I’m not a mall rat. Even as a (misfit awkward) teenager, I hung out at all-night diners rather than retail havens. Today, I find malls useful but often dull–they’ve all got the same set of boutiques and department stores selling the same items regardless of what town or even country I’m in.
But now, as a traveler with pain, I’ve come to find the value in a good old-fashioned shopping mall. Not so much in the shops, unless I need to restock my supply of L’Occitane foot cream. But in the amenities.
They’re not the cleanest public bathrooms in the world, but mall stalls aren’t usually the dirtiest either. Malls often have family restrooms, so that people who need help can get it with minimal hassle, staring, and rude comments. And unless the latest boy band or the casting producers of America’s Next Top Model are holding court, most mall restrooms don’t have horrible lines.
Some malls even have “family rooms” adjacent to the restrooms. These usually have cubicles for nursing moms who prefer privacy; some also have toddler play areas and armchairs where travelers with pain can kick back and rest for a little while.
Food & Drink
Malls have plenty of both, from the pedestrian offerings at the food court up to overpriced but decent sit-down restaurants. Travelers with pain (or diabetes, or thyroid troubles, or hypoglycemia) need to keep hydrated and fueled, or a trip can start going downhill and gathering speed. A mall’s an easy place to find a bottle of water and a snack anytime between 9am-9pm.
Need to cool off on a super-hot summer day? Freezing solid and desperate to get out of the rain/snow/icy wind? A mall can hook you up, pronto. That sort of comfort can change a whole trip for a traveler with temperature-sensitive chronic pain. (And doesn’t all chronic pain seem to be temp-sensitive, one way or the other?)
Cheap malls have benches. Expensive malls have armchairs. Whatever the price range of the mall, they all have places for weary travelers to drop their bags and their bodies down for a rest. After all, if exhausted shoppers had no place to sit, they might leave the mall without spending any more money.
Many malls have squishy upholstered seats and a reason to sit down for more than an hour…er, movie theaters. For $10, I can give myself an excuse to take a real 2-hour rest. After a movie, I can leave the mall feeling refreshed and ready to tackle another round of tourist attractions.
Sometimes I do find I need L’Occitane foot cream, or underpants, or a new camera battery when I’m traveling. Other times I need new clothes, if that bag I checked got lost or delayed in transit or if I spilled red wine on a key piece of apparel. Mall stores come in handy for those sorts of needs. While I prefer to do my souvenir shopping in local independent stores, I don’t feel that same need when I’m hunting for a new USB cable or a plain white t-shirt.
When I was in San Francisco the other day, I found myself in the Union Square area at dinnertime. In Union Square, the food options tend toward bad, overpriced sit-down restaurants, super-expensive fine dining, and fast food. So I asked the cute little 16-year-old-looking clerk in the H&M where I was buying a cotton tank top where I could find something cheap that wasn’t fast food. He told me that the best cheap food to be had anywhere near Union Square was in the food court area of the Westfield Centre mall.
Seriously? He was totally right.
I got a big plate of tasty Korean barbecue (and a chair, despite it being right about 7pm) for $10. I could have gotten fresh baked goods, Mediterranean food, vegan dishes, or fancy (but still cheap) Italian–all from walk-ups. Everything was far better than what I usually find at my local suburban malls.
The Bottom Line
They’re not unique. They’re not sexy. Most travel writers eschew malls as though they carried the black plague (while rhapsodizing about places where you can actually get black plague, but you won’t find a Gap Kids within a thousand miles). But the plain fact is that a mall can save a traveler with pain.
You don’t actually need to buy anything to take advantage of the creature comforts inside a mall. So drop on in to the Westfield Whatever, sit for a dozen minutes, get comfortable, grab a drink or some dinner, and get your equilibrium back.