How high should your standards be?

Preparing for a trip

Part of the fun in going abroad for a vacation after so many years is learning about how much the world of travel has changed. I don’t mean how much our destinations have changed, because I’ve never been in Florence and Venice before. It’s the process of preparing for a trip that’s so different.

For example, how did we book hotels 20 years ago? Ask a travel agent? Look up possible hotels in travel guides, magazines and brochures? Then phone the hotel to book and confirm and hope it’s the best possible deal for our needs. Now it’s completely different.

How high should your standards beThis time my first stop was at Booking.com. For a semi-newbie like myself it’s an awesome site. You decide  your budget in advance, the relative distance from when you want to tour around, the services you need in the hotel (like parking, Wi-Fi, minibar, air-conditioning and food), make a few clicks and you have a list of possibilities. You read through the detailed reviews of past guests and make your choice. (I’m sure for many people all this is old stuff but I was fascinated going through it for the first time). Afterwards you leave your own review for others to benefit from.

3-star or 5-star?

In the end we booked 2 hotels for each city we visited to be sure we had what we needed and then at the last moment canceled (for free) one hotel at each place. The hotels were as advertised and reviewed (with one missing detail which I’ll write about in a different post).

How high should your standards be
Rome Garden Hotel, Rome Italy

One thought which stuck in my mind is – how high should your standards be when choosing a hotel? My means are fairly modest so we got rooms at 3-star hotels, but they were really nice. After all if you can’t eat in the hotel then our requirements are minimal – a good location, comfortable beds, clean rooms, connection to WI-Fi and not much else. I don’t need Rembrandt art in the lobby…

When we returned home I pondered what will happen next time if my resources were to be much larger? Would we book a 5-star hotel just because we could or suffice with something modest just like in Italy?

Avram and hotels

Over Shabbat I read a beautiful commentary of Rav Yakov Galinsky zt”l on Parashat Lech Lecha on the topic of hotel standards.

And (Avram ) went down to Egypt to live there, because the famine was heavy in Canaan (Bereishit 12-10)

On the way to Egypt Avram was poor and had to stay at guesthouses “on credit”. After Pharaoh kidnapped Sarah and later payed damages, Avram was now extremely wealthy.

And Avram was very heavy  with cattle, silver and gold, and he went on his journeys. (Bereishit 12-13)

Rashi comments that on the way back to Canaan Avram stayed in the same guesthouse as before, and this teaches us not to change where we stay (at hotels).

Rav Galinsky comments on Rashi that it is obvious that Avram didn’t stay at a 5-star hotel on the way to Egypt. There was a famine and he couldn’t pay cash. There’s no chance in the world that somewhere like the Waldorf Astoria would take in a pauper on credit. He must have stayed in a 1-star run down guesthouse in a seedy neighborhood who anyhow didn’t have guests and agreed to take in Avram and Sarai on the far chance he’d one day pay back the debt.

If so why in the world did Avram stay in the same place on the way home? He was wealthy and could have stayed anywhere he liked. If the reason was to repay his debt I’m sure a wealthy man could have sent a messenger to the hotel with the money.

Rav Galinsky concludes that Avram didn’t want to get used to luxury and a higher standard of living and therefore stayed in the same run-down 1-star hotel on the way back.

Luxury for luxury’s sake

I believe the message we can take from this Vort is not that we should stay only in cheap hotels even if we can afford more. The idea is to stay in a hotel which matches our REAL needs and not just luxury for its own sake. You need a view of the beach because it helps you relax? No problem. You want special services so that you’ll be free to take care of your family or business? Fine. You want a Jacuzzi in the room to take care of your muscle pains? Enjoy! But don’t stay in a top-notch hotel just because you can. It’s bad for the soul and who knows? Sometimes one’s financial position changes over time and you’ll, G-d forbid, no longer be able to keep up with your own high standards. Better to live slighter lower than you can and enjoy the simpler pleasures of life than be jaded by unnecessary luxuries and have regrets later.

2 thoughts on “How high should your standards be?

  1. Thank you for writing again. Reading the pieces is a bit like having a few minutes of vacation.

    I davkeh like to understand this Rav Galinsky Vort narrower.

    I remember being in a guesthouse for a night and bringing the plates and cutlery after my meals to the kitchen. That was what I learned at home and it made me feel less like royalty and more equal to the people working there.

    When I go to someone for Shabbat, I really don’t mind to bring my own bed linen. Why should sheets be laundered after one day use – what a waste. (When I was travelling with babies it was something else.)

    I gained something tremendous from this kind of behavior: humble kids.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I think Rav Yisroel Salanter was very meticulous about not putting extra work on the staff, so he would use less water for Netilas Yadayim.

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