On USA road trips, I prefer to stay at independent motels. I find that motels are a better value than hotels and motel staff provide better service and information. It can be a challenge selecting an adequate motel so I compiled this list based on my experiences choosing motel rooms.
8 great tips for choosing a motel
1. Choose an Independent Motel
Skip Motel 6 and try the nearby Joe’s Motel. Rates at independently owned and operated motels are generally $10-25 less per night. This is because independent properties do not have to contribute to national branding (advertising and marketing campaigns).
2. Check the Motel Traffic
I look for parking lots that are 30-75% full after 8pm. Some people should be out for dinner, shopping, or entertainment. If there are too many vehicles, then the place might be too rowdy. If there are too few vehicles, the property probably has underlying issues. This is just a general rule; I have had great stays in properties that were nearly empty or completely full. However, various discounts are unavailable when a certain number of rooms are booked, so I prefer to find a place that has enough but not too much people.
3. Motel Traffic, Part 2
In a prospective motel parking lot, I look for vehicles with out-of-state license plates mixed with local state plates. I consider it a great sign to see a variety of travelers and locals.
4. Motel Traffic, Part 3
I bypass motels with a bunch of contractor trucks. Especially on weekends, contract cable installers and construction workers can be a rowdy bunch. During the week, though, I might let this rule slide knowing that they will be working the next day.
5. Watch the Motel People Traffic
The property and rate might be perfectly acceptable. When a bunch of people are just hanging around, though, I tend to move on to other motels. It is usually easy to tell if the people are long-term residents or perhaps a wedding party.
6. General Motel Condition
When it is dark, it is difficult to see the overall condition of the buildings and landscaping—especially from the main road. I look for places with decent lighting. Driving into a lit parking lot, I can tell at a glance if the building is well maintained. A clean exterior does not always translate into nice rooms but an unkempt exterior usually means bad rooms. In addition to the condition, I pay attention to motel signs. I am a sucker for kitschy names. One of my favorite stays was at Mayberry Motor Inn, Mount Airy, North Carolina.
7. Motel Office Cleanliness
If a motel passes my first six visual tests, I will stop and enter the office. A clean office is a fantastic sign. If the office looks (and smells) clean, the rooms are usually in great condition.
8. Preview a Motel Room
Even when a motel passes my first seven checkpoints, I usually still request to see a room. The front desk agent (who might also be the owner) will most often give me a key for the actual room I would stay in. I look at the linens, bathroom, carpets, and a/c unit. Dirty pillow cases, a/c filter, rugs, or bathroom are immediate signs to leave. It the room smells musty, smoky (I only stay in nonsmoking rooms), or like pets, I will pass. Otherwise, it is a safe bet that I would strongly consider staying in a room that looks and smells clean.
It is a rare motel that does NOT have a mini refrigerator, microwave, and coffee maker in every room. So, motel stays also help me save money on dining costs. Major selling points for me are motel rooms with flat screen TVs and fluffy pillows. Since the motel front desk agents are imbedded locals, I find the quality of their suggestions (for dining and activities) to be better than hotel staff. Even better, independent motels are much more likely to negotiate rates than motel chains or hotels, have free wi-fi (which is typically stronger than at hotel chains), and have free parking right next to the rented room.
Do you have any other factors to consider when choosing a motel?