The latest wave of lodging standouts, where the most coveted amenity is connection — to locals, nature, technology, culture, and even other travelers — include a staggering array of new ways to sleep away from home. Here are some recommendations, tips and strategies for navigating the evolving lodging landscape:
Boutique Hotels: Join the party
For travelers who yearn to blend in and feel less like, well, hotel guests, today’s boutique hotels often double as community gathering spaces with club chairs, charging stations, and fast and free Wi-Fi. Such hotels in New York and North Carolina have locals who are actually making stuff there, which gives it an authentic feeling as of not an observer but as a part of that energy.
Best for: Folks who like the center of the action.
Glamping: Live with nature, in comfort
With roots in nomadic yurts and gypsy caravans, 'glamping' is camping without the gear, hassle, and aching back from sleeping on the ground. Recently, the term has become a popularized catchall – from tricked-out tree houses to a collection of safari-like tents in backcountry. Hike, canoe, ride horses by day, and sip cocktails around a fire by night somewhere between a tree house and a wooden boat in Vancouver Island’s coastal rain forest that has little to distract besides the neighboring cedars, spruce, and balsam fir trees.
Best for: Nature enthusiasts without the gear, time, or patience necessary to make camp.
Peer-to-peer lodging: Live with (charming) strangers
When struggling to make rent, find lofts (nowadays, a successful scheme) that range from pullout couches to historic castles and solar-paneled spaces like the Off-grid House, in Pioneer town, California, to share with some out-of-towners to crash in together.
Best for: Extroverts who crave a local link as well as introverts who steer clear of bed-and-breakfasts.
Multigenerational travel: Bring the family, not the stress
For multigenerational vacations, personalized with amenities and family essentials—whether it is a high chair, a pediatrician, or restaurant recommendations for picky eaters, a new crop of niche has it all in Barbados.
Best for: Those pressed for time but not money.
Budget stays: Reconsider the hostel
Forget the seamy digs you knew as a broke backpacker in Southeast Asia. A no-frills, new-wave hostels model of shared rooms and baths in revitalized neighborhoods in cities such as Detroit, Cleveland, and Austin are cleaner and pricier, yet, cheaper than daily parking in big cities to appeal to a wider audience.
Best for: Low-maintenance, adventurous types.
All-inclusive resorts: Class up your vacation
Once content to largely ignore local culture, more resorts are introducing activities designed to immerse guests in their surroundings. Raising chickens and learning the two-step could be courses at a Texas community center, but they are also among the most popular offerings in Austin (think ukulele lessons and lei-making). Or be part of Huichol Indian sunset ritual, Spanish lessons, and lectures on cultural topics like mole sauce in Mexico.
Best for: Rig'n'Roll lovers who like to learn a bit, too.
Hotel gadgets: Tech yourself out
Mid-century Americans used to check into hotels to give air-conditioning and color TV a whirl, before they became household staples. Travelers still look to hotels to test-drive technology, and hotels in San Francisco appeal to digital natives — from the cool to the curious. New York City hotels let guests check in on touch-screen kiosks and control room temperature, television, window blinds, and lighting with the swipe of a 'Moodpad' tablet while its futuristic hotel features a Jetsons-like robotic luggage handler and a motorized bed that expands with the touch of a button.
Best for: Early adopters and gadget freaks.
Night at the museum: Be an exhibitionist
Why let kids have all the slumber party fun? Last summer, New York’s American Museum of Natural History hosted an adults-only sleepover—complete with three-course dinner and curator presentation—in a spin-off of its hugely popular Night at the Museum series for kids; a sequel is planned for 2015. Meanwhile, more museums are rolling out the sleeping bags, The Rubin Museum in New York hosts a 'dream-over' each May; last year’s participants slept next to a piece of art selected for them and, the next morning, had their dreams interpreted.
Best for: Science and art nuts who fantasize about cuddling up to their favorite exhibits.