I don’t like where this is going.
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico- I’ve stayed in three different places in Puerto Rico. In two of them I didn’t see another person. This isn’t hyperbole. I literally did not see another human during my stay.
I checked in via my phone, I was given a combination for either the door or a lock box with a key in it, and that was it. If I needed anything I was directed to text. I did not see anyone who worked at these places. I did not see any other guests. At the other place that I stayed at I may not have seen anyone either except for the fact that I arrived 15 minutes early and caught the cleaning lady before she was finished.
They’re called self-check-in hotels / apartments / hostels, and they’re the future of travel.
I remember the first one I stumbled into around five or so years ago in Singapore. It was a full-fledge party hostel … with no staff. There were just surveillance cameras everywhere and an email providing check in and check out instructions. At that point I realized that I was traveling into a very different world.
The places where you stayed used to be one of the main social zones for the traveler. Hotels / hostels were where you made friends, created business connections, and found people to hook up with. Look how the old hotels were built with these giant reception areas that were full of seats and places to hang out in and fully stocked with multiple bars, restaurants, and lounges. The entire reason why you used to stay in hostels — other than to save money — was to meet people. I remember using the receptionists at hotels to collect local intel and source recommendations for the stories I was writing …
But as I traveled through Puerto Rico, getting Ubers to and from the airport, driving a car all by myself between towns and staying in places where I didn’t see anyone else, I realized that if I didn’t put the legwork into meeting people that I could have easily spent the entire time not talking to a single other person.
Perhaps this is what some travelers are actually looking for. Not me. Travel is about people. Places, historic sites, attractions, beautiful vistas, pristine beaches are all empty without people.
Our smartphones are incredible technologies which paradoxically bring us together while at the same time separating us far, far apart.
The future of travel is lonely.
Maybe that guidebook company was onto something …
About the Author: VBJ
I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. VBJ has written 3679 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.
VBJ is currently in: Papa Bay, Hawaii
May 25, 2023, 10:53 am
I like being alone a fair amount so I often stay at Airbnb type places, but even I will stay at some regular hotels occasionally just to be around people, even if I sometimes don’t feel like actually meeting any. It seems like most of the world, especially western countries are losing the places where people can meet and hang. We end up only meeting people who think, act and look just like us. Even an introvert like me doesn’t want that.
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