On the rare occasion that I stay in a 5 star hotel (never with my own money, I hasten to add), I feel a strange mixture of things that contradict each other. On the one hand, I definitely enjoy the luxury. Taking a bubble bath in a huge tub, putting on a fluffy dressing gown, and then reclining back in bed is an immense, intense pleasure. I mean, that’s a nice thing, right? And why shouldn’t I enjoy it if I have the opportunity?

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A stunning hotel complex by Sunland Group

Now that is the question. Because actually I do feel guilty about it. To clarify, I have never been the sort of person that feels guilt around pleasure seeking (I think we should all have as much fun as we can) but I do feel guilt when that pleasure involves “luxury”. I am just uncomfortable with the luxury tag in general, really. When I experience it, I feel as though I am undeserving of it. And actually, I think that feeling is really legitimate. What does make me deserve that 5 star hotel experience more than anyone else? What gives me the privilege of having my toilet scrubbed, my bed made, and rose petals scattered on my pillow?

When you travel, if there is one thing that you learn, it’s that you are ordinary. You are not special. You are no better than anybody else. You appreciate difference, yes. But not difference that exists within a hierarchy. So to have that kind of gold star treatment makes me feel really great and then really icky inside. Perhaps I get this feeling because I never actually pay for the privilege of staying in a 5 star hotel and I know that I am essentially an intruder in a shiny, perfect world that doesn’t belong to me. When I am served breakfast in the hotel lounge by somebody who knows all of the right things to say and does their job extremely well, I am usually thinking about my days as a waiter and bartender and how there is essentially no difference between the two of us while simultaneously recognizing the hierarchy within the confines of the hotel that dictates a difference between us after all.

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Raffles Hotel, Singapore by William Cho

If that hierarchy didn’t exist, the hotel would not be a luxury hotel at all. And I guess that’s my problem with the whole thing. If you believe that you are not better than the people around you, if you feel that getting your toilet scrubbed is just a little bit strange, then the concept of luxury just can’t really work for you.

And I know that hotels provide jobs. I know that the person scrubbing my toilet gets paid for it, and I guess on some level that is a good thing. But just as I know that McDonalds provides thousands and thousands of jobs all around the world, I still know that it is basically a bad institution and not a good force in the world. Similarly, I know that a luxury hotel mostly serves to emphasise a gap between rich and poor and that’s just not a great thing even if it provides people with jobs. People with money can (and do) spend their money on whatever they please, but if you believe that most riches are unmerited or simply unimportant (like I do) then playing into the idea of luxury travel can’t help but be problematic.

Beyond all of that stuff that’s kind of difficult for me to negotiate internally, there is also the fact that while experiencing luxury can be thrilling, it also paints the world in a very peculiar way. The world of perfectly ironed sheets and mint chocolates on your pillow covers up all of those night time ejaculations, sweat stains, and skid marks on the toilet bowl that happen day after day within the hotel. While sometimes I find it hard to resist the allure of luxury, I think I would still rather live in “the real world” of hard work, full throttle fun, and nighttime ejaculations. I would still rather experience a genuine smile from making somebody laugh than “service with a smile”.

Have you stayed in luxury hotels? How do they make you feel?

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