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The Case for Cheap Motels

How to Save Money with Cheap Motels
by Denise McCluggage

Car companies tend to introduce their new models at very posh places. I appreciate the luxurious amenities, though with the media presentations and the time spent driving or photographing the vehicles, I rarely can partake of more than the mint on the pillow and the thirsty terry cloth robes on padded hangers.

When I’m on my own, the places I stay tend to have numbers in their names. No mint, no robes. And the towels are sometimes more see-through than thick and thirsty. (OK. Use two.)

On a recent drive between Santa Fe and Los Angeles, I came up with a question for which there is no logical answer: Why is it easier to read in bed at Motel 6 than at the fancier place?

That fancy room, suitable for a brochure cover, had a wood-burning fireplace that burst into business at the push of a button. The bed was layered in assorted prints and heaps of pillows and a down comforter with the loft of high-altitude meringue.

The bedside table was similarly draped with Laura Ashley. And a tubby ceramic lamp the texture of a moon rock sported a wide low shade that spilled a warm pool of light on the toe-teasing cushy rug at bedside on the tiled floor.

But I don’t sleep on the floor….

I want the light to fall on what I hold in my hands, not the floor. I’m one of those who have to read at least a paragraph before falling asleep. This lamp shade wouldn’t tip (some do) so I ended up removing it completely. No pooled light now, just a glaring bulb that bounced unattractively off the tin-framed mirror.

The Motel 6 had a hanging lamp rather high at bedside with a pull cord ending right at my elbow. The bulb was bright enough to flood the entire room but if it hadn’t been (many are not) I would have substituted a high wattage one I sometimes carry with me.

Admittedly pillows are meager (and bouncy) in lots of cheap motels so I added my jacket to the pile. (I usually have a pillow in the car, too, for that matter.) 

Another thing I like about cheap motels is that they are usually close to fast food joints and all-night gas stations with mini-marts or supermarkets. That means I can gas up according to my departure schedule, stock up on travel snacks and bottled water and buy “dinner.”  

When it comes to decadence, I’m fond of scarfing up onion rings while watching someone else’s local news on a motel bed for which I paid $20 to $40. (To each her own.)

Here’s another puzzle: in expensive hotels it costs you dearly to use the phone (of which there are at least three). “Access” charges, they say. In cheap motels, local and toll-free calls are most often free. Go figure.

Safety might be of concern to you in cheap motels. Get a second floor room (if there is one) and/or one close to the office (in many cheap motels the owners live right there.) In most cheap motels your car is parked right outside your door so you can keep an eye and an ear on it. And think about it – if you were a serious thief, would you troll the parking lot of a $30 motel or one costing three to ten times that amount? (And no, security isn’t all that great at the rich places anyway.)

Take everything you can inside with you. Use all the locks and chains and move a table or chair in front of the door, too, if it makes you feel better. 

Above all, be alert, as you should be anywhere.

As for cleanliness, the office and grounds will give you some idea how fastidious the owners are. Check your prospective room before you move in. I spent a night in an ideal cheap motel in Kingman, Ariz., not too long ago - $20 plus tax! The office was redolent with cardamom (like many small motels, the owners were Asian and their kitchen was next to the office.) My room glistened with new paint, the remote on the TV worked, the bedside lamp was high and bright and the shower flowed full and hot. The mattress was even firm. The sheets perhaps rougher than the picky might prefer, but I slept in silk nonetheless (more about that next time.)

Oh yes, the onion rings from two doors down were particularly crisp and I gassed up and was ready for a quick departure.

When all you want from an overnight stop is to arrive, eat, read a bit, sleep, shower and split, why pay for the other amenities? 

Stay cheap and spend elsewhere.