Travel and “deals” have always been inextricably linked. Since vacations are a luxury, the cash spent on them has to fit your life. Whether you’re scouring for plane tickets or booking last minute hotels, never before have we had so many tools for deal scoring. That’s a good thing, obviously, since price range will often dictate your choices. But, even more than cost, what defines a “good deal” is value. It’s a question of “does the price feel worth it?”
Would you stay someplace that charged $500 a night if it was a $10,000/night value? It’d be tough not to max out credit cards on that one, right?
So it goes with the lodges, hotels, and hostels on this list. Some are more than $1,000/ night. Others are less than $100. But each of them is a savvy value pick — chosen by some of the best travel writers in the country. These are properties for which price feels secondary to how much quality you get for your money.
The experience makes the dollars and cents feel worth it. And, really, isn’t that what we all want when we’re traveling?
STEAMBOAT BAY, ALASKA
Steamboat Bay is the sort of splurge I adore. You get so much in exchange for your money. Delicious meals and cocktails, five-star service, the chance to fish in the wilds of Alaska, a cozy room… the list of amenities is long. Then there are the hard-to-quantify extras: The whales feeding in kelp beds as you kayak nearby, the sunsets streaking the sky purple while you sip a bespoke cocktail in the hot tub, the new friends cheering for you as you finally FINALLY reel in a King Salmon.
With climate change and population growth and a million other factors too obvious to explain, the truth is that tiny slices of unspoiled paradise are becoming increasingly rare. Tiny slices of unspoiled paradise where you get to end the day in a luxury resort are even rarer. That’s what Steamboat Bay is selling: A chance to witness our planet at its most wild, a chance to recharge in the land of towering pines and leaping salmon, a chance to cook the fish that you caught for your friends back home and say, “Let me tell you about this incredible experience I had up north…” coupled with the touches that make luxury travel so luxurious.
Does Steamboat Bay start as a splurge? Absolutely. But it’s easy to see why it becomes a yearly event for so many outdoor lovers.
BANGKOK MARRIOTT MARQUIS QUEEN’S PARK, THAILAND
According to my hotels.com account, I stayed in 27 different hotels last year, but there’s one that I find myself thinking of returning to most often — hell, I’ve probably daydreamed about it three or four times already this week — and that’s the Marriott Marquis Bangkok Queen’s Park. Located in downtown Bangkok on Sukhumvit Road, the hotel’s location is prime, smack in the middle of a vibrant shopping and entertainment district. Bangkok feels gigantic (at least it does to me), but the location makes it easy to navigate around and get to many of the places any visitor to the city would want to visit. The room I had there was also spacious, tranquil, and relaxing, a space that felt like a calm, soothing sanctuary in the middle of one of the world’s more chaotic cities to retreat to at the end of every day. Additionally, the staff was one of the most incredible I’ve ever encountered. I’ve long heard about the service in Asian hotels being a big step above the service in even the best Western hotels, and the service at this Marriott property certainly didn’t do anything to make me believe otherwise. Every employee of the hotel seemed to approach their job each day on a mission to make every guest feel like the most important guest in the hotel. I regularly overheard other guests commenting in glowing terms about the service, like the staff’s uncanny ability to recall names and little details like how people they take their coffee in the morning — in a hotel with over 1300 rooms that probably had hundreds of guests staying in it at the time, this sort of thing was mildly mind-blowing.
Now, with all of that said, none of what I just laid out is the main reason I think so much about returning to this hotel; no, the reason I often think of this hotel are for the restaurants housed inside the Marriott Marquis Bangkok Queens Park. Simply put, of the 10,332 Bangkok eateries currently listed and rated on TripAdvisor, this hotel is home to three of the top 17 (Pagoda, Goji Kitchen + Bar, and Siam Tea Room) in the rankings, and they do not disappoint. I had what might be the best Chinese meal I’ve had in my life at Pagoda (which is currently TripAdvisor’s top-ranked restaurant in Bangkok), and the breakfast buffet offered each morning at Goji was such a ridiculous/absurd and splendid feast that it bordered on being comical. Put it like this: Bangkok is unquestionably one of the world’s great food cities, a bustling place teeming with unique, fantastic flavors waiting around every corner, and it was a legitimate goddamn struggle each day to fight off the urge to not leave the hotel when it came time to get something to eat. With so many outstanding food options right there in-house, how could it not be?
