Chain motels



David Whitley finds that the Hollywood images of budget motels and hotels are wide of the mark


Hollywood doesn’t do the American motel many favours. Whenever one is featured in a film, it usually has worn carpets, stained walls and a butchered prostitute bleeding all over the bathtub. They are places for grubby clandestine meetings and revenge murders.


From my experience, the reality is not like this. Over the last year, I’ve spent more time in American chain hotels and motels than is perhaps strictly sexy. I’ve been on the way from A to B, and they’ve proved logical staging posts in places where driving into town and paying for both hotel and parking would prove considerably more expensive.


It’s difficult to say where the dividing line between hotel and motel is, although the latter tends to have a parking space right outside your room. But the hotels have sprawling car parks too, so the distinction is vague at best.


So, without getting too bogged down in definitions, I’m talking about the likes of La Quinta, Red Roof, Days Inn and Super 8. I’ve routinely managed to book with these chains for less than £50 a night including tax (and often under £40), and every time I’ve expected a grim, miserable experience.


I’m not going to pretend that any of them were the best hotels in the world. In fact, picking out a single distinguishing feature about any one of them would be a Herculean task. There’s a certain depressing functionality about them, check-in is conducted almost instantly and there’s no way you could mistake the tired resting of heads for the night as life.


But that’s not really the point. Without exception, I’ve found the rooms to be spacious and decently equipped, with relatively comfortable beds and free wireless or wired internet. For £40 or £50 a night you can’t really ask for much more than that. I might not want to spend the whole day in my functionally adequate hotel room, but if I wanted to do that I wouldn’t be choosing to spend the night just off the junction of the Pennsylvania Turnpike anyway.


I’m there because it’s convenient, on the way and cheap. I can arrive at nine or ten at night, then leave at six or seven in the morning with the minimum of hassle.


I also now know that there’s no desperate need to book ahead. These hotels tend to cluster around major road junctions, and there are so many of them at each junction that prices are kept low and standards kept relatively high. There will always be flashing signs advertising the drive-up rate, and almost without exception they’re stupidly cheap.


It’s not what you’d go to the States for – that would be madness – but the budget chain hotels are splendid options on the nights where you’re between the things you have gone for.


Do you have any particular favourite budget hotel chains? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.