On the Supremacy of the Bed and Breakfast

I’ve been staying in a lot of hotels. Some nice ones, some not so nice, most owned or at least operated by a corporate parent. There’s a anonymous familiarity about them all, which is comforting or unsettling, depending on my mood.

I’ve also crashed with some friends on this road trip, sleeping on a recliner in a living room in Detroit and an air mattress in an extra bedroom on Staten Island. That’s fine-and a fine way to save some scratch.

But it took about three minutes at the Whistlewood Farm in Rhinebeck, New York for me to finally realize that the bed and breakfast is the world’s greatest form of lodging. Please hold your arguments until I lay out mine!

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The size: There are just seven rooms at Whistlewood, which means my host, Maggie, knew who I was the moment I set foot in her home. We’d already spoken on the phone and arrival was like meeting a new friend in person for the first time: a little awkward, but with hope for a fine future.

The freebies: I will not be nickel-and-dimed and I know it. The blueberry crumble pie? Free. The lemon-poppy seed cake? Free. Wireless internet? Free. Tea, coffee, pretty much whatever else? Free. “Make yourself at home” is the request? Oh, thanks, I will!

The farm: There are horses here, roaming their paddocks, playfully inquisitive about visitors. There are chickens running around. A woman in a big straw hat is pruning rose bushes. There are exactly zero “porters,” “valets” or “customer service representatives.”

The countryside: So this one doesn’t go for every B&B but the birds here make a racket. It is hard to stress over an email thread from the office when there are birds chirping and flitting around the back yard, picking up caterpillars to feed their chicks.

The breakfast: Obviously the ultimate consideration. At Whistlewood, the spread is enormous. Eggs from the farm’s own chickens, bacon, sausage, French toast, pancakes, fresh fruits salad, yogurt, English muffins, quick breads and muffins, juice and enough coffee to sate an Italian village. Would you like seconds? Go on, just help yourself.

In sum: The best service, everything’s included and it’s insanely relaxing: Sounds like the world’s best lodging to me. Don’t you think?

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Skip the hotels on your next business trip and stay at a local inn

Once upon a time, I was addicted to travel reward programs. I see it now and laugh, but until seven years ago, I was hooked. I couldn’t let go of my HHonors card, and I lamented that, at the end of 2001, I was one night away from Diamond on Hilton and two away from Platinum on Starwood. Looking back, I see how ludicrous the whole thing is. And it has taken until this week to see how much more attractive the alternative is.

A decade ago, I had a great alternative to traditional hotel stays dropped in my lap, but I was too consumed by points-lust to realize it. I was on a project in central New Jersey and was in Bernardsville for a team dinner. On the street, we ran into a person from another project team on the sidewalk as she was walking into a small inn. She explained to us that she was happy to give up the points – the experience she had at that property was worth it.

We all laughed about her unicorns-and-rainbows perspective as we finished our walk to the restaurant, and for a few years, I found the notion so absurd that it became burned in my memory. That’s why it came back to me Tuesday, as I checked into the Cowpers Inn in Palo Alto.The small bed and breakfast, a few blocks from the conference I was attending, isn’t luxurious, but it’s comfortable and charming. I had plenty of space, a sufficient bed and free internet access. The room didn’t have a desk, which was the only flaw I could find for a frequent business traveler. That didn’t matter much anyway, as I spent little time in the room while in town. Looking back on the stay, I see the cost savings for your company, the charming accommodations and the pleasant management as having enhanced my stay, and I’ll book next year when I attend the same conference.

The greater lesson, however, is that business travelers have options. Rather than become a slave to the loyalty programs, you can assert your independence while enjoying your business trip more. Get out of the chains and into a small B&B the next time you go out on the road, or if you’re in a city, stay at a small independent hotel. They’ll get to know you, and the treatment you receive will be far superior to anything a large hotel can provide.

And if you hit the same destination regularly, that small inn will start to feel like a true home away from home.

San Francisco’s Pelican Inn: A slice of rural England in California

Nothing beats a crisp, cold beer after a long hike through the woods, and in northern San Francisco that can be found at a place called the Pelican Inn. Located at the edge of Muir Beach and adjacent to the Muir Woods National Monument, the Pelican Inn is well positioned among a variety of trail heads and nature preserves to make access easier for the wandering adventure traveler.

More unique than its location, however, is the style of the Pelican Inn. It’s as if someone — some great creature dug its hands deep into the soil of English countryside, pulled up a quaint little inn from a small, cozy town and dropped it back into the earth fifteen miles north of San Francisco. Positioned at the corner of the property and looking towards the sprawling lawn with scattered clumps of visitors, one could easily transport from the sleepy shores of Muir Beach across the Atlantic Ocean and into some distant borough of northern England.

Inside, the Pelican Inn offers a full range of English fare and character, from a wide range of beers and snacks for passers-by to a small dining room and several inn-style hotel rooms for those staying longer.

To get there, take the 101 north out of San Francisco and then the 1, or Shoreline Highway west to Muir Beach.

Rooms start at $190/night. Pelican Inn: 10 Pacific Way, Muir Beach, CA 94965

[image via Erin Drewitz]

NHL All-Star Game travel advice: what to do in Raleigh, NC

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It’s shaping up to be a busy, busy weekend for sports. The NFL’s Pro Bowl is set to take place Sunday night, and a few hours prior, the NHL’s All-Star Game will kick off in North Carolina’s capital city. This weekend will be the first that Raleigh has hosted the All-Star Game, with the Carolina Hurricanes being the host team and their RBC Center being the host facility. Those living here (like me!) will be quick to point out that Raleigh brought home a major national championship before the more populated Charlotte, with the Stanley Cup coming to NC during the 2005 – 2006 season.

The city has been doing an awful lot of planning since it found out it would be this year’s host in April of 2010, including the finalization of RDU’s sophisticated Terminal 2 this past week. We’re still no closer to having a legitimate public transportation system (outside of a few sporadic bus routes), but there’s plenty of southern hospitality to go around for those coming to town. If you’re planning a trip down below the Mason–Dixon Line in order to attend this year’s NHL All-Star Game, read on to discover five can’t-miss places to visit (and eat at) while in Raleigh.

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The Pit. Yes, this is the same Pit featured on Travel Channel’s “Man v. Food,” and if you’re looking for a real taste of the south, you’ll need to grab a reservation here. The vibe is authentic, the “y’alls” are easy to come by, and the food is simply delicious. Don’t be scared to try a few local favorites: fried catfish, cheesy bacon grits, sweet potato fries and fried okra.

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Cook-Out. Don’t bother searching for an official website — there isn’t one. Cook-Out is a mysterious fast food eatery that only has stores in the state of North Carolina, and while the grub itself is delightful, it’s the expansive milkshake menu that’ll have you returning nightly. You’ll find well over 30 options, with each shake costing just $2.19. Feel free to mix and match flavors (Oreo Cheesecake is a popular custom flavor), and grab a “Huge” sweet tea if you want to really know what a southern beverage tastes like. Here’s a secret: order a Cook-Out tray at the Cook-Out on Western Blvd. near NC State’s campus, and you can take home a Cook-Out visor or t-shirt for just $1.99!

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Wolfpack vs. Tar Heels basketball. UNC alums will swear up and down that Duke is their only rival in The Triangle, but if NC State pulls the upset at the Dean Dome this weekend, you’ll never find a more sour group of fans. NC State vs. UNC games are always rowdy, and if you can score a ticket for this Saturday’s matchup (1/29) in Chapel Hill, it’s most certainly worth going to. Just getting inside of the Smith Center is a magical experience for devout college basketball fans.

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Velocity VeloCAB ride. Downtown Raleigh may not be the biggest downtown you’ve ever seen, but it’s still full of life, parks and history. It’ll be chilly in late January, but if you’ve got a beefy coat and a significant other to cuddle up with, a ride in a rickshaw (dubbed a VeloCAB) is a great way to learn about Raleigh from an expert that lives here. And hey, you may just pass by somewhere you’ll want to return to afterwards.

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Second Empire Restaurant and Tavern. If you leave Raleigh without dining here, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice. This restaurant is a Four Diamond award winner, and their menu changes on a regular basis. They go out of their way to procure ingredients from right here in North Carolina, and every single dish is a winner. Head to the tavern if you aren’t looking to dress up, or reserve a table in the main dining room if you bring your formal wear to town.

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Raleigh — along with all of North Carolina — is a fine place to visit, and while there are quite a few hotels to choose from, the out-of-the-box travelers would do themselves a favor by heading up to Durham. There, you’ll find The Arrowhead B&B, a gorgeous inn (circa 1775) ran by two of the nicest, sweetest individuals (Phil and Gloria Teber) you’ll ever meet. The breakfasts you’ll find here are to die for, and if you’re into splurging, the Carolina Log Cabin or Garden Cottage are the ones to book.

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If you’re a local, feel free to add your own must-do suggestions in comments below. For the full schedule of events during the 2011 NHL All-Star weekend, click here. Enjoy NC, y’all!

Veterans thanked with free bed and breakfast stays

If you’ve served your country, there’s a bed and breakfast waiting to serve you.

Many B&Bs already give military discounts of 10 percent to 20 percent, but a Shinnston, West Virginia innkeeper is about to up the ante. Kathleen Panek has gotten more than 525 inns in 48 states (and two in Canada) on board with her plan give rooms away to active and retired service members on November 10, 2010, the night before Veterans Day.

Panek got the idea two years ago, and started with her own inn, Gillum House. Last year, it spread to a total of 10 in West Virginia, and this year, it has obviously surged.

Part of the reason for the success is that Panek has kept her expectations reasonable. USA Today reports:

Since most B&Bs are small, “we only ask inns to give one room,” Panek says, and about 25%-30% of participating establishments – including all those in Georgia, Missouri, Washington and several other states – are already full. But, she adds, “we’re getting new places signing up every day.”

Do you plan to do anything for Veterans Day? Leave a comment, and let us know!

[photo by Beverly & Pack via Flickr]