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THE FREEHAND, CHICAGO & LOS ANGELES
I stayed at the Freehand on book tour in October and it immediately became one of my favorite properties in the country. It’s like a hostel/hotel hybrid designed by the funkiest Etsy-artisan/ Insta influencer you know. It’s just spot on perfect: Shaggy in all the right places, never feeling overdone or precious.
My room at the Freehand Chicago was a solo — roughly the size, shape, and layout of a ship’s cabin. I loved it more than expensive rooms and luxury suites. It was cozy, a quality that is so hard to come by in hotels. At night, when I wanted to drink, there was no spot cooler than the downstairs bar.
Having recently visited the Freehand’s LA property, I have to say: The magic of this place is that, in a world where financial concerns push hotels and hotel, bars, and restaurants to be generic, this place feels truly unique and bespoke in all the best ways.
I’ve never traditionally been a big fan of Miami. I think it’s because the few times I’d been there previous to my last trip, involved me staying in the South Beach area. And, frankly, South Beach can be a bit of a shitshow — filled with lots of rich guys driving ridiculously expensive sports cars accompanied by surgically enhanced ladies wearing exceedingly tight dresses and obscenely high heels. But a stay last year at the ME Miami (part of the Melia hotel chain that’s quite popular in Europe and the chain’s first U.S. location), went a long way toward changing my view on the city.
Of the many things I liked about the hotel — among them being the very spacious rooms, spectacular views of the city and its sunrises and sunsets, the impossibly comfortable beds, its overall sexiness (it’s a very sexy hotel, and, accordingly, one you will want to have sex in) — my favorite is probably its location in the heart of downtown Miami (and not in South Beach), within walking distance of the AmericanAirlines Arena, the Perez Art Museum, and some of the city’s famed nightclubs. Wynwood Walls, the city’s gorgeous street art/graffiti hub, is a short Uber or Lyft ride away, as is Little Havana and Little Haiti — colorful places that breathe life into Miami’s cultural soul. (Pro tip: if you go strolling around Wynwood Walls, and you should, stop off at Miami Mojito Company for one of their many incredible mojitos. I love a good mojito, and the mojitos I had here were outstanding.)
One other thing to point out about this hotel, and this may be kind of weird — I loved the way the whole place smelled. It was a melon/cucumber smell, and I love melons and cucumbers (almost as much as I love mojitos). Members of the hotel staff were constantly going around spraying melon/cucumber scent — in the lobby, in the halls, everywhere. They were very diligent about maintaining a consistent melon/cucumber smell, and I salute their efforts.
Of course, if you do not like melons and/or cucumbers, you may not enjoy this. Consider yourself warned, if so. Otherwise, I think you’ll like it. Melons and cucumbers are good for you, after all.
DUSIT BUNCHA RESORT KOH TAO, THAILAND
If you’ve found yourself on Koh Tao, you’re likely partaking in the numerous adventure activities on offer around the remote island in southern Thailand. What better way to relax at the end on an exhausting dive day than at the only resort around that utilizes solar power to assist the functions of their charming seaside bungalows (which I highly recommend over the more hotel-like rooms on the cliffside). A three-minute longtail boat ride from the Dusit Buncha dock is Koh Nang Yuan, a set of three small islands connected by a sandbar. The sandbar diligently becomes a beach when the tide goes out, providing a bit more elbow room for the sun-soaked daytrippers.
A small hike to the Nang Yuan lookout — get there early to avoid a wait on the single track trail — is the key to instagram worthy views of the entire island chain. Beachgoers crossing the sandbar look like ants on their way back and from a recently discovered food source (actually, many of them have that same motivation, as the restaurant and bar are on the middle island).
TURTLE ISLAND, FIJI
Ecotourism and locally-focused experiential travel are buzzwords when it comes to 2018 travel trends, but I’ve never experienced any place that really walks the walk quite like Turtle Island, Fiji. When it comes to personalized, authentic, local experiences, this property in the Southern Yasawa Islands is truly something special.
