The CrazyUs Hotel Rubric of Hotel-ing

Part One.

I am often asked to share my travel secrets, like what are some tips on getting a good hotel deal? I often reply, “what do you mean by a good hotel deal?” Here is my first post on choosing a hotel. It is an overview that will explain the basics of our hotel rubric.

Kauai 2007
Kauai 2007
Oahu 2014
Oahu 2014

My hotel Rubric of hotel-ing is the answer to their question. Yes, it is kind of like a Rubic’s Cube. Match all of the colors together to form the most cohesive result. Ok. Seriously. Before I launch in any farther, let me explain what I mean by rubric and why I use the term here. According to the all-knowing Wikipedia:

rubrics include one or more dimensions on which performance is rated, definitions and examples that illustrate the attribute(s) being measured, and a rating scale for each dimension. Dimensions are generally referred to as criteria, the rating scale as levels, and definitions as descriptors.”

Yes, my brain hurts too. I promise the definition will make sense. Meaning if you apply (score/measure) your tailored list (a rubric) of requirements (attributes) to your hotel search, you will not only get you the best deal, you will also have the most satisfying stay. Hey and that is nothing to sneeze at.

Here is how I compile my rubric. I score each hotel on specific criteria: price, brand (points availability and my current status with hotel brands), TripAdvisor reviews, reviews compared to TripAdvisor reviews, and reviews, availability (of course), cleanliness, and the wild card (for instance, you can make a close guess about what hotel you are bidding on, and safely roll the dice. Dave and I did that in Chamonix, France and our wild card paid off). That is the first layer.

After scoring a hotel on specific criteria, I consider the specific situation. Remember, every travel adventure takes on new factors and considerations, and those factors and considerations need to be addressed and you criteria adjusted (hence a rubric). Consequently, our hotel choice varies depending on what we are doing, who we are with, how old are kids are, where we are staying, how long we are staying, and the cost.

Easy E Waipouli Beach Resort Kauai 2007
Easy E Waipouli Beach Resort Kauai 2007
Easy E Oahu 2014
Easy E Oahu 2014

Let me give you an example. When we first went to Hawaii, Kyle was seven and Eli was five. We went to Oahu for a few days and then flew to Kauai. We stayed in Kauai for almost three weeks. Because of the length of stay, I knew a hotel would get pricey. Additionally, because of the boys were young and squirrely, we knew we would need some breathing room. Kauai was also a new destination. We were traveling on a lower peak time, and saw that vacation rentals were less expensive than on peak times. I also accessed reviews, looked for the newest construction, and highest rated place. Considering these factors, we opted for longer-term lodging, and found a condo for rent on at Waipouli Beach.

Waipouli Beach Resort Hotel 2007
Waipouli Beach Resort Hotel 2007
Hyatt Place Oahu 2014
Hyatt Place hotel Oahu 2014

In early 2014 the same family was traveling to Hawaii. Could we apply the same criteria to our vacation? No. Our Rubric had changed. The boys were older and crabby not young and squirrely. Meaning we could consider sharing a hotel room with them. We were staying for a week, not three.

As far as Oahu hotel choice and pick, we the landscape had also changed. Our first visit to Kauai and Oahu was in 2007. Since then miles and points have exploded. We knew we wanted to stay near Waikiki Beach. We also knew we like the Hyatt Place Waikiki. We also knew we had saved up Hyatt Points from credit card deal. Of course, I backed up my finds with TripAdvisor and reviews. Ultimately, we were able to use points. And because we also had Platinum (now Diamond) status at Hyatt, we knew a room upgrade was likely.

