December 07, 2018

Rafiq Maqbool (AP Images) 

After he was elected, President George Washington traveled through our newly-formed country. And along the way, he stayed at a series of inns and taverns. How did they stack up? Well, let’s just say our first president wasn’t much kinder than a modern-day disgruntled Yelp reviewer about his experiences. Washington wrote in his diary that he found, “No rooms or beds which appeared tolerable.” While places to stay were rudimentary during Washington’s day, hotels eventually came to signify American progress. A.K. Sandoval-Strausz, an associate professor of history at Penn State and the author of “Hotel: An American History,” talks about how entrepreneurs in the early United States invented hotels, the hospitality industry, and how, in turn, hotels influenced American culture and commerce.  

Three Takeaways:

  • According to Sandoval-Strausz, in the early days of American history, if town officials saw strangers who didn’t come from the area, or had a clear explanation about who they were visiting, they would “warn them out.”
  • Sandoval-Strausz says that in the 1820s, when there were just a few hotels here and there, Americans took pride in them as “palaces of the public,” and places that didn’t belong to a king, and were accepting of strangers. 
  • The rise of Airbnb has posed a real threat to the hotel industry, according to Sandoval-Strausz and it has prompted some hotels to try to cut costs by laying off staff and reducing services and benefits. Others are trying to capitalize on unique offerings, including historic appeal and swanky restaurants and bars.

Listener spotlight:

When Jason Davenport heard that we were planning a story on hotels, he was head over heels. Well, most likely. He’s a performer for Circus du Soleil, so flips are a big part of the job.

Davenport wrote to tell us about his travel experiences, and he’s got a ton of them to draw from.

“Living in hotels 48 weeks out of the year... little things go a long way,“ he told us from a Sheraton in Arlington, Virginia. “Certain hotel chains we get excited about right away, and it’s mostly because the staff does everything they can to not make it feel like you’re borrowing a room from someone in college.”

What do those little things look like? Davenport says it can be as simple as a working coffee pot, a clean room (he says he’s encountered a dirty comforter only a handful of times) and getting easy-to-follow directions to restaurants.

Davenport has a few travel tips that have made his life on the road, and in hotels, a little easier:

  • Travel with a jetboil backpacking stove, a French press and a coffee mug. Not every hotel has coffee available on location, and some, Davenport says, aren’t close to coffee shops.
  • He never uses hotel soap and shampoo. And he doesn’t understand why people get hyped about it. He recommends just bringing your own toiletries.
  • Get a hotel rewards program. Davenport says it seems like hotel staff members are a little more willing to to help when they see you’re earning points.
  • When you’re staying long stretches in one room, don’t get your towels or sheets changed. Davenport says it’s just a small way he and his fellow company members reduce their carbon footprint.

Jason Davenport is 31 and originally from New Mexico. He says he loves the constant travel in the U.S. but might be headed overseas soon.

We heard from Jason and now we want to hear from you. Whether it’s about a segment, a story idea, or anything else, tell us what’s on your mind.

Drop us a line at or get at us on Twitter: @IhubRadio. Or give us a call at 617-684-5839 - we might play your voice on the radio!

More Reading:

  • Director Peter Farrelly's new film "Green Book" talks about a a publication designed to help African-American travelers know where to stay safely in the South, during the days of segregation.
  • The New York Times explores how hotel industry is going after Airbnb, and how Airbnb supporters are trying to fight back.
  • Major hotel brands are increasing the quality of their service and developing innovative products to attract young travelers, according to The New York Times

travel, hotels, A.K. Sandoval-Strausz, history

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