Where the hotel is the experience


“You don’t have infinite money. Spend it on the stuff that research says makes you happy.”

So starts an article in Fast Company this month, explaining that there’s a science behind prioritizing experiences over things: it has been shown to bring more happiness.

I think that’s why I can’t help but keep planning travel. If you were to ask me about my most treasured experiences from the past year, so many are moments from a vacation away. I think about diving into the Meditteranean or eating fresh fish over the rocks. I think of driving through the Pacific Northwest (even though long drives with the baby were anxiety-ridden) and watching the sun rise over the strip in Las Vegas.


A big cost on vacation is lodging, so what if the hotel were the destination—the experience—as much as the location itself? Of course the two go hand-in-hand, but instead of figuring out where to go and then looking for a place to stay, what if I went about it the other way around? Let’s engage in bit of harmless wanderlust.

You might recall: I’m partnering with Visa and have been getting familiar with the perks of using the Visa Signature Luxury Hotel Collection website—where everyone is guaranteed VIP Status; a best-available rate guarantee; complimentary continental breakfast; $25 food or beverage credit; and complimentary Wi-Fi,  late check-out, and an automatic room upgrade, when available. It only made sense to start there.


I came up with a list of experiences—a meditation retreat, cooking lessons, days spent diving underwater—and used the site’s search to narrow a selection to some extraordinary, experiential hotels (that are still set in places worthy of exploring). Some are more aspirational than others (a euphemism for expensive) but I’m focusing on the happiness quotient.

For example, when I filtered my search by “North America” and “Wellness,” I found two options that would be worth a trip in themselves. Above, the Lumeria Maui is an educational retreat with classes in yoga, meditation, and more. We’ve been to Maui (we had an amazing time on the beach at Ka’anapali, and later at Wailea) but this would be an interesting island experience on the wilder North Shore, near to the town of Paia.


Another dreamy destination would be the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, where a resident astronomer could add to the experience of stargazing and mornings could begin with stretches overlooking the Pacific. Days could otherwise be filled with hiking or swimming and punctuated by meals sourced from the inn’s own garden.


Taking off the North America filter I found, much further from here, that one could join a retreat with a healer or an Ayurvedic master at Ananda in the Himalayas.


When search hotels with the filter “Cooking lessons,” I was intrigued by La Posta Vecchia—a villa restored by J. Paul Getty just outside of Rome and overlooking the Tyrrhenian sea. They offer lessons in their restaurant, where meals are based on what’s growing in the hotel’s garden.

Of course, it was when I filtered by “Wildlife” that I really got lost in (pun-intended) rabbit’s hole:



Staying at a Private Game Reserve in South Africa, Thanda, would be an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience. As would SCUBA diving in the turquoise waters around the Pacific Resort Aitutaki in the Cook Islands.


And if one ever wanted to become an angler, there’d be no more romantic destination to learn the sport than Sonora Resort in Canada, on Desolation Coast—you have to arrive by air or by boat. (But I’d be equally happy to visit for an eco-tour where, depending on the season, one might see bald eagles, black or grizzly bears, sea lions or orcas.)


If the hotel is the location and it’s a romantic retreat one is after, I might choose to stay in the Racha Resort‘s lighthouse, overlooking the Bay of Andaman Sea in Thailand (where one could no doubt combine the wellness, the cooking classes, and the SCUBA diving). We spent our honeymoon in Thailand and I can’t wait to go back.


Or to getting stranded on that (almost) deserted island at the Six Senses Hideaway in Con Dao, Vietnam.

As I mentioned, some of these are more aspirational than others but I was impressed to find a range of price points on the Visa Signature Luxury Hotel Collection website.


The professor quoted in the article on money and happiness, Dr. Thomas Gilovich,  “suggests you’ll get more happiness spending money on experiences like going to art exhibits, doing outdoor activities, learning a new skill, or traveling.” Because while our experiences don’t last the way things do, they become part of us and “part of the stories that we tell to one another.”

It can be frustrating to spend so much on traveling, and then feel like the hotel or lodging we choose falls outside of that list of things that make us happy. I like the idea of seeking out places that are as much a part of the experience as the rest of it. 

Sponsored by the Visa Signature Card. This is the second of three posts I’ll be doing with Visa. 

Take a look at your current Visa card to check for the Signature designation on the bottom right-hand corner, and then visit VisaSignatureHotels.com for all the details on booking your next trip. There’s no reason to miss out on the perks—the site guarantees the lowest rate available for your stay. The Visa Signature Luxury Hotel Collection is a hand-selected portfolio that is developed for Visa Signature cardholders and is constantly updated. 

[Top two photos mine, from our trip to Maui; Others are taken from their respective property links. The final image is from Calistoga Ranch.]

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