Why You Should Never Book A Hotel That Only Gets Five Star Reviews

At Bloomberg Pursuits, we love to travel. And when we can again, we want to make sure we’re doing it right. So we talk to globetrotters in all of our luxury areas – food, wine, fashion, cars, real estate – to learn more about their high-end tips, time-saving tricks and offbeat experiences. These are the Distinguished Travel Hackers.

Brandon Presser is an award-winning travel writer – for regular readers of Bloomberg Lawsuitsyou might recognize him from going undercover to report what it’s like to be a butler at the Plaza, a costumed character at Disney, or a flight attendant on a busy transatlantic airline.

Today he is also the author of Distant Earth (published March 8 by Public Affairs), a thriller inspired by history and his own travels to the sprawling South Pacific island of Pitcairn, where the saga of many HMS BountyThe mutineers continued.

During his career as a travel writer, Presser has visited some 130 countries around the world, almost always with the aim of discovering great underrated adventures, whether it’s traversing remote corners of the Australia, eagle hunting in Kyrgyzstan or hiking in the steepest mountains of Slovenia. peaks. He has also lived in such radically different places as Tokyo, Paris and New York.

One of the things that makes Presser such a memorable writer and explorer is his ability to build relationships with the people he meets in the field, a quality that has made it easy for him to earn the trust of professionals in the field. respected hotel industry worldwide. . Along with doing some of Bloomberg’s best-loved long reads, the task also gave Presser an unrivaled scoop on how to travel like the real pros.

Presser, who was born in Ottawa and based in Indiana, is equally at home in five-star hotels as when he’s totally off the grid. Pitcairn, the subject of his book, is a British overseas territory so inaccessible that it took Presser a month of non-stop travel to arrive – by freighter. The true stories of tribalism, colonialism and mutiny he learned there form the backbone of his captivating and obsessively reported new book.

Here are his best travel tips.

The best way to build relationships overseas is extremely analog.

I know we’re well into the digital age and business cards are basically obsolete, but I like to go even more old school and handwrite my own. Every time I travel I bring a stack of thick blank cards; they have a little cartoon whale wearing a cardigan on the front, and plenty of space below to personalize a phrase or two. Filling them out on the spot with my name, WhatsApp number and email address, along with a quick and kind word, has become my go-to way of befriending people who can help me open a new destination.

The key is not to be shy about who you are giving them to. I’ve given handwritten cards to industry acquaintances at conferences, a particularly savvy waiter at a restaurant to learn about a city’s food scene, concierges at hotels, tour guides, and friends. of friends. There is something sincere and unique about them that piques a person’s interest; they’ve helped me build stronger connections with connected people everywhere I go. (Of course, you also need to carry a decent pen with you.)

Want to know you’re getting what you pay for in a fancy hotel? Look at the Q-tips.

If I do the rough math, I’ve stayed in about 3,000 hotels, and tacitly sizing hotel rooms is a work vice I can’t help myself, even when I’m supposed to be on vacation. The first thing I look for is the ergonomics of a hotel room: is the location of power outlets, light switches and other amenities intuitive? Then I go for the details. You can tell a lot about the quality of care by the quality of the Q-tips in the vanity kit. Are they cheap and flimsy or a nice sturdy stem with a fluffy bud?

There’s a sandwich that says it all

When ordering from room service, I always choose the club sandwich. It does well from the kitchen to the bedroom, and virtually every hotel in the world has it on their menu – another good way to compare accommodation options.

Never trust the NYC subway to get you to the airport.

I was heading from my apartment in Manhattan to JFK airport for an overnight flight to Europe for work. With only one wheeled luggage and plenty of time to spare in the living room, I decided to take the metro. But as we were going through the tunnel under the East River, the subway had some kind of terrible accident – a collision – and I was stuck in the subway car with no power or cell phone reception for over two hours. until the jaws of life come. to get passengers off the train. We were escorted along dirty tracks and had to walk up and down the subway platform.

By some kind of magic, I was able to catch the flight just as they closed the jet deck door. The stewardess looked at me puzzled, “Are you sure you’re supposed to be here?” watch as I took my seat in business class. Later, I went to the bathroom and noticed tar patches on my face and clothes from walking through the NYC subway basement. I looked like Oliver Twist. I never took the subway to the airport again. (And I always carry a little oshibori towel with me, the washcloths you get at Japanese onsens, in case of emergency.)

If you want a great hotel skip it all with 10/10 reviews.

Personally, when I book a hotel based on reviews and information, I look for a bit of controversy. I want a property that has been praised by nine out of 10 people, and I want that 10th person to absolutely hate it. This is how I know this is not a stuffy hotel, which could be anywhere, but takes a risk and makes a statement instead – memorable.

The best example I can think of is Jade Mountain in St. Lucia: most people swear by the open-air design, with built-in plunge pools and a missing fourth wall that overlooks the island’s Piton Mountains ( count me a devotee), but there’s always someone who prefers air conditioning to island breezes, or doesn’t care for dark teak furniture.

The Great Barrier Reef is not the best place in Australia to dive.

I think we often get stuck in these travel paradigms, all flocking to the same specific destinations to fulfill certain fantasies when there are 20 different variations on the theme, and usually the lesser-known places are even better. Australia has very good examples. Most people spend a lot of time in Queensland, but I would encourage them to explore the west coast instead. This is where the orange sands of Uluru meet the country’s typically turquoise beaches. The Unesco-protected area of ​​Shark Bay is particularly attractive, with reefs full of friendly sea turtles. I have been a PADI Divemaster for about 15 years; some of the best scuba diving is found on the Ningaloo coast, a straight (but 700 mile long) stretch drawn north of Perth.

Your most memorable travel experiences will always be the ones you never planned.

At 19, I took my first real trip on my own and backpacked solo in southern Vietnam. My fourth-grade teacher, Madame Nguyen, had fled the country in the 1970s when Saigon fell and ended up in French-speaking Canada. His story had stuck with me ever since. I mingled with the circuit of Southeast Asian backpackers who travel to hidden beaches and visit markets in bustling capitals.

One evening, alone, I saw a “Bill Clinton ate here” sign and sat down at a half-collapsed plastic picnic table in an unassuming noodle house. A young Vietnamese couple, both also academics, sat next to me and we quickly struck up a conversation about our mutual studies. They quickly brushed my hands away from the bread nibbles on the table, which they assumed had been sitting for days. We drank our pho, shared more stories and they quickly had to leave. When I waved the waiter to pay our bill, she told me that the deceased couple had already covered it. I was touched. It remains one of my most memorable meals, not because it was ‘local’ or ‘authentic’, but because it was nice.

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