1 More Counterintuitive Travel Tip (in process): Be Uncomfortable

I know, last week I gave the master list of counterintuitive travel tips. But, whaddya know, I thought of another one.

And that is: Discomfort is good.

You could say this is a variation on the idea of taking impractical transport. But there’s a greater sense of this, in which it’s generally a good idea to avoid typical luxury, even if you can afford it.

But don't get too carried away!
But don’t get too carried away!

There’s a little treadmill of travel style as you age and get a little more money to play with: you’re meant to go from hosteling to midrange hotels with air-conditioning to, phew, finally you’ve made it, some rambling resort in Thailand.

It’s a trap! Jump off! (Or, more realistically: Don’t seethe with envy over all those rich folks eating in them fancy dining cars, drinking coffee and smoking big cigars.)

Money just creates a buffer between you and the people you’ve come to visit. Money, if spent without thinking, buys space and distance: bigger rooms, bigger cars, private compartments on trains. But for that travel magic to happen, sometimes you need to be forced into proximity: in the cheap seats, on the sidewalk, at the public market.

“Discomfort” can also connect us to the past. I just spent a few days at Los Poblanos,┬áhands down the best hotel I’ve ever stayed at (proof: this was my second visit, for vacation). Part of the reason it’s better than any typical “luxury” hotel is the physical reality of the place: the windows crank open; the thick old light switches are a little hard to flip; the door latches are intricate and don’t shut immediately behind you; the farm animals make noise. Of course nothing is truly painful: The beds are sumptuous, and I could turn on the a/c if I wanted to. But the irregularities haven’t been sanded away, as money tends to do, and the place is still filled with little reminders of how life used to work.

Then again, I’m writing this from a suite in Las Vegas, and I’m perfectly happy to be safely swaddled in a/c comfort, away from the masses (Masters of Beer Pong tourney happening downstairs!).

Oh, those wacky masses. (Sign in Albuquerque.)
Oh, those wacky masses. (Sign in Albuquerque.)

This trip, in which we’re going across the Southwest without a car, was an experiment in applying travel strategies I use in other countries to more familiar turf. But on this trip, I’ve found myself choosing the more “comfortable” option frequently: the parlor car on the train to the Grand Canyon, the flight to Vegas instead of the long bus ride. Which may say as much about the United States as it does about me.

So: travel wisdom is a work in progress–and at least I have gotten my share of discomfort walking in 115-degree heat!

Your thoughts? When is comfort worth it? When did you feel like it was unnecessary or just got in the way?