Lessons From a Supposedly Free Trip

We’re biased, but a recent opportunity to sneak away for “free” to Chicago for a couple nights drove home an interesting observation. Okay, actually, Steph had to work, and I was merely tagging along to mooch a free getaway to the big city I love, and enjoy a little down time, but still. So she attended her conferences, I worked from the room until early afternoon before walking the city, and we had a couple great meals and some great walks from the Sheraton Grand, perfectly located right down on the river. So why am I sharing this? Because the "free" getaway was so costly that the value of a stay in Kalamazoo was yet again driven home in a profoundly clear way; and this echoes a refrain we hear from guests time and again.

While we enjoyed our stay and the hotel and staff were amazing, we are always blown away by the cost of living in Chicago. Honestly, I think we’re spoiled with so much great music (much of which is free); great breweries; outstanding local food options that rival a big city; walkability; lack of congestion; major concerts; Broadway shows; seven active stages; world-class museums and attractions, etc.

But here is the thing. With lodging and parking paid by Steph’s work—like $53 per night to park—it’s still hard to believe what we spent in two days! And we certainly weren’t living it up. $9 craft beer just about anywhere. Meals were costly, as you would expect, even for a sandwich or appetizer at a sports bar ($90 for drinks and dinner at the pub—which was only an appetizer for Steph). And want to keep leftovers? The Sheraton will put a courtesy fridge in the room for $25. Wanna heat something up? Sorry. What a handful of Chex mix or water? You’ll pay.

Now keep in mind we had a great time, and don’t sweat the small stuff when we’re away—doing so takes the fun out of being away and brings you down. We had a great stay.  But …

When our Chicago, Detroit, or even Grand Rapids guests comment on our reasonable rates for a downtown, premium location—we agree. And add to that the free bottled water and soft drinks; free coffee and tea 24 hours; free parking; a place to keep leftovers cold and a microwave area where you can warm them up; free light snacks here and there; and the amazingly affordable city food, amenities, entertainment, and attractions just steps outside the door—and our recent travel very much affirms what we hear all the time: bang for buck The Kalamazoo House and downtown Kalamazoo are an outstanding combination.