With Memorial Day behind us, vacation season is here! For many Americans on the road their home away from home is a motel or hotel.


When checking into a hotel I frequently recall the first time I ever did so. I was 18-years-old when my nearly 15-year-old brother, Gerald, and I spent a night in a big old downtown hotel in St. Paul, Minnesota. We walked in like we knew what we were doing and were so tickled with having a TV that received more than three channels (and didn’t have to be shared with four other siblings) we stayed in our room all evening.


Hotels and motels no longer hold the excitement of that St. Paul adventure. In fact, they can be an element of stress for a country boy who much prefers his own bed and bathroom.


Don’t misunderstand; Mr. Hilton and Mr. Marriott and many of their colleagues do a great job in spite of the screwballs that trash their rooms and steal their towels. Once I’m checked into a motel and am assured the place is clean, quiet and comfortable, I’m okay.


I do get frustrated figuring out where to stay in a strange town. I used to seek out the lowest room rates but learned you get what you pay for. Nowadays I stretch my frugality a bit and look for the best value, which isn’t always the cheapest.


One of the experiences that prompted the “best value” philosophy occurred at a lower-rate brand name motel some 20 years ago. Oh, we didn’t see any cockroaches but the bathroom faucets leaked and the bathtub/shower drain almost didn’t. The toilet wasn’t working right either. The woman at the desk was surly (we took her away from her magazine and cigarette for pity sake) and the entire facility needed some paint and a good cleaning.


Exercising my “best value” philosophy I have been pleasantly surprised by the industry more often than disappointed.


Most motel chains offer a free breakfast, an amenity for which there is no standard definition. I have stayed in motels which provide, in addition to comfortable rooms and pleasant service, a generous and delicious hot breakfast. I have also stayed at motels which offer a cup of coffee and a bagel and call that a breakfast. Sorry, that doesn’t cut it for me.


Years ago I learned to plan ahead and make reservations after failure to do so made us really wish we were at home. Trust me, during the busy vacation season there’s a reason why some motels along the Interstate highways still have vacancies at 11:30 p.m.


Have you ever been kept awake into the wee hours by hotel party animals? It would be nice if hotels offered a choice of “sleeping” or “non-sleeping” rooms just as some offer “smoking” or “non-smoking” rooms. Folks like me who prefer to be in Dreamland by 11 p.m. would be assigned a room in the “sleeping” wing. Those who go to hotels to party would be assigned rooms in the “non-sleeping” wing.


At a motel in the Kansas City metro several years ago I became so fed up with hallway horseplay around midnight I slipped on my trousers, stepped out into the hallway and bellowed, “Go to your rooms and shut up.”


Apparently angry, heavy-set guys without a shirt and bad bed hair are effective communicators. Things quieted down quickly.


A convention I regularly attended during my years in the newspaper business was held at expensive downtown Chicago hotels where amenities are many and rooms are comfy but the rates are exorbitant! I resent having to spend so much for the availability of a thick terry bathrobe that doesn’t fit, for a phone in the bathroom where I don’t go to talk and for baskets of strongly scented soaps and shampoos no self-respecting Iowa country boy would use. I must confess, however, I did like the electric shoe shine machine in my room one of the last times I stayed in Chicago.


Good hotel and motel operators try to make a night away from home as comfortable as possible and for that I am grateful. Still, the old song says it best: “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.”