Typically in consulting, when you begin a project, someone on the team will negotiate a good rate at a local hotel and that’s where the team stays for the duration of the project. If you work for a larger consulting firm and/or in a major city, they probably already have rates negotiated with various hotels in the area – but still, someone on the team will pick a hotel and that’s where everyone stays. If you’re lucky and you’re in a city with good public transportation, you can probably stay at another hotel (as long as it’s the same rate or better – cost is critical); if you’re in a city where driving is the only option, you’ll be sharing rental cars to get to/from the office and dinners, so picking a different hotel is much trickier.
However, as you progress through your career and get to be more senior, you start to be the one that drives the car and chooses where to stay. On my current project, I was thrilled partway through to become the official renter of a second car, since we added more analysts to the project. While I still share the car with some colleagues (lending it to them when they want to go drinking and I want to go home and get room service), it gives me a lot more freedom than if I were sharing a car with someone more senior – I wouldn’t feel as comfortable asking my boss to drop me off at home for dinner when the invite was out there for me to go out to eat. Choosing the hotel probably sounds like a trivial point (I’ll get to that in a bit), but driving the car means getting ultimate decisionmaking authority on where I go for dinner – which, for anyone health-conscious, is critical.
Over the past month or two, I’ve eaten a lot fewer meals out in restaurants and eaten a lot more takeout meals. Takeout vs sitdown probably doesn’t sound like it matters, but eating a meal in a restaurant means multiple courses, the temptation of a bread basket, probably some drinks, and no ability to custom-order things (early in my career, I was once pulled aside by a manager and instructed never to make modifications to my order at a team dinner). In contrast, when I get takeout, I can call and specify my order (asking for things like “no sauce”, “double veggies instead of starch,” or “steamed instead of sauteed”), I can order just one course, and taking it home lets me eat dinner a lot faster and get on with my life (head to the gym, read, get some sleep, etc). My weight has come down a bit in the last month, so I think it’s helping (though of course there are myriad other factors as well, like alcohol-free August). But what would help even more, as just about anyone who knows anything about healthy eating knows, would be cooking at home.
I’ve tried some crazy things in the past in order to cook while I’m on the road (like coffee-pot steamed couscous and grilled fish), in part because I love cooking and really miss it, and in part because of the health factor. However, here is where I get back to the importance of getting to choose your own hotel – some hotels actually have kitchens, making a home-cooked meal a possibility! (Note: I’m not stupid, and I’ve always known that there are extended stay hotels. But when I can’t pick the location, it doesn’t matter – I go where the team goes.)
This week, I’m “hotel hopping” instead of staying at one place all week – trying out a few different suite-style hotels that are supposed to have kitchenettes. Dallas has a lot of options for affordable hotels, so I’m trying several out to see if any of the ones with kitchenettes fit my oh-so-stringent criteria:
a) Must not be loud. I work from the hotel a lot in the evenings, so screaming children running up and down the hallway is not okay.
b) Have decent fitness centers. I’ve learned that no hotel fitness centers ever have rowing machines, so I’ve given up on that, but I want a gym that has a set of free weights that goes up to at least 60 pounds and enough cardio equipment where I won’t have to stand around waiting for other people to finish so I can use it myself. Is that really asking for too much? (Apparently, in some hotels.)
c) Must not be sketchy/dirty. As a solo female traveler, I want to feel safe and comfortable, not wondering if someone in the room next to me has rented by the hour.
d) And, of course, all of this for the same low nightly rate as my usual place.
I found three hotels that seemed from the websites / TripAdvisor reviews that they might fit my criteria, and tried one out last night. It turned out to have a mini fridge (the kind with a compartment for a freezer that doesn’t actually keep your food frozen) and a microwave – but was otherwise a standard hotel room. I guess that’s better than my usual (whose sole “cooking” amenities are a coffeepot and an ice bucket), but I wanted to keep looking. Tonight, though, I think I hit paydirt.
I stopped at Whole Foods on the way home from work, but not knowing what the hotel setup would be, I just picked up some veggies from the salad bar and an Amy’s frozen bowl – since I assumed there would at least be a working microwave. But when I walked into my hotel room, I realized I could have gotten just about anything I wanted at the grocery. You guys, I have a full double door refrigerator! I have silverware and dishes! I have a microwave! I have a cutting board and decent knives! And, most exciting of all, I have a two burner stove and pots and pans! I am so excited to be able to cook while I’m in Dallas that I don’t even know where to begin. Protein pancakes for breakfast? A chopped salad for lunch? Something other than Chinese steamed veggies and protein for dinner? This is making me happier than my (spoiler) sub-4 marathon yesterday! (Race report in progress.)
Now, time to check out the hotel gym here and see if it’s up to par. I am crossing my fingers that I’ve found my new Dallas home!