Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Upgrade (Paul Carr) - tips for travel and cirrhosis

cover of The Upgrade by Paul Carr

So far in his 31 years of life, Paul Carr has written two autobiographical books. In early 2008, the latest instalment of the advance from his first book “just about covered the cost of drinking myself into a coma every night of the week to numb the pain of failure”. (He describes Bringing Nothing to the Party as his tale of “a spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to start a dot com business with my ex-girlfriend” after which led he “lost them both forever”.)

As I started to read Paul Carr’s The Upgrade: A Cautionary Tale of a Life Without Reservations I was quickly struck that he may well be using the latest instalment of the advance from his second book for a similar purpose.

With hoteliers for parents, Carr was already familiar with the inside of hotels before I had his bright idea. Rather than renew his flat’s lease for another year, he’d instead become a “high-class nomad” and travel the world, living out of hotels for a year. Knowing that long-staying guests can get decent discounts, together with the brass necked ability to blag his way in and out of any situation, Carr aimed to spend an average of less than $100 per night on accommodation.

It’s not a new concept. Carr explains that in the mid-1800s hotel living has quite common in the US:

“In 1856 nearly three-quarters of [New York’s] middle to upper classes gave a hotel as their primary address.”

At one level The Upgrade is a bible of tips for thrifty travellers.

  • In most [US] cities you don’t pay local tax on stays over thirty nights.
  • In the UK, [hotel] stays over twenty eight nights are VAT-free.
  • Phone hotels direct rather than booking through hotel booking websites that are taking a commission (up to 15%) from the hotels.
  • Reservation staff at independent hotels are more likely to be able to reduce rates than staff at big chain hotels.
  • Emphasise [on the phone] that you don’t mind a bad room … Take whatever room you’re offered and then, on check-in, if you’re not happy with the room just stroll down to reception and complain.

For frequent travellers, about two-thirds of the way through the book there’s a very familiar section in which Carr describes his minimal packing and unpacking routines, together with a handy tip about hanging your creased shirts up near to the steaming hot shower in the hotel room bathroom. Been there, done quite a lot of that.

But at another level, the book is a cautionary tale about the factors that may lead you to waking up naked in the corridor outside your hotel room, spending a lot more money on alcohol than accommodation, stretching relationships – business and romantic – to breaking point (repeatedly), spending time in police stations, and managing to keep submitting columns for the Technology section of the Guardian despite spending more time in the bar than inside the conferences you’re meant to be covering.

I remember reading some of Carr’s columns – many of them thoughtful and incisive – but never twigged the full context of how or why they were being written.

There’s a hedonism that taken to extremes is no longer comfortably voyeuristic, but becomes deeply distasteful.

“... I’ve forged a career – and a respectable income – from drinking too much, doing idiotic things and writing about them. My last book floated on a sea of booze, and if you were to ask anyone who knows me to give you three keywords about me, drink would certainly be one of them.”

I’ll not give away the ending. Suffice to say that by the end of the book, Carr had saved £800 by staying in hotels over paying rent, but more importantly, he had finally come to terms with his lifestyle.

“The past two years sound great on paper – a story of luxury hotels, pretty girls, fast cars and drunken adventures.”

Let’s hope Carr’s third book is as funny and informative but less reeking of alcohol.

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