backpacking… upgraded

Great hotel find in Scottsdale, Arizona

Frequent Flashpacker Nicole sent this great find to me – the Scottsdale Mondarian Hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona.  Not only is this place sleek and alluring in a way I didn’t know American Hotels outside of NYC or LA could be, it’s a great deal! Nicole found daily rates of $135 for weekends in June. 


I’ve never considered going to Scottsdale, so I had to check out Trip Advisor for things to do out there (the only things I associate Scottsdale with are golf and spas). 

Apparently, Frank Lloyd Wright‘s winter retreat and studio is in Scottdsale.  Number 6 on trip advisor’s popularity list is the Buffalo Museum of America.  Complete with diorama.  Well, there’s always Phoenix right next store…


In all seriousness, though, the shopping and eating in Scottsdale get rave reviews.  Combine that with an affordable and stylish place to stay, this could make a great weekend getaway that’s focused on relaxing and reconnecting. 

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Two Hotels in NYC under $200

Another reader request – we’ve got a flashpacker headed to NYC and I’m here to make sure you get the best hotel value.

Here’s my two recs:

1. Hotel QT – Right in Times Square, Tablet Hotels lists the style as “cutting edge” and the atmosphere “happening”…. “expect young arts and media types, up and coming musicians, and anyone else with Mercer style and a Holiday Inn budget.” Yep, that’s us! I think… Hold on a minute while I look up mercer style…

Anyway, Hotel QT comes in right under $200 but has rooms that sleep up to four, bunkbed-style. Hey, at least it’s a stylish too-close-for-comfort option…

2. 60 Thompson – Alright, this hotel loses major cool points for taking itself too seriously. Like, way-over-the-top too seriously. From their “Manifesto:”  “Who are our guests? bohemian chic meets art house wise meets quiet radical elegance…good looking revolutionaries.” Despite that hooey you can still find some excellent deals on rooms, and it is nice place to stay in SoHo. Note: most rooms are more than $200, but under $200 is findable – keep your eyes peeled.

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Rating the “Best of” Hotel Lists… Now FPA (FlashPacker Approved)

I just read Travel + Leisure’s 500 Best Hotels list. Wow, bore me snore me much…

Why bother to make a list of Mandarin-Sofitel-Raffles-blah-blah-blah? They’re expensive and the brands are recognized around the world, so why would we need a travel magazine to tell us to go there?

I’ve at least been in the lobbies of a lot of these hotels and I can say without a doubt that I would have missed out on even a whiff of the “real” had I stayed there. Stay at the Four Seasons instead of The Cocker in Buenos Aires? Stay in the Raffles instead of The Pavilion in Phnom Penh? Really, why bother to travel all that way – I’m sure there’s a Ritz closer by.

So, to beat the boring blah blahs, I’m making a list and I’d love you all to contribute. The best of the ‘best of’ lists…

On the hot list for 2007...Oman!1. Condé Nast’s Hot List – Hotels, restaurants and nightspots! You can plan your flashpacking with just this site. Some incredibly pricey hotels but also some real steals. Even the pricey ones still have character and are fun to look at even if you can’t touch. (This list clued me into the Cocker, which Ben and I can’t shut up about, but it was that good…) If you want to avoid temptation, quickly click on the “under $200 a night” link and you’ll never know what you couldn’t afford…

2. Tablet10 Lists – I’m only ranking them lower than Condé Nast because there’s less volume on the “best value” list. Again, lots of stuff out of my reach but not a Mandarin to be had!

3. Hot Hotel Reviews - OK, it’s more of a publication, but it pretty much reads like a super-long list. It’s got some of the most whacked-out options of anyone. I can’t resist, I love this kind of stuff. I can’t wait to post some of the hotels on here… I mean, they actually found a place at which I’d be stoked about staying in Azerbaijan…

4. Lonely Planet Bluelist – The bluelists on the Lonely Planet site are lists that travelers contribute, so they cover everything one can imagine (best places for a mugging, best curry sausage in Berlin, etc). You can try putting in key words like “best hotels in __” and pull up some very, very interesting stuff.

OK, those are my favorites. Your turn…

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The minimalist in Mexico

If you can’t afford a villa à la my previous post, consider shacking up at one of these places. [Go minimalist in this post or go rustic here…]

The minimalist: La Purificadora in Puebla – Between $150 – 190 per night.

The town of Puebla used to be called La Puebla de los Ángeles, or the Village of the Angels, and the historic center is a UNESCO site (if you read this blog regularly you’ll know that I love a good UNESCO site). The hotel is actually built off of a wall dating back to 1844.

If you happen to have a weird thing for hotel architecture you can check it out at Architectural Record.

