Ditch the Box Hotels

Hospitality is much more than word today. It has become an industry that runs the danger of becoming too high tech, with too little high touch.

John Hogan

I define a “box hotel” as a place with a bed, two nightstands, a lamp on each stand, a desk, a chair with wheels, a flat screen TV with multiple channels, a bath with a shower, a couple of pictures on the wall depicting the surroundings of the town, city or state. You might have a window. If you are really lucky or a time honored patron, you will have a scenic view. If this is your first time and you are on a budget, you will probably be staring at a brick wall or into someone else’s room.

The lobby of the hotel includes more pictures, fake vases, red carpet, and dark walls and chandeliers. There is usually a bar that charges seven to ten dollars for a glass of wine. Check-in begins in the lobby. You wait five to fifteen minutes to be checked in. You are handed a key, a plastic card that includes all of the information about you, the wifi code, and a parking permit for the garage. The parking is not free. A hotel in one of the big cities will whisk your car away and you have to call to get it back.

Choosing the right hotel is always one of my dilemmas. I don’t want to spend a lot on hotels. I do want a safe place to stay. I have found various alternatives to hotel stays that provide real hospitality. Full breakfast in the morning, private bedroom, shared bath, community rooms for those who want to play games or talk. Bed and Breakfast, private homes shared on Airbnb, and hostels remodeled for retired travelers.

Hospitality should be a “place”, where people can still be exceptional individuals, where they can extend their own personality and style.

John Hogan

Schuster Mansion

I have the privilege of staying in the Schuster Mansion in Milwaukee Wisconsin. I am attending a conference for Women in Travel, WITS. The mansion is an alternative to the “box hotel” recommended by the conference staff. Cheaper, historical, family owned, and a feeling of being welcomed.

The mansion was built in 1891 by George Shuster a tobacco baron. The mansion became an apartment building in 1924. Many of the victorian style homes in the neighborhood are apartment buildings. Rick and Laura Sue, the current owners, bought the mansion in 2008. They have been remodeling it for almost nine years and are not finished yet.

I arrived at the mansion around 3:30 p.m. I rang the doorbell and Laura Sue opened the door. She was dressed from head to toe in victorian attire. A sweeping yellow dress with a white lace apron. I arrived early and she was still entertaining ladies attending High TeaShe serves High Tea three times a week. The ladies partake of several different kinds of pastries and teas. Laura Sue tells them the history of the mansion and how people lived in the Victorian Era. I don’t have a chance to attend any of the teas. I sat down on the sofa in the parlor and waited for her to finish.

She went over all of my information. Gave me four choices for breakfast and handed my key. It was a real key. I am staying in the Prairie Room.

The Prairie  Sky Room

The Prairie  Sky Room is the only single room. This room was the living quarters of three servants in 1891.  The bathroom is shared with the room next to me. I am the only one here four out of the five days. The ceiling is painted blue with clouds. Lace curtains cover the windows. Yellow drapes with blue flowers grace the sides of the windows. There are pictures of victorian women dressed in their pastel petticoats, blue, pink, and yellow. Most of the pictures in the house are of Rick and Laura Sue’s ancestors and childhood pictures of themselves. Creaky wooden floors, a blue floral ceramic water pitcher sits on the side table. Two old fashioned porcelain lamps with iron pedestals positioned on the other side tables. A TV is provided in the room with access to multiple channels. There is no desk in the room. I have to go to the parlor to use my computer. The bed was very comfortable, not too hard, not too soft.

Various decorations in the Prairie Sky Room

There is a total of six bedrooms, some of them suites with a sunroom, in the mansion. Rick and Laura Sue live in the Ballroom which is not yet completely remodeled. Much of the furniture in the mansion was donated by friends and guests or bought at garage and estate sales. French doors open from the front room into the parlor. In the parlor, a blue floral upholstered sofa and embroidered chair are accompanied by crystal candle holders, two ticking clocks, an old cast iron typewriter, various colored glass vases sitting on a shelf. The sun shines in to bring out the bright colors of blue, green, lavender, red and orange.