From the moment you check in at the newly revamped property, you’re treated as a member of the family. There’s a “mama” or “papa” who serves as not only the person tending to your room, but helps to explain Fijian traditions while communing at nightly kava ceremonies with the locals, or bringing you to nearby villages and teaching you to dig for clams. The resort itself is almost entirely off the grid, with a massive local farm for sourcing produce, and solar panels to provide energy. Almost everything is biodegradable, a hugely important factor considering the delicate ecosystems and reef structures of the islands, and the property actually supplies mineral-based sunscreens to help protect the stunning Fijian reef structures.
It truly was a magical travel experience and one that left me with that unique feeling that tourism can actually have a positive impact not just on personal growth, but on the planet.
CHIC CHATEAU, HAITI
Resorts are cool but when you need some alone time, away from work, technology, and the 24-hour news cycle, retreating to Chic Chateau in Cayes Jacmel, Haiti may be the right move. The bed and breakfast provide a tropical oasis that promotes an atmosphere of tranquility, letting you reset, recharge and re-energize. Stay on the top floor of a two-story bungalow called the Safari Room. The cylindrical room is authentically rustic — covered with palm and decorated with Haitian and East African items the owner picked up during her travels.
Views are unparalleled from the room’s two balconies. Wake up early enough and capture the most Instagrammable shots of the sunrise, or just sit and stare at the turquoise waters of the nearby Ti Mouillage beach. Won’t be long before you find yourself down there, swimming, surfing and chowing down on scrumptious made-to-order fried seafood.
The main house, just a few steps from the Safari Room, offers a plunge pool, hammock, yoga area and incredible views of the sea that cannot be beaten. A true hidden gem that I’m hoping isn’t booked when I decide to go again.
DEPLAR FARM, ICELAND
While Iceland is far from a secret (seriously, I’ve seen so many Insta photos geotagged at Seljalandsfoss that I can now pronounce it with ease) there are still parts of the country and experiences within that remains largely undiscovered and gloriously un-gramed — yes, even in 2018. The key to unlocking this hidden Iceland is staying at Deplar Farm, an ultra-remote and ultra-exclusive hideaway nestled in the mountains of the country’s northern Troll Peninsula. Here, you can heli-ski or hike pristine mountains, fly fish far-flung streams, dine on gourmet food or simply relax in one of the sexiest spas on the planet (it looks like it belongs to a stylish Bond villain). Along the way, you’ll be taken care of by best-in-class guides and served by a relaxed and friendly in-house staff.
Fair warning: A stay here doesn’t come cheap. This is the domain of tech and finance titans, luxury adventure honeymooners, or those simply willing to splurge. But for those willing and able to pony up, you’ll be able to experience Iceland as it was pre-tourist boom and earn the right to return home with one-of-a-kind Iceland stories that your friends don’t already have.
GAMBOA RAINFOREST RESERVE, PANAMA
Stay in this luxury eco-reserve overlooking the world-famous canal with bountiful options for nature activities and bird spotters. Opt into guided kayaking, get eye-level with the rainforest canopy via suspended cable car with a private guide, or scope sloths and capybara’s on the nightly walks. The Gamboa Reserve offers visitors a welcome respite — and stark contrast — from the high rises of the busy capital of Panama City.
ARTE SANO HOTEL AT PLAYA MADERAS, NICARAGUA
Nicaragua has been a travel hotspot for years now, with good reason. The country offers an array of varied experiences for all different types of travelers, from epic surf to jungle adventures, and a few years ago I even included it on a piece about where to adventure to in 2016. Yet, just because a country has been seen and done, it doesn’t mean you can’t continue to discover nooks and places that make it totally worth coming back, year after year.
This year, I discovered Arte Sano Hotel and Cafe in Playa Maderas. I’ve been coming to this part of Nicaragua for years now and everything else around there appears to be the same. Except for Arte Sano. The refurbished home-turned-hotel features six small rooms perched atop a hill, with unobstructed views of the ocean, a yoga studio, two mini infinity pools and plenty of common areas for lounging and working. Inside, artworks adorn every wall and a hyperlocal chef prepares organic dishes with ingredients brought over from neighboring farms. Three years ago, this part of Nicaragua was a place to rough it; today, you can enjoy fast Internet, espressos, and a communal vibe of travelers who also work while on the road.
