No matter how they travel, or where they go, or if it’s shoestring, luxury, or anything in between, all travelers have one thing in common: we need a place to rest our heads (most) every night.
Depending on the day, we fall into different travel categories (backpackers, flashpackers, digital nomads, etc). Our good friend Danae coined the term “glam-packing” for us; it’s pretty accurate. From a handful of budget dorm rooms to one 5-star resort, we’ve experienced the gamut since, not to mention many nights on (questionable at best) trains and busses. Throughout the trip we’ve used pretty much every booking technique under the sun to find a place: the sporadic arrival and chase down, a host of hostel/hotel booking sites, and our all time favorite (but not great in every country) Airbnb.
Here’s the good, the bad, the “shouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole”, and the fancy (yeah, sometimes we fancy).
My five favorite places we’ve stayed over the last 13 months:
(All pictures are from our Instagram feeds, and were taken either from the properties, or within a short walk of the property)
1. The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel — Mumbai, India (go big or go home)
A night at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel is like a night in a 5 star museum. Behind every beautifully crafted door lies an event or character straight out of the technicolored history of Bombay. The Taj is so storied that it even hosts a historical tour for guests. It’s rumored that the prolific Bombay industrialist Jamesdji Tata was refused entry to the Watson’s Hotel—one of the city’s grand old dames—due to his dark skin, and set out to build the world’s greatest hotel. We feel he accomplished his goal; the hotel is a living legacy to his passion for luxury and customer service.
The staff at the Taj Mahal Palace (and you do want to stay in the Palace and not the Tower) anticipate your every desire and go above and beyond to deliver. We casually asked our butler (a standard service with Palace rooms) about the Ganpati Jayanti festivities happening around the city, and he came back with photos and printouts and set us up for one of our most fun days in India.
The Taj has outgrown its status as one of the world’s leading luxury hotels to become a quintessential standalone Indian experience, worth every rupee and more.
The only bad thing was: We had to press a button to call our 24/7 butler. I would have preferred to ring a bell. Technology sucks.
2. Casita Noche — Playa Samara, Costa Rica
Where it all started. A house, a view, a beach, a pool, and a BBQ, what else could you possibly need? Not a damn thing.
Casita Noche in Playa Samara was our little slice of paradise that to this day still gives us goosebumps to think about. The town of Samara is a perfect mix of remote and connected, full of locals and loving ex-pats, and has a great chilled out Pacific beach vibe. Simply, it’s a perfect beach getaway. It doesn’t hurt that it was the first stop on our trip, that we splurged a little (wanting to start the trip with a vacation rather than travel), or that it’s where we got engaged.
On top of all the great tangible qualities and amenities at our disposal, Casita Noche had the x-factor: the owners are two of the kindest and most helpful people we’ve met. Bill and Donna went above and beyond to make us feel at home and treated us like part of their family. Bill even helped me plan the moment, location, and details of my proposal to Natalie (on the fly I might add, I blindsided him with that one, her too).
We love this place so much that we already have plans to return as often as possible in the future. Playa Samara will be where we teach our kids to swim in the ocean.
The only bad thing was: we only stayed a month.
3. Casa Nuestra B&B — Lima, Peru
Another place with the host x-factor, Casa Nuestra is a 4 bedroom B&B owned, operated, and lived in by the amazing and talented Francesco and Carmen.
Located in the hip and happening bohemian neighborhood of Barranco, Casa Nuestra has been a dream and passion of it owners for many years. Francesco and Carmen have been renovating their home into a small but beautifully accented B&B, with furnishings and touches from all over Peru that highlight the country they live in and love.
Very close to the border of Mira Flores, Casa Nuestra is the perfect location to explore all that Lima has to offer. Carmen and Francesco went way out of their way to make sure we were hitting all the right spots and getting a local experience. They helped book reservations around town, suggested many different areas we should explore, took us out to lunch, hung out with us at coffee shops, all while holding down their own jobs and running the B&B. Amazing and inspiring.
We loved Casa Nuestra so much that we left for about 4 weeks to explore Peru and came back to stay with them some more at the end of our trip.
The only bad thing was: you couldn’t cuddle with their hairless Peruvian dog, because he might bite your head off (sensitive skin).
4. Our Apartment in Garbatella — Rome, Italy
We spent 10 days in Rome, our first stop in Europe. We were super excited to explore all that Rome had to offer and hit the streets hard. After a few days of pounding the Roman pavement, it dawned on us that our perfectly situated Roman apartment in the quite and tourist-free neighborhood of Garbatella was really where we wanted to spend our time.
Originally planned as a garden suburb for the working class during the days of Fascism, Garbatella is a hidden gem. Our apartment was stylized and well put together with beautiful accents, furniture, and a compact but smart layout. A storybook Roman piazza located just a few steps from our door became the new center of our universe. The butcher, the baker, and the cappuccino maker became our new best friends. The scene was local, busy, and authentic: Roman youth playing and flirting; the local gelateria was always bumping, and the throw-back “ma and pa” trattorias added authentic and romantic atmosphere that the more touristic areas of Rome could only wish for.
The only bad thing was: public transportation was a 20 minute walk away, but that gave us plenty of time to stop for a cappuccino, and enjoy a nice walk.
5. Our Apartment on Copacabana Beach — Rio, Brazil
A city of over 14 million people and a culture that revolves completely around sunbathing, surfing, and taking it easy beach-side, Rio might be the largest beach “town” on the planet. Rio has its share of developing city problems (you can read about them here and here) but beach life in Rio is some of the best on Earth.
We knew that we wanted to be close to the action, the action being the beach. As you can imagine, beachfront property in this beautiful city does not come cheap. Luckily Natalie’s siblings (Nick and Josie) decide to take a break from the real world and join us for a little vacation of their own. With our combined resources we ponied up for a beautiful 2 bedroom apartment on Avenida Atlantica with a stunning view of Copacabana Beach.
It had perfect beach vibe decor, huge windows, beautiful hardwood floors, and even a sun drenched hammock in the living room. Every day we would wake up, open the windows and gaze out into the Atlantic Ocean while we brewed some local Brazilian coffee and prepared for a glorious day beach-side.
The only bad thing was: thinking about booking this place for the World Cup? Think again the price just shot up to almost a grand a night.