The Stories of IRL Eloise: People Who Live in Hotels
There are real-life Eloises, brought to live in hotels by their parents. Or the travelers billeted overseas, for whom a hotel is the ideal prefab base. For others, a stint living in a hotel helps them create a bridge across life’s tougher moments; it can even be a livelier alternative to a retirement community. Here are the stories of five people who have lived long-term in a hotel—each for a different reason.
Francisca Matteoli is the author of 11 travel books, including Hotel Stories. She spent part of her childhood living in a hotel in the center of Paris.
My family is from Chile, and when there were political problems there in the 1970s, they came to Paris, where my grandfather always stayed at the Hôtel du Louvre. He was a very eccentric, funny character. It was a way of living in that epoch, how wealthy people used to live—they stayed in hotels rather than apartments [to avoid] all the responsibilities. We settled there, finally, for for three years, a lot longer than we expected. My grandfather and grandmother lived on one floor, and I lived with my parents on another, in room 26. We used those huge suitcases you used to have, as furniture—like drawers—all over the place.
I was 10 or 11 years old, and the first thing I remember was being asked for my address at school and I said, “Hôtel du Louvre.” I was very isolated, but that life was very special. I didn’t speak a word of French—I learned it from the staff, who became part of the family—but because we were mixed in with a lot of foreigners, I didn’t feel lost or alone. I felt surrounded by people like me, though there weren’t a lot of kids in the hotel. There was one older lady who had been divorced several times, and she was very original. She didn’t care about possessions, and she wanted to feel free.
Living there has had a deep impact on me. I have written many books about hotels, for example. And I have different qualities that came from that experience: I’m independent and I’m able to live with fewer possessions. We rushed to leave Chile, so we lost a lot; now I prefer living in furnished apartments rather than one where I use my own furniture. It made me more curious, more adaptable, and I love the idea of not having a permanent address.
I was sad to leave, but it was costing us a fortune and we were running out of money, so we moved to an apartment, which was a totally different way of life. My grandfather spent the last year of his life there, and when he died, the hotel [comped] that year-long stay.
I haven’t stayed there again myself because of the memories, good and bad. But I did a signing for one of my books at the Plaza Hotel in New York, and one of the women who came brought me the book Eloise. She said, ‘I read your book, and you are my Eloise. Here’s the book for you.’ That was the first time I read it.
In 2009, Jon Santangelo began a nine-month stint living at the Doubletree by Hilton in Beijing while undergoing training in an international management program. It was his first job overseas—and it would change his life forever.
When I got the job offer, a nearly year-long stay abroad felt daunting at times.
This was my first time ever overseas, and I admit to being a bit naive about some things. I couldn’t do much customizing of the room, but I made a mini, makeshift bookshelf at my desk with a framed family picture. The bed took up most of the room. I like to grill, so not having a stove—or a kitchen—took some getting used to. I’d have to go down to the restaurant to warm up foods. I tried to order room service sparingly. The first few weeks it felt novel. Eventually, I stopped ordering altogether and kept a protein shake or snacks in the room. But it was very easy to get accustomed to daily room cleaning and no monthly utility bills. I still preferred to use my own shampoo, though.
The golden rule for living in a hotel: Act as if you’re a guest in someone’s home. Everyone you’ll meet in the hotel will benefit from this.
The golden rule for living in a hotel: Act as if you’re a guest in someone’s home. Everyone you’ll meet in the hotel will benefit from this. I met an elderly Singaporean businessman named Mr Ng: short, stern, but sweet at his core. He stayed the longest of other guests—several months, on and off. The entire Riverdance crew stayed there for about a week, including their jolly, rugged Celtic bagpipe player. There was an Iranian tour group who mistook me for an Iranian, too; I’m actually of Sicilian descent. It was the first time I ever knew, let alone befriended anyone, from Iran. They’d invite me to sit and talk with them at breakfast. Truly perspective-changing, indeed. One Iranian professor who taught English schooled me on a number of things.
Hotel life can be lavish and super convenient, but don’t barricade yourself in. Prior to China I wasn’t used to taxis at all; the bellman and concierge arranged them and made sure I got to and from the hotel without trouble. I’d also carry the hotel taxi card with its address. Once the weather warmed up in the spring I bought my first electric scooter and also started using the subway more. If you’re living in a foreign country, it’s best to not get too reliant on the hotel’s concierge, and to learn some basic directional phrases and words.
If you’re living in a foreign country, it’s best to not get too reliant on the hotel’s concierge, and to learn some basic directional phrases and words.
You can’t help but be awestruck by the enormity of China. I had no plans or ambitions to go to China before arriving the first time. But half a year in I knew China was where my foreseeable future would be. So much was (and still is) happening here. I worked at a travel startup, an Airbnb competitor, that tried to launch in China. The following years I was a foreign talent recruiter and consultant for hotels in China. Today, the destination wedding company my partner and I founded, The Chariot works with various luxury hotels and resorts and our clients are mainly Chinese.
Doug Gollan was under intense personal and professional pressure in January 2002. His marriage was collapsing, and he had just started a new company. One solution to ease the strain? Move into a hotel.
