s Cuba article before surrendering blissfully to a pre-dinner nap. Dinner itself is a quick bagel from a nearby deli, followed by people watching outside Shake Shack, and finally, retreating to my room.
Minutes later, I’m sitting on the floor, ensconced between my bed and the window. A distant whoosh of taxis and pedestrians drifts in from the street below. I shut the window and savor the sudden, uninterrupted silence. The bedside lamp glows softly. A feeling of total calm surges through my body.
Does it matter that this sanctum is temporary? That the following day, at 12 p.m. on the dot, my keycard will de-magnetize and I’ll be thrust back into the chaotic reality (i.e., life) I spent a whole evening trying to forget? Not really. There’s no ‘off’ switch to life’s problems, just opportunities to hit pause, which we should seize whenever possible. Would I trade this solo hotel night for a two-week cruise down the Danube? Sure. But who has time for that?