Additionally, we were traveling to Oahu, not Kauai. Oahu is more populated than Kauai, and consequently has more hotel options and deals. It was our third visit to Oahu, and our eighth visit to Hawaii. Since our first visit, we have traveled back to Kauai, twice, Maui, the Big Island twice, and Oahu. Our Hawaiian travel has demonstrated that Oahu is the easiest to fly to, and is considered the less desirable and most crowded island. Because people bad-mouth Honolulu all the time, I assumed Oahu would not be as special. I was wrong. After traveling all over Hawaii, we have grown to love and appreciate all that Oahu has to offer. We’ve experienced the relative remoteness of Kaui (the garden isle) and the wide open spaces of the Big Island. Instead We enjoy the no-island-fever, cultural melting pot feel of Oahu. Oahu does not seem over crowded. Instead, it is accessible. For starters, there is a Whole Foods, a fresh flower-filled China Town, the best Shave Ice I have ever had (Shimazu Store), a Target, Pearl Harbor, The North Shore, and The Dole Pineapple Plantation.

The Dole Pineapple Plantation Oahu 2007
The Dole Pineapple Plantation Oahu 2007


The Dole Pineapple Plantation Oahu 2014
The Dole Pineapple Plantation Oahu 2014

Bottom line. Make your own hotel rubric. Figure out what you want. Do not take someone else’s dream vacation, or book their hotel. For instance, once I recommended a hotel to my sister. Because it was winter, she was leaving in the morning for the airport, had kids, and the hotel had an indoor pool, I was certain she would love the price, the pool and the convenience. I was wrong. I should have vetted her more thoroughly. What I did not consider was that she didn’t enjoy a bargain as much as we do. She actually prefers five-star pampering instead of indoor pools. Do it your way.

Decide what works for you. That is the best deal. Vet yourself. Once vetted, use reviews to back up your assertions, and then decide. Do you have a pet? Do you travel with your pet? Do you have allergies? Do you want all-inclusive or off-the beaten path? Are you hotel-brand devotee? Are you a hotel snob? Do not be afraid to own it. Would you prefer a vacation rental? Are you a five-star traveler, or are roadside motels your thing? How many rooms do you need? How old are your kids? Do your kids need to sleep in the same room as you? Are you a smoker? Are you a germaphobe? Do you want to be in walking distance of your destination?

Finally, communicating your expectations clearly is how you will get the best deal. Use my hotel-rubric to facilitate that communication. Survey the area, compare, read reviews and decide. Oh, and remember, if you arrive and things are not as promised, you can always make a change. Remind me to tell you about Mexico!

Look for hotels that are under renovation. They usually have specials.

When reading TripAdvisor and reviews, make sure the review is current. I have noticed that “recently renovated” can actually mean “recently renovated ten years ago.”

Room upgrades with hotel status can save you money. Book the lower price room. Usually you will receive an upgrade, especially during off season.

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You Can Always Find Your Way!

Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost
Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost

Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost – JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Until tonight, I never realized the phrase actually comes from a poem, which is quoted in The Fellowship of the Ring.

My brother Bill has read all the books, and so has Dave. Dave, Kyle and Eli have watched the Lord of the Rings Trilogy many times, so have I. In truth, I have slept through them many times. A while back, I was in my local Staples looking for a college notebook when I found this particular one. It was beyond appropriate for my very delayed college return. I bought it, and as I sat in my English classes, I proudly displayed it to my much younger classmates.

Now sitting in class with my well-suited notebook I began taking notes on the poet Elizabeth Bishop, who was also a traveler. She spent much of her life living in different countries and writing about her travels. Our class discussion on Bishop prompted my professor to mention how much he loves travel. A travel poet and a professor who loves travel were firing my imagination. And then with some disdain my professor mentioned that he was not into going to the “usual” travel spots such as say Disneyland or the Eiffel Tower. “Everyone does that. I like to go off the beaten path,” he continued. “Am I a complete loser because I love Disneyland,” I thought.

Because off-the-beaten-path travel is an idea that speaks to me, I opted to push my I-am-less-than-because-I-like-Disneyland self-doubt away and remain engaged. I am glad I did, because his words helped me find myself, and own my own. I spoke up. First, I said, “Disneyland is awesome!” I was not surprised when I saw his eyes roll in horror. Then thinking I could connect with his idea of off-the-beaten path I said, “I love The Lonely Planet Books. They have taken me on some most excellent adventures.”