I was getting separated and needed a place to live. Before, I was living in northern Westchester and working 12- or 13-hour days; plus, my commute was an hour and ten minutes. I knew New York hotels were still in a slump after 9/11, which had decimated business travel to the city, and January is one of the slowest months, anyway. The hotels were just trying to keep as many of the staff employed as possible. Through work, I knew the general manager at the Plaza Athenée, which is a very nice, high-end hotel on the Upper East Side. I called them up and said, ‘Listen, you know, would it be possible to do some type of deal?’ It was a bad time for the hotel business, so we left it open-ended at the start. My commute went down to a ten-minute walk, and I got twice-daily maid service.
It’s a small hotel, and everyone got to know me after two days, let alone two weeks. The second time my kids—who were ages 4, 9, and 14 at the time—came down to visit me, the staff all knew their names, and what they wanted to eat at breakfast. It made a difficult situation much more luxurious.
Occasionally they would have to move me from one room to another, but I traveled a lot for business, probably 50 percent of the time. I was apprehensive the first time, but I would come back after a trip, and if they had moved me, all my clothes would have been folded and pressed, my shoes shined. It was like I’d died and gone to heaven. When you’re first there alone, you’re lonely, and they have a nice little bar where you can get to know the bartender. I wasn’t ordering room service, though; I would pick up a sandwich on the way home and eat it in my room.
I’d see the general manager occasionally, when we’d run into each other and have a drink in that bar.
I’d see the general manager occasionally, when we’d run into each other and have a drink in that bar. But one night, I got back to a message that said he’d like to meet me for a coffee. It was like a note to go and see the principal. He told me business was coming back strongly enough that he could no longer have me in their foster home. That was in the fall.
I now live in Florida and run a new company, Private Jet Card Comparisons. If I came back to New York, though, I’d stay there again.
Mike Gnitecki’s dad was a consultant working for Fortune 500 companies who often had to move at a moment’s notice, which meant the family ended up living in a Residence Inn hotel for a year when he was a child.
My family would do occasional vacations and stay at hotels, so to me a hotel equaled a vacation; hotel stays were immeasurably fun as a result. I preferred it to living in a standard home. The hotel was tax-free on stays longer than 30 days in our state, Minnesota, and the hotel provided a deeply discounted monthly rate. I was around 12 years old, and my friends thought it was extremely cool. There was a bit of trepidation among them at first—‘You live at a hotel?’—but that disappeared when they came by. It was a two-story hotel suite, and my friends thought it was pretty awesome. The free hot breakfasts (I definitely gained some weight) and the in-room fireplace are my most enduring memories of the experience. They would give us new logs every day, the easy-to-light ones that burn so well. As a child, it was a blast.
I’m now a firefighter paramedic in Texas, but I still love hotels. I do a lot of travel hacking, looking for good deals, and I am happy to say I’ve stayed in some awesome hotels, like the Park Hyatt in Sydney, for free. I have a lot of free points available, and I am planning to continue doing free stays at top hotels.
Ninety-one-year-old Harvey Simpson is the only full-time resident at the Sonnenalp Hotel in Vail. He moved into his mountain-view room three years ago.
I first heard about the idea of living in a hotel when President Truman fired General MacArthur for disobedience; MacArthur moved into the top floor of the Waldorf Astoria. I thought, Wow, that’s a nice way to live.
I first heard about the idea of living in a hotel when President Truman fired General MacArthur for disobedience; MacArthur moved into the top floor of the Waldorf Astoria.
I started skiing as soon as I got out of the Navy at the end of the Korean War, and my wife said, ‘You’ve got to learn.’ We both became fanatics. I first came to Vail in 1964, two years after it opened, to ski. We stayed at other hotels, but when they built the Sonnenalp in the early 1990s, we fell in love with this place. It’s a very special hotel, run by a family who really takes care of the quality. They’re technically from Bavaria, so it feels very much like Europe.
After retiring, any vacation we could, we would come to Vail. I got to know the family here at the Sonnenalp and one day, after my wife passed away, I asked Mr. Fessler, the owner: ‘Do you think I could and just live here, now that I’ve retired?’ So I sold my house on Long Island, and now my permanent address is 20 Vail Road. I do still have some business back in New York, so I stay at the Cornell University Club when I go.
When I was living on Long Island I had a big house with a swimming pool, but now I have everything like that here—a swimming pool and a spa—and none of the responsibility whatsoever. I don’t have to think about it. The bellboys will drive you anywhere at any hour of the night. And I’m still skiing; there’s a big difference between New England and here as the quality of the snow is much better. During ski season, I use that ticket you hang on your door for room service breakfast a lot when I want to get out fast, and not linger too long before getting on the mountain. I’ve added a few years to my life, I hope, with the clean air here. In the summer you can hike without breaking a sweat, because of the low humidity.
They have a Sonnenalp Club Members program, and if you spend more than 100 nights here, you join the Gold Club. I’m close to having spent 4,000 nights total in this hotel. Right now, I’m sitting looking up at the mountain.0