Accommodation in the US is an odd thing. Price is not necessarily a guarantee of quality, and often a cheaper option is actually more suited to our needs.
This has been a cheap holiday by most people’s standards. We’ve stayed with family for a couple of weeks, and camped about half the remaining time. Camping is great when the weather’s fine (it’s been perfect) so long as you’re not moving every day. Setting up and taking down a tent/mattress daily is draining, and it’s been cold at altitude near Yellowstone. Also, most of the best places to camp are the worst for facilities.
Nicer campsites are run by the National Parks Service or the National Forests. In fact, the National Forests usually provide nicer sites because they aren’t trying to preserve the environment in the same way. Because they can, they put pretty campsites right on the banks of rivers and so forth, where the NPS would leave it clear for everyone.
Either way, these National bodies have campsites in scenic locations, but usually without showers, perhaps with running water, and perhaps pit toilets instead of regular toilets. We carry water, can deal with pits, but showers do actually keep you clean. Yellowstone at least has three campsites with pay showers, which you do need by the fourth or fifth day without. It’s not so much the smell as the caked dirt on your feet.
At this point, you probably want a room in a hotel or motel, so you can have a very long shower and wander around naked gazing blankly at American TV. (How can they have another ad break now? What did they just say? But they’re obviously actors!) The differences are many, and some are subtle.
The obvious one is that you can usually drive right up to your door in a motel. Not great for security or privacy, but terrific for hauling crap out of a two door car and throwing it into a room. Many more modern motels have two floors, negating this bonus. Certainly a number of the chain motels are simply miniature hotels with carparks, but the older independent motels stay true to their roots.
Another obvious one is location. Most motels are in terrible locations for, say, visiting a city, because they’re near the interstate highway exits. But if you’re driving a lot and just want a bed for the night (like us) then that’s perfect. And most of the places we’ve visited have been small, so motels are within easy distance of any pubs and restaurants.
Motels are usually cheaper ($30-80), but the lines get pretty blurry between low-end hotels and nicer motels, especially as they don’t specify in their names: Econo Lodge, Quinta Inn. If you can’t drive up to the door, you’ll pay more. If there’s local competition, you’ll pay less. Facilities are luck. You will have a TV and your own private bathroom in any motel, but not in the very cheapest hotel. You might have one or all of a fridge, microwave, coffeepot, modem ports, wired internet, wireless internet, TV remote control (!), air conditioning, and extra channels on the TV like ad-free HBO.
Chain motels and other options (condominiums, B&Bs, real hotels) maintain better standards all round, but charge for the privilege and are often full. Usually it’s a case of how fussy you are about your furnishings, and we’re not that fussy. We’re far more discerning about internet access, but it’s not really worth paying $20 a night just for that. Like so much in the US, it’s all down to competition, and the owners are quite used to customers looking at rooms all around town.
Ideally, though, we’d like to stay in a place like the Las Vegas Hilton every night, for the $64 that cost us each night. Huge bed, high standards, staff making up your bed each day, a huge pool and spa, and views of the most American place on earth. Of course, we wouldn’t want to wake up in Vegas every day, and you can’t see as many stars from there. Camping is actually fun on the new inflatable mattress we bought, and we’d like to do more.
But there are only about 10 nights to go and the olympics are in full swing. Just one more night in a motel?