As remote work becomes more of a norm among full-time travelers, it’s great to know that hotels are catching up to accommodate the digital nomad, even in more remotes parts of the world such as Playa Maderas.
SLS BAHA MAR, THE BAHAMAS
Less than 200 miles east of Miami, the Bahamas have long catered to travelers—particularly those from the U.S. East Coast—looking to trade work and winter weather for relaxation and poolside umbrella cocktails, even if only for a quick weekend reset. But as a destination, it’s the Bahamas themselves that might most be in need of a refresh. Maybe you’ve been there with your parents. You were probably on a cruise. Or perhaps you stayed at some soulless all-inclusive resort, with 1,000 rooms and zero character.
Despite the year-round temperate weather, the relaxing island aura, and their distinctly Caribbean charms, the Bahamas have suffered somewhat from the idea that going there isn’t—for lack of a better term—cool. It’s a notion that loses all credibility at the front doors of the SLS Baha Mar in the Bahamian capital of Nassau.
The 300-room beachfront SLS Baha Mar has already breathed some youthful vigor into the Bahamas and it hasn’t even fully opened yet (you can rent rooms as of right now, though not all of the planned restaurants and bars will be open until March). Cuisine-forward and design-centric—Philippe Starck is among the designers contributing to the aesthetic—it’s the destination the Bahamas has been lacking. With seven pools (and an eighth “privilege pool” on the way), a soon-to-be-opened rooftop bar, a flagship ESPA spa, access to the Caribbean’s largest casino, and ten football fields worth of some of the Bahamas best beachfront, this ain’t your parents’ Bahamas. Which is entirely the point.
KARISMA RESORTS CANCUN, MEXICO
Karisma Resorts in Cancun still has me raving. As if trying food from world-class chefs all week at the Chili Pepper Culinary Experience wasn’t enough, the staff made me want to call up my folks and tell them they could either join me there or I would see them on holidays, because I was never leaving.
Each resort evokes a different emotion — from the desire to live my best life in the jacuzzi all alone in a giant room at the Generations Riviera Maya, or wanting to find a beau to join me at the El Dorado or El Dorado Royale Resorts, taking sexy outside showers together or lounging in the pools only one step outside of our balcony doors. A week was not nearly enough of a stay to enjoy all of the on-site restaurants that so uniquely captured the flavors of the countries they represented, as eating sometimes came second to dance lessons, yoga classes, horseback tours, and any other activities a guest might crave.
Being told “Es un placer” after a random, yet welcomed, chocolate strawberry delivery was the perfect nightcap for a perfect evening at a fairytale resort. If I didn’t already know I was a queen, Karisma Hotels in Cancun convinced me.
ALDERBROOK RESORT & SPA, UNION, WA
Getting back to nature should be at the top of all our lists in 2018. Now that being said, sometimes getting back to nature doesn’t have to mean sleeping rough in a rickety and leaky tent. I think you can still treat yourself and get back to nature at the same time. A great way to do that is to pick a resort that’s right in the middle of all that great nature but also has a spot to get a massage and a bar that mixes an awesome cocktail. Plus, you get to wake up every morning to a view of the Hood Canal and (on a clear day) the craggy peaks of the Olympic Mountains.
Alderbrook hits all those marks. It’s a well-fitted resort that has a very Salish feel in the decor, great rooms with comfy beds and wool blankets to keep you snuggly warm, and access to the great wilderness of the Olympic Peninsula. You can spend the morning hunting for oysters on the Hood Canal, hike through a rainforest in the afternoon, and then spend the evening by a fire on the beach while eating fresh and local oysters, clams, and crabs while drinking the best the PNW has to offer. If you want more, it’s a short 20-minute drive to the Staircase entrance to Olympic National Park — one of the best parks in the United States in my humble opinion. Also, 20 minutes away is the iconic Hama Hama oyster beds where you can score some of the best oysters and Port Townsend craft beer at their outdoor saloon. And, if you’re feeling extra saucy, you can get to the Pacific Ocean in about an hour.
It’s nature plus luxury, which feels very 2018.