Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Hits & Misses In Budget Hoteling

Once upon a time, I stayed in a five-star Crowne Plaza in Beijing.

It was a gorgeous place. No rooms below a junior suite level, linens eight steps above what I buy myself, marble everywhere, enormous meals with every kind of food imaginable. I, of course, walked in fresh off the refinery in clothes I'd worn every day that week, smelling funky and caked in the kind of grime you only find in industrial China.

Balance.

It is of no surprise to anyone that knows me that if left to my own devices, I will do things a bit differently.

Really, the big issue for me is that the hotel is rarely the destination. If I plan ahead, I'll most likely be staying with friends or camping along the way. [I am a well-practiced couch surfer.] If I don't plan ahead, I'll be driving as far as I can manage and finding a hotel or motel to crash when I get the chance. More to the point, if I'm spending less than twelve hours there, I'm not exactly looking for something fancy.

Which is why I make such dedicated use of Expedia.

I know it's not a favorite with high-end hotels (thank you, Heads in Beds) but for my purposes, it's really handy to be able to pull into a rest area, make a few swipes on my phone and show up an hour later to a Motel 6. Or a Super 8. Travelodge. La Quinta. Econolodge.

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1. Here is what you should expect from a low-budget hotel or motel room as long as they want to stay in business:


Your room should be clean. Preferably with a bed.

That's it.

No, seriously. Don't expect a pool. Weight room. No high-end linens. No minifridges. Sitting areas. Suites. Continental breakfasts, especially those with hot food. Guest laundry with dryers that work. Heck, I wouldn't even expect a TV made in the last decade.

2. Quality is hard to predict. I have both good and bad experiences with different chains; it's often more about the town than the franchise. While online reviews can give you an idea (or some red flags), it's often a roll of the dice.

3. If you stay often enough, you'll be wrong a few times. Rooms often smell a little funky. I have pulled my sleeping bag inside after seeing the bedding before, and don't even get me started on bathrooms in Amarillo. (I also recently heard a couple bedbug references that are still giving me the heebie jeebies.) But sometimes those are exactly the risks you take so you don't go broke -- and so you can manage a hot shower in the morning.

That's the point, after all. These are minimal upkeep places with the prices to match. Frills are nice, but they require more cash -- and if you're not paying that, something is likely being sacrificed.

Worth it? That's up to you.

4. If I'm going to be staying in one place for multiple nights, I will do more research. If you're willing to do that, you may just find a fantastic deal a few weeks ahead of time and get a nice room at a low budget price.

5. Sometimes you can also strike luck if someone is renovating. That qualifies as a sacrifice, though -- there might be crazy dust or some parts of the hotel might be inaccessible. You've been warned.

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All told, I really don't mind the usual shabbiness. Some of the nicest people I've met worked behind the desk of a Super 8. The conversations in the continental sort-of-breakfast rooms are almost always amusing. And halfway through a road trip, I'm happy to have the temporary privacy of a quiet(-ish) room ... and with any luck, wifi.

The Crowne Plaza was beautiful, but there were airs to be maintained -- and that was not relaxing. I'll take my Travelodges for those grimy, road-weary days instead.

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