As a child, my first memories of the hospitality industry were far from luxurious. Each summer, my parents loaded up our vintage Pontiac Bonneville wagon along with our alligator rafts, paddle boards and other essentials, and drove me and my two sisters on an 18-hour journey down I-95 to our favorite South Carolina beach vacation destination – Hilton Head.
Clearly, an 18-hour car ride with three kids required lots of stops. Some breaks, like to go to the bathroom, were expected. Other times, we stopped because it was the only way my parents could get my sisters to stop fighting. Then there were the dark stops, which were hours long with the engine off. While we cried and protested about having to sleep in the car and not a hotel, we let our tears fall, cracked open the car window, piled onto our suitcases and dozed off into oblivion. Luckily, once we saw the ocean waves and the felt the warm sand between our toes, our sorrows melted away. Our attention was then focused on who could build the biggest sandcastle or who could get away with eating two servings of ice cream before our parents noticed.
Soon after I came back from these epic summer vacations, all sorts of questions jumped in my head: “Why couldn’t we just sleep on a comfortable bed in a safe, air-conditioned, hotel room like all my other friends did when they went on vacation? Did my parents not have the money or were they just being frugal?” Spending my childhood sleeping in a makeshift car motel yet secretly dreaming of the feel of 800-thread count sheets and fresh white bath towels made me destined for a career as a Hospitality Interior Designer. Once I got to college to study Interior Design and started earning my own money, I jumped at the first chance to buy flight tickets and book a room at the best hotel I could afford and haven’t looked back.
Fast forward to today, the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. The days of getting on a plane and staying at a luxury hotel feel like distant memories. Almost all air travel has been grounded. Even the hotels I’ve designed are closed. The silver lining in all of this is that I’ve realized that hospitality is as much of a mindset as it is about the spacious hotel lobbies, or water-front views. It’s the excitement I get from packing my bag and journeying to a new or familiar place. Most of all, it’s the appreciation I have for being able to make new memories with the people I’m traveling with.
After my daughter was born two years ago, I now understand why my parents made the decisions they did when we were kids. It was about teaching us to embrace the journey and make the best of our family time together, even in tight quarters. My new journey of hospitality is about embracing car trips instead of airline travel (for the time being) and staying in small, quaint hotels that are less about size and five-star amenities are more about home-like comfort, convenience, and keeping guests safe.