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Views and opinions: A traveler's distinction between hotels-motels


As a travelin' man I spent my life in hotels and motels. I preferred motels to hotels because they were usually closer to my car so I was more mobile, and I could escape being incarcerated – which is how I felt every time I stayed in one. Motels were cheaper, too.

I live within 20 miles of the first motel in the world, The Motel Inn. It got its name from the first two letters of “motor car” combined with "tel". If you break down the word ho-tel in the same manner, you end up with a lodging place for hookers and prostitutes.

Frequently, the lines were blurred. Was it a hotel or a motel I was staying in? Generally, at a motel there aren't any bellboys or valet parkers you feel compelled to tip, and there aren't exercise facilities. While a hotel has a weight room, the only wait room at a motel is the lobby.

It's harder to get a room at midnight in a motel because the manager turned on the "No Vacancy" light and went to bed two hours ago. That's another big difference – while all motels have Vacancy/No Vacancy signs, I've never seen a hotel with one.

The idea behind motels was you could park in a space right in front of your room … but someone else always parks in yours, so you have to park in front of another person's room. In the motels on Route 66 that I stayed in as a child, you were not allowed to back into your space because the fumes from your gas tank might get ignited by the water heater pilot light in your room.

That's another difference between hotels and motels. In a motel you'd usually find the working water heater right in your room. Or not. Annually, I stayed at an old motel where you had to know the right room numbers if you wanted a hot shower.

That old motel was probably the first B&B in the world, only the B&B didn't stand for “bed and breakfast,” but for the owners, Betty and Bill.

If you need a wake-up call in a hotel, you call a number and a hotel operator will take your room number and the time you want to rise. They get it right 78 percent of the time. In a motel, an alarm clock is bolted down right next to the bed. By the time you figure out how to get it set, it's time to get up.

Now I'll really show my age: In motels your bed may give you a massage for a quarter, but in a swank hotel you'll have to go to their spa for that.

Hotels give you free stationery, while motels give you a postcard. The bars of soap at hotels are much bigger and sudsier. They also give you separate shampoo and conditioner bottles, while in a motel it's combined in one smaller bottle, or not at all.

Due to my propensity to stay at cheap joints, I'd never had a chocolate mint placed on my pillow until I was 40 years old – and only discovered it when I woke up with a hearing problem caused by melted chocolate in my ear.

A hotel usually has its own coffee shop and may also have a fine-dining joint. If so, they are usually quite good. There may also be a bar with a pianist playing during happy hour, where you can fill up on free little wienies and real cashews so you won't need an expensive supper.

You can also get room service at a hotel, while the only room service you'll get at a motel is if you call up Domino’s.

Hotel chains say they provide a level of service higher than that of motels. One of these services, as told to me by a hotel clerk, is that in their computer system under the name of one promiscuous adulterer were the letters “DNR.” It didn't stand for "do not resuscitate," but "do not recognize," so if the cheating husband ever showed up with his wife they'd play dumb.

But I got that same DNR service at a cheap motel I stayed at by myself every month for 20 years – no one there ever recognized me, either.


The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Readers may log on to to order any of Lee Pitts’ books. Those with questions or comments for Lee may write to him in care of this publ