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Debate: RV or Motel?

Is it better to stay in accommodations that move with you or stay put? Two travelers argue on behalf of their preferences.

Brad Herzog

RV My family’s annual summerlong RV excursion is actually an immersion. Peering through that massive windshield, you feel part of the scenery, as if you’re screening a 3-D movie of America. With the right soundtrack (maybe Springsteen or Willie Nelson), the experience is fully realized, along with that familiar epiphany—that it is, really, all about the journey.

The RV Industry Association estimates there are between 22 and 24 million RV enthusiasts in the United States, including thousands of families like mine, driving everything from pop-up tent trailers to six-figure luxury vehicles. A 2005 University of Michigan study found that the average RVer is 49 years old, so it’s a prime-of-life choice for many of us, whereas a motel seems like more of a necessary evil when you’re out of options. Who craves stained bedcovers and matzo-thin walls? “Motel enthusiast”? That’s an oxymoron.

An RV offers the adventure of the open road with the comforts of home. We travel at our pace, on our terms. We drive as far we’d like, then stop at one of some 16,000 campgrounds around the country—often at half the cost of a halfway-decent motel room—and sleep in a familiar bed every night. We’re within steps of a kitchen, a bathroom and shower, and a flat-screen TV, not to mention space for our beach towels and board games and golf clubs and DVDs. It’s a suite on wheels. No room remorse. No luggage required. And with the