A Vacation in the Past

Jun 9, 2014

The illustrated guidebooks to America’s country inns are irresistible. Every house looks unique, a veritable paradise for the discerning traveler. However, you can read all the guide books without ever grasping what it will really be like. So here, based on extensive personal research and some sleepless nights, are the essential elements of the country inn experience. If you don't get all of these, demand your money back.

First, the inn should be an old and perhaps dilapidated house, built somewhere between 1820 and 1920. If it looks like a place waiting to be fixed up by the Addams family its authenticity is guaranteed. The age of an inn is also certified by having creaky wood floors throughout, and especially right above your head.

The history of the inn may be told to you in detail by your welcoming hosts, who are an essential part of this anachronistic experience.  An inn, unlike a motel, does not allow you to check in and sneak furtively to your room, avoiding all human contact. You have to join the family. Your  hosts are named and lovingly described in the guidebooks. They are usually ex-corporate lawyers, artists, or musicians. Some of them live up to their advertising, and take over your lives from the moment you step through their door. Sometimes, however, your jolly hosts are completely invisible, and have been replaced by sullen teenagers in baseball caps. From the guest's point of view, this is probably the best arrangement.

An inn always has an ambience. If you don't have an ambience at home, this can be disconcerting at first. The innkeepers may have a llama park, or sixteen cats who will expect to share your bed. They will almost always have an eccentric collection of teapots, stuffed animals, prints or clockwork toys, which you will be invited to admire, and bizarre craft objects, lovingly constructed from recycled materials by unemployed local artists, which you will be invited to buy.

Guests must move slowly and carefully through the house, for fear of destroying some part of the ambience. The furniture is nothing like the industrial strength, terrorist-proof stuff you find in motels. Everything is an antique, and every antique is one dab of superglue away from total collapse. The safest thing is to stand very quietly in the middle of the room until it is time to go to bed.

The bed is the pièce de résistance (that's French: it means "piece of resistance.") If you have always boasted that you can sleep anywhere, this will be a test. The temperature may be thirty or ninety degrees depending on the season. The bed was slept in by George Washington and hasn't had a new mattress since, one of the innkeeper's cats is determined to sleep on your face, and the springs let out an agonized creak every time you move a muscle.


Apart from climate control, sleep, and anonymity, you may miss a few other modern conveniences in your country inn. Television, wi-fi and cell phone signals may each or all be absent, reinforcing the nineteenth century experience. Innkeepers in general want your visit to be an occasion for relaxation, reflection, and escape from the stresses of modern life. Indeed, why would anyone choose to vacation in the present, when it's so much more authentic to vacation in the past?

Copyright: David Bouchier