Us Disneyland July 2014
Us Disneyland July 2014

I saw my professor’s eyes roll before I noticed him clearing his throat. And with a disdainful laugh he quickly interjected, “The Lonely Planet book series is a published book series.” He cleared his throat another time. “Someone is actually telling you how to stay on their path.” Completely defeated I sat silent. I decided I would wait to read her poems that evening and instead was imagining how I could defend my comment. Still contemplating, I left class.

Later that day Dave and I were finally able to discuss why The Lonely Planet books support the concept of off-the-beaten path. Dave and I both agree that yes, The Lonely Planet Book series is technically not off-the-beaten path because (you are correct, professor), someone is telling you what path to take. Alas, we also agree that these books are great starting points. They point you in the direction of something maybe you would not consider. And once there, there are so many new paths to take.

Having a starting point, like a well-revered travel book, is most definitely a way to wander. And here is where my travel tip becomes more direct:

If you are creating a new route for yourself, YOUR NEW PATH is off-the-beaten path for you. If you have never been to Disneyland, and you chose to go to Disneyland, Disneyland is hip, alternative, crazy, cool, and maybe for my professor’s sake, even a little aloof, because it is your adventure. If you have been to Disneyland before, then make your next time different. I am certain what my professor was trying to say is, “make it new.” What I think he may have missed is that you do not have to be in an exclusive group to make your journey special. Wandering can be familiar. Losing yourself in the prescribed and familiar does not mean you are lost.


Sidebar: You are not a lesser person if Disneyland is your dream destination. Do not doubt yourself. Even if you go to Disneyland every single week, the place does not decide how outside of the lines you are. You do. Try the Jungle Cruise blindfolded next time, or leave your phone at home. Even Disneyland can be off and it is definitely beaten.

Sidebar: To preserve the authenticity of their experience, The Lonely Planet books are written by unpaid travel experts. These experts give you recommendations for places to stay, eat, and visit that you may not have considered yourself. I found their England and Ireland books pointed us toward many worthwhile treasures, and in finding those things, we found others.

Sidebar: And of course I had to include an Elizabeth Bishop travel poem. It is called, “The Map.” And because I love the word liminal, here is what says about “The Map:”

This poem appeared as a preface to Bishop’s first volume of poetry and as a preface to every volume of poetry thereafter. It is therefore a good introduction to Bishop, and lays out many of the themes she wrestles with in her poetry. Some of these include liminal spaces between the land and the sea and between the real and the imagination.

The Map
by, Elizabeth Bishop

lies in water; it is shadowed green.
Shadows, or are they shallows, at its edges
showing the line of long sea-weeded ledges
where weeds hang to the simple blue from green.
Or does the land lean down to lift the sea from under,
drawing it unperturbed around itself?
Along the fine tan sandy shelf
is the land tugging at the sea from under?

The shadow of Newfoundland lies flat and still.
Labrador’s yellow, where the moony Eskimo
has oiled it. We can stroke these lovely bays,
under a glass as if they were expected to blossom,
or as if to provide a clean cage for invisible fish.
The names of seashore towns run out to sea,
the names of cities cross the neighboring mountains
-the printer here experiencing the same excitement
as when emotion too far exceeds its cause.
These peninsulas take the water between thumb and finger
like women feeling for the smoothness of yard-goods.

Mapped waters are more quiet than the land is,
lending the land their waves’ own conformation:
and Norway’s hare runs south in agitation,
profiles investigate the sea, where land is.
Are they assigned, or can the countries pick their colors?
-What suits the character or the native waters best.
Topography displays no favorites; North’s as near as West.
More delicate than the historians’ are the map-makers’ colors.