Even more minimalist: Basico in Quintana Roo, starting at $125 during the low season. It’s just one block from the beach, but word is still out on whether or not there are any shades on those windows…

The nutty-for-the-details peeps at Architectural Record had this to say:

“In his approach to materials and furnishings, Galván explored the country’s complicated relationship with oil, which was a major part of the nation’s economy during the 20th century. Rubber, recalling both automobiles as well as the ancient Olmec culture, also populates the space often in unexpected ways. For instance, black and white curtains, made of latex, hang in the lobby, while tires hang on the walls of the guest rooms like decorative art pieces. On the rooftop patio, Galvan converted two large oil tanks into soaking tubs and, nearby, guests may lounge in cabanas fashioned from old truck cabs.

Other, more whimsical, Mexican cultural references infuse the space. Drawers underneath the guest beds contain objects such as autographed soccer balls, while the reception desk doubles as a juguería (juice bar) by day and a cocktail bar by night. The entrance and lobby area resembles a market, while the guestrooms feel more industrial in nature thanks to exposed plumbing and concrete walls. Guests ascend to their rooms, which are located on the hotel’s second and third floors, by way of the freight elevator or a scaffold-like wooden stair.”

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Rustic and luxe in Mexico

If you can’t afford a villa à la my last post, consider shacking up at one of these places.

The Rustic: Casa Santana in Merida – This place got rave reviews on trip advisor (and I quote… “I didn’t really want to write a review because I want to keep Casa Santana all to myself, but better angels have prevailed upon me to do the right thing. Casa Santana is a magical, wonderful place. Behind a plain facade is a unique, well decorated, relaxing oasis….” Really, everybody just kept gushing). Rooms are around $100 per night.

More luxe than rustic (but it’s still part of an old building so I’m going to count it): Hacienda Puerta Campeche. A little pricier (around $230), but it’s definitely worth a splurge in order to take this plunge…

The pool is actually flowing through a row of old colonial houses! (Which technically means it’s not a hacienda, but we’ll let them off the hook for having such a cool idea.) And then, just because they can, they throw a few hammocks around.

Travel + Leisure also highlighted the Hacienda in its list of 50 romantic places throughout the world.

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Buenos Aires: Luxury on a Budget

Buenos Aires is one of the world’s great cities, and after a period of economic turmoil in Argentina, it’s ascendant again. Whit and I spent the final week of our November honeymoon shuttling between BA landmarks, taking in as many diverse cultural, social, and comestible offerings as possible.

The sprawling capital city comprises 13 million people that inhabit dozens of barrios, each of which lends its own distinct flavor to the city’s palette. We stationed ourselves for a couple nights each in Palermo, Recoleta, and San Telmo, and set about exploring the city each day. It was in San Telmo where we found one of BA’s loveliest surprises: a boutique hotel called the Cocker.

Whit initially read about the Cocker in a Condé Nast article; apparently other people read it, too. To our great fortune and complete surprise, we were able to book one of their five suites for consecutive nights only a month before our arrival. It’s a good thing, too, because at the time it was their last remaining availability until May of 2008!

Arriving at the Cocker in the middle of a weekday afternoon, we rang the bell and were soon greeted by Ian, one of the British-expat owners, and Rocco, the faithful, black cocker spaniel for whom the hotel is named. Ian and his partner, Aidan, restored the building from near-total decrepitude a few years ago. The renovation coincided with and contributed to the renaissance of the barrio San Telmo, which has become one of BA’s hottest spots in a short span of time. When you hear people referring to the vibrant tango scene in Buenos Aires, they’re talking about San Telmo.

Our hosts immediately made us feel welcome: Rocco with his hyperkinetic little tail, and Ian by gamely lugging my 400-lb. suitcase up two dozen marble steps with a smile on his face to spite the hernia in his back.

suite 17-04

Our suite was long and open, with a cozy double bed nestled at one end and a large “conversation pit” lined with furs and pillows at the other. The expanse of off-white walls was only occasionally interrupted by well-chosen artwork and orchid blooms that spilled over their vase. I must admit I spent the first few minutes in the suite falling repeatedly into the conversation pit, which was rather like being tackled by the world’s largest and gentlest stuffed animal.

After we’d spent a few moments settling into our suite, Ian gave us a tour of the place. Five elegant suites are split among three floors, which gives a greater sense of privacy than you find at other hotels. The terrace level features two stylish suites situated amid a gorgeous, verdant outdoor garden (one of the suites has a private garden as well). You’ll find no better place to relax than here, staring out above the humming city. But before you get comfortable, make sure to find out what time the automatic sprinklers come on…

salonOn the ground floor there is a salon with a grand piano and books stacked higher than you can reach, as well as the dining area where fresh fruit, croissants, coffee, and juices are laid out each morning. After showing us around, Ian sat us down with a hand-drawn map of San Telmo, which was marked with a few recommended restaurants and activities, and rattled off a list of his favorite Argentine wines to try to find.

Whitney remarked that staying at the Cocker was like crashing at your incredibly stylish friends’ house. She nailed it. We were a trifle sad to leave after the second night, but if we had stayed any longer we might never have left. Rooms at the Cocker range from US$80 to $105 per night, which might be worth it for a tumble in the conversation pit alone.

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