Here's what it's like to stay at a hotel in New York City right now.

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Hotel bed and window
Credit: Courtesy of Booking.com

If there's anything I've learned about my travel habits in adulthood, it's that I love to take random vacation days. It's such a luxury to use a day here and there to run around your city or town — in my case, New York — and do small, ordinary things that make you happy, like get your nails done, read in the park, or go for a run in the middle of the afternoon. Since I started working, I've been surprised by how much opinions vary on using vacation days for staycations. I've noticed that quite a few of my friends, and their friends, won't take time off unless a larger trip can justify it, as if their vacation requests would get rejected if they couldn't prove they were leaving the city, state, or country. 

I don't operate like that. Perhaps it's because my first boss instilled in her team that we had to use all of our vacation days. (I was a big vacation procrastinator, so I often had time to take without anywhere significant to go.) Or, maybe it's because my family's best vacation memories are all from going to my grandparents' house in Avalon, New Jersey — hardly an exotic destination. Or, it could be because travel has always been more of a mental escape for me versus a physical one. 

My travel mindset prepared me well, evidently, for the COVID-era staycation. I've taken a handful of trips during the pandemic, all within the tristate area and Pennsylvania. On all of these trips, I stayed at Airbnbs or at friends' or family's houses. These local getaways seemed to do the trick; I unglued myself from my computer (a.k.a. my Slack notifications), went outside, and forgot just enough of my job so that coming back to work felt new again. Then, last month hit me. I spent the better part of March and April working longer hours than usual. While I had planned to take time off immediately following two big projects, the thought of traveling during this time off, and planning for it, only added to my stress. Cue: staycation mode

The idea to stay in a hotel in New York started as a joke, as in, "Oh maybe, I'll get a hotel room by myself for a night since I'll be on vacation." As an attempt to talk myself out of it, I bounced the idea off one close friend and another coworker, both of whom had recent staycation experiences in New York themselves. The more I thought about it, the better it sounded. I moved from the Upper East Side to the East Village during the pandemic, and as much as my new neighborhood and apartment have been refreshing, I was still craving space that didn't feel so familiar and, well, mine.

I booked a room at the Walker Hotel in Tribeca on a Sunday afternoon and checked in on a drizzly Monday night. I picked Tribeca because it's one of the neighborhoods I spend the least amount of time in on a regular basis. I opted for the Walker because its rooms were touted as "modern and sleek" with "marble accents" — words I don't typically use to describe my fifth-floor walk-up. Also, the Walker had a Blue Bottle Coffee connected to its lobby — another plus.

Hotel bed and side table
Credit: Courtesy of Booking.com

I had no grand plans for my stay. All I really wanted to do was sit in a hotel robe and order room service, but after checking in, I learned that room service wasn't available due to COVID-19. No robes either. Those accommodations aside, my hotel experience was enjoyable. I picked up Chinese takeout, a bottle of wine, and watched reruns of Big Little Lies. Everything in my room was sanitized, there were a number of no-contact ways to get in touch with housekeeping for cleaning and maintenance, and despite being on the sixth floor, my room had impressive views of Soho and the West Side.

In the same way that a trip reenergizes you, jolting you out of your normal routine, booking a staycation, albeit a night in a hotel across town, had the same impact on me. My rituals were the same, but I slept in a comfier bed, woke up somewhere different, and wandered around a new neighborhood the next morning. Sure, all that really meant in practice was waking up to walk along a different river with coffee from a different local shop, but the disruption from my ordinary routine was still effective. 

New York is probably not the ideal place for a staycation. While it's easy to be anonymous or spend time alone, it's hardly a relaxing city, which is why seeking out a staycation here felt much more purposeful. The biggest lesson I've learned from living and working through a pandemic is that we deserve to be more mindful when it comes to our hours, both working and nonworking. My hotel experience is a good example, as it perfectly disrupted my normal Monday routine, blurring my association with time that I typically spend working.

This applies to travel more broadly, too. In practice, that could mean squeezing in one more activity on a trip: one more museum, one more restaurant, one more drink at that bar that looked cool around the corner. It could mean slowing down a bit and making time to just be in one place. For example, pre-pandemic, I loved leaving on a Thursday night in order to start the weekend on a Friday morning. For the same reason, Sundays on trips were for lounging around and having breakfast instead of rushing out to leave and get home.

But I've also learned that traveling can mean choosing to go nowhere at all. Although I was embracing the "nowhere significant to go" mentality before the pandemic, a true staycation, hotel and all, was a meaningful exercise in recalibrating how I prioritize my time, and most importantly, what I want and need to get out of my day, whether I'm on vacation or not.