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Itineraries, or Better, Travel Mix-Tapes

A lizard in Colorado National Monument
A lizard in Colorado National Monument

My life and my plans have been much less easy to map out. I have had a difficult time finding my own way, let alone, my own road. And oddly enough I have had a much easier time planning out our journey. If I want to go to Colorado, Hawaii, or Iceland, Maps become second nature. I find great places to see, and maybe the planning is easy, because right by my side is Dave. Refining. He is always refining the way. That is what he does. I say, “Let’s take a road trip.” He suggests Colorado. I say, “I want to go on a hike or down by the river, “and he finds me Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Similarly, he tells me, “let’s stay in Grand Junction,” and I suggest the Fairfield Inn. “It has a high TripAdvisor Rating.” I tell him. And moments later, and after some online searching he suggests, “And we have two free Marriott nights.” This is our dance – Itineraries, plans, and compilations — whatever you want to call them. I like Mix-Tapes.

Earlier today, the boys and I found ourselves at at our favorite Vietnamese hole in the wall, Oh Mai, eating our Pho and Banh Mi with our friend, Emily. In between bites of Pork Vermicelli with coconut milk and Beef Brisket Pho, Emily paused and said, “Hey, we are going on a road trip.”
“Where?” I asked.
“Western Colorado.”
The occasion of her visit to my neck of the woods was to buy maps for that very trip. We talked about the deep, dark crevasse of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, about Chaco Canyon National Historical Park, which hosts “the densest and most exceptional concentration of pueblos in the American Southwest,” and how it reminds her of Mese Verde National Monument. The boys and I insisted she consider taking her family tubing down the river in Durango.

The Forum, Rome, Italy

Somewhere between comparing Colorado National Monument to the Grand Canyon and forgetting to tell her about the ginormous polygamous dwelling we saw the last time we drove east of Vernal, UT, Emily paused and said, “Beth, you know we are taking this trip because of you…” Ok. Probably not literally because of me, but when Emily and I stood in Rome’s Forum talking travel. I encourage, “Anyone can do it. And you don’t have to leave the United States.”

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado

As we walked from ancient Roman sculptures to an early sunset view of the Coliseum, I continued regaling her with all sorts of information about our trip through Western Colorado. “We live in Utah, and Colorado is like this brother we ignore. Because we have so much in common, we never think to visit.”
Then fast forward to our yummy Oh Mai lunch. Emily liked what I had to say. And I am over the moon that my travel love conveyed. I am really excited for their epic adventure. They are ending with Moab, our beloved pièce de résistance. Take the Delicate Arch Hike. Find the Windows and hike all over them. When you leave, notice the setting sun on the most amazing red rock cliffs, and crazy rock formations. If you get a chance, go to Corona Arch. It is located outside Arches N.P. And when you are driving to Corona Arch, look for the sign that says, “Indian Petroglyphs.” Dude, you literally pull over, and up on the cliffs are all sorts of rock writing. And if you are not completely exhausted, please hike Negro Bill Canyon. Don’t stop half through. Bring lots of water and wear a ton of sunscreen. You must make it to the waterfall. I promise. You will not regret it. Travel well Emily, Nate, and Co.!

Itineraries. I spit them out without knowing I am spitting them out. And if Dave is nearby, which he often is, he will accessorize every road I suggest you take. We are your own Mix-Tape – if that makes any sense. Let me explain. It is our rhythm. I am sure you are not crying right now like I am. I am a big baby when it comes to Dave. And it is hilarious that my own thoughts regarding our cohesive itinerary making/suggesting are currently making misty! Nevertheless, they do.

Vatican City, Rome, Italy
Vatican City, Rome, Italy

Hey and PS, Emily and Nate, I cannot hear what you call your Mix-Tape. Of course I will leave you a suggestion knowing full well that you guys can do better: “Colorado, our Parallel Universe?”

Side Bar:   Traveling through Eastern Utah and Western Colorado will give you the opportunity to visit many fee-based National Parks and Historic sites.  Consider buying a National Parks Pass. The 2015 price for a National Park’s Pass is $80.

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