The experience of staying in the mansion for four days was like staying at my grandma’s house. Not that my grandma lived in a mansion, the feeling is like someone really cares about hospitality. A glass of Riesling was $2. Not bad. The long breakfast table was set with white old-fashioned laced tablecloths, freshly pressed cloth napkins, flowers, and tall thin white candles. Guests can schedule breakfast anytime between 7:00-10:00. Breakfast is served fresh to each guest. If you want to eat at 9:00, your breakfast will be made right before you sit down. You can even have it served to your room. I ate at 7:30 every morning and always had someone to talk with. It’s a great set up if you are traveling alone and don’t like eating alone. Like me!

I feel it is very important to support the entrepreneurs who put so much time and effort into these private “hotels”.

Nahargarh Haveli

Planning a trip to a country you have never visited before can be a little scary. Sometimes we have to take calculated risks. Reserving hotel rooms requires research. Thanks to the many travel sites, we can find information from previous travelers. Does the hotel offer wifi? Is there a restaurant on the premises? Is there public transportation nearby? Is it safe? How many stars does it have? We can look at pictures that other travelers have posted. What is the “star” rating? What is the price?

Planning a trip to Jaipur, India? Skip the box hotels. Skip the tourist magnet hotels. You will be impressed by the beauty and the incredible cleanliness inside these hotels built for tourists and very rich locals. You will not experience the “real” culture. I stayed at the hotel Nahargarh Haveli .

Nahargarh Haveli is a privately owned hotel. It is located in a very quiet residential neighborhood closed off by gates. The only people allowed in are the guests and the residents. Our room is a room with two double beds. We reserved the room for two beds. We arrive at the room and find what we think is a queen bed. We ask the front desk for a room with double beds. He goes into the room and separates the queen bed into two double beds. What a concept! The beds in every country around the world are much smaller than the beds in US hotels. There is a private shower, TV, wifi access, and a coffee maker. The ceiling of the bedrooms, lobby and breakfast room were colorfully decorated in green, yellow, blue, and orange.

The breakfast was a buffet. This buffet included eggs, cheese, yogurt, meats, cereal, made to order omelets, an assortment of juices and bread. I often wonder what visitors think when they wake up in the morning at an expensive hotel in the USA and find there is no “free” breakfast. I have traveled to Spain, Portugal, and India and the breakfast is always free. It is a very big spread. You can eat breakfast and lunch. They have signs posted “Do not take food out of the restaurant.” I have witnessed some Americans stuff food into their backpacks and purses before leaving the breakfast room. It must be a great way to save money.

Nahargarh Haveli has a restaurant on the third floor. We arrive at the hotel tired and hungry. We are too early to order dinner. The waiter told us that we could order snacks. He presented the snack menu to us and were pleasantly surprised that it included smaller portions of the dinner menu. We order rice, a potato dish, and a curry dish. I liked the food in India. I can’t tell you the names of the food I ate because I didn’t understand the language. Most Indian food includes potatoes, red chiles, cheese and green chilis. The majority of Indians are Hindus and don’t eat any kind of meat.

We eat dinner on the outdoor patio overlooking the neighborhood. It is very peaceful. A very big change from driving through traffic and avoiding hitting people walking everywhere in the streets. A six-year-old boy is riding his red bicycle down the street while his older sister is chasing after him. I don’t understand what she is saying. Maybe “Get off my bike”. A four-year-old girl is running around the patio. We are told she is the daughter of the man and woman in the kitchen cooking. Very family oriented. We finish our “snack” and return to our rooms.

The total cost of this hotel is $25 per night. No, I am not joking. I recommend this hotel to anyone who is traveling to Jaipur, India.

Ditch the box hotels! Support the entrepreneurs around the world.

I want to see a world in which every entrepreneur has access to the resources he or she needs to succeed, and where through the power of supportive communities – that means you and me – every resource can be made available.
Jessica Jackley

























An Old Friend, A New Culture: Delhi India

One of my main purposes for traveling to India is to visit a very good friend. I met Hiroko in Battle Creek, Michigan. She was a student in my ESL class. Hiroko is one of the most adventurous persons I know. We traveled to Chicago many times by train to shop and sight see. Hiroko’s husband was transferred to Delhi, India almost seven years ago. My husband became sick and we were not able to visit. Unfortunately, my husband passed away two years ago. I decided it was time to go to India and see Hiroko.

Travel by rickshaw

Rickshaws are a very useful source of transportation in India. They don’t require fuel, are easy to repair, and are cheap to maintain. The investment is attainable. Bicycle rickshaws are a very cheap way for everyone to get around. They transport food, hay, bricks, heavy boxes, and people. School children ride bicycle rickshaws to and from school instead of school buses.  Rickshaws can cram up to 8 children at one time.

Rickshaws lined up and waiting for customers

My friend, Hiroko, and I decide to climb into one after negotiating the price. There really isn’t a lot of room for negotiation as a foreigner. The price starts high and is only reduced a few rupees. We climb into the small cabin. Everything is so much smaller when you are tall and not very thin. Hiroko holds out the palm of her hand and draws a circle with her finger indicating that we want to go around the local market area. We don’t speak Hindi and the driver doesn’t speak English. The driver is in his forties and probably weighs no more than 150 lbs. The weather is warm and I can see beads of sweat running down his face and neck as he peddles through the narrow streets lined with vendors.  We hit a few potholes and bumps on the way. The padded seats don’t seem to help the impact. It is a good thing that I have a naturally padded rear end. The driver is getting tired and looks frustrated. I feel sorry for him. He can’t figure out where we want to go.  He stops every five minutes and asks the question “Where is the entrance to the market?” No one knows the answer. Fifteen minutes have passed. We are lost.

He stops, descends from the bike, and summons a man who has a very good command of English. He asks us “Where do you ladies want to go?” Hiroko tells him that we want to go to the front of the market. He relays the information to the driver and gives him directions. He seems to understand and off we go. The destination was right around the corner.

This is not a place where foreigners/tourists come. There are no museums, famous temples, shopping malls, or supermarkets. These streets belong to the people and their stalls that sell fruit, vegetables, food cooked in front of you, and clothing. These people are hard working and want to you to purchase their items.

Fruit and vegetable stall

Everyday Life

We stop at a samosa stall. A man and his young son of about 12 years old welcome us into his stall. His son greets us with a “hello” and shyly smiles. We sit down on two white plastic buckets. He serves us each a  deep fried samosa filled with potatoes. I ignore all of the advice given to me about not eating street food. It is just too tempting.  We dip our samosas into a green chile salsa. I tell him that these are the best samosas. He smiles. We pay for our purchase and thank him. I hope we made him happy.

Man and his young son at the samosa stall

As we are walking down the street I notice this woman standing in the heat holding an iron.  She stands on her feet for about 8-9 hours a day. She irons clothing that the people in the neighborhood bring to her. The iron weighs about four pounds and is very hot.

The ironing lady

We stop at another stall. A man is making sugar cane juice. He is older, maybe in his late 60s. We watch the sugarcane stalks go through the grinder as the juice comes out of the other end of the machine. He smiles and I urge my friend to stop. We buy some juice and drink it. It is very sweet. I only hope that today’s food doesn’t come back to haunt me tonight in my sleep.

Sugar cane juice stand

We decide to take a ride on a tuk-tuk to the local supermarket.


Supermarkets are not as popular with the common people as the local stalls. Supermarkets are expensive and the vegetables are not as fresh. Not everyone is allowed in the supermarket. Many of the locals are kept out. Our bags are checked at security. Men and women are lead in separate directions.  The women enter a small enclosure and the curtains are drawn. The security guard who is a woman proceeds to slide her wand all around me. I pick up my backpack and proceed into the supermarket. It is about one-third of the size of our monster supermarkets.

There are no “street” people, fixed prices, and not many customers. I wander through the store and find Kellogg products, Heinz tomato sauce, and Nestle instant and condensed milk. The prices are about triple the prices at the stall. Hiroko prefers to buy her vegetables at the local stall because of the freshness. We decide to invest in three small boxes of mango juice. We are checked out by not one cashier, but three cashiers. Not a single woman is working in the store.


Foreigners are not allowed to drive in India. They must employ “drivers”. Hiroko and her husband both have drivers who take them where they need to go. Hiroko’s husband uses his driver to go back and forth to work every morning. Hiroko keeps her driver very busy. She is always on the run. Vinod is our driver. He greets us with “Namaste” as we exit the apartment complex. We climb into the car and Hiroko begins giving directions. Vinod has a very limited command of English and Hiroko speaks Japanese. He has been her driver for almost 6 years. They have their way of working out the language differences. We are on our way to the center of Delhi.

The traffic moves very slowly. There are almost no working traffic lights nor stop signs. People drive defensively honking their horns and almost never using their turn signals. Vinod is a very careful driver. He has a knack for squeezing in front of others without hitting them. The traffic makes me nervous. I decide to focus on the people around me. We aren’t going anywhere. Women with babies and small children sit on the back of motorcycles driven by their spouses or other male members of the family. Most of the time women sit sideways. Some are wearing helmets, but the majority are not. Women don’t drive in Delhi. Vinod told us he doesn’t let his wife drive. I can understand. I wouldn’t want to drive here either. It reminds me of driving bumper cars at the state fair.

Six to eight elementary school girls wearing their green plaid uniforms and green sweaters pile into a bicycle rickshaw. The girls are giggling and catch a glimpse of us in the car. They start waving frantically and yelling “hello, hello”. I roll down the window and they all shout “What’s your name? What’s your name?” I yell above the noise of the cars and busses, “Carol”. I make the mistake of asking “What’s your name?” because 8 different names come flying in my direction. I didn’t catch a single one. Our car finally inches up and before I can take a picture of the girls a van pulls up and blocks my view. The girls are gone.

The van passes us and behind him is another rickshaw. This one has seven males in their twenties. They catch my eye and began to send me hand signals. One asks me if I want to meet his friend. I throw up my left hand and point to my wedding ring. They laugh and wave goodbye. Friendly banter in the middle of traffic going nowhere anytime soon.

First Tourist Stop

Forty-five minutes later we arrive at Qutb Minor, a 73 m-high tower of victory, built in 1193 by Qutb-ud-din Aibak. This is one of the must-see monuments in Delhi. Foreigners/tourists are charged three times the price as locals. Hiroko is considered a local. She carries a document stating that she lives in Delhi. We don’t have a guide. Other foreigners have formed a line behind us. Many of them accompanied by a private guide they have hired to shuttle them around all day. Guides are a very helpful for tourists in India. They provide valuable historical information, recommend restaurants, and protection when necessary.

Groups of Indian elementary school children dressed in their gray pants and navy blue vests are trying their best to stand in line.   Their teachers are telling them in English, “Line up here”. They proceed into the park in single line formation following their teachers. Elementary schools in India have both coeducational and segregated classes. Some of them pass by and sneak a smile and a few giggles when they see the foreigners watching them and taking their pictures. I wonder what they think about us.

School children waiting to enter the Qutb monument park

We take pictures, read the guidebook, and walk around. Every time I turn a corner, there is a young Indian couple stealing kisses and embracing. Showing signs of affection in public is not acceptable. Young people take advantage of theaters, museums, and national monuments to show their feelings for each other.

Qutb Minar

Qutb Minar


We stop at the market on the way home to pick up some things for dinner. The market has stalls of vegetables, dry goods, pharmaceuticals, dried fruits, nuts, and clothing. Hiroko has her preferred vegetable stall. We quickly pass by all of the others who are trying to hawk their products. Hiroko walks into her vegetable stall and everyone greets her with “Namaste”. She goes about picking her vegetables. She is being closely followed by one of the workers who is holding a small plastic container with small holes.

Hiroko chooses a vegetable and he places it in the container. He tries to get her to buy mangoes, she says no. There are gooseberries, grapes, cauliflower, ginger, bananas, and cabbage. He hands the plastic container of vegetables to another man who weighs it. The tally is done by hand with pencil and paper. The next man gives Hiroko the total. She haggles for a little less and is successful. She pays with her debit card.  We leave the bag with them and proceed to the next stall.

There are no women shopping nor working in the stalls. The men lie around, drink tea, and talk to each other. I walk through the stalls observing the colorful clothing and the various choices of nuts and dried fruits. Peanuts, walnuts, almonds, dates, apricots, and apples.

Vegetable shop

Vegetable stall

This was the first day of my visit to Delhi, India. Please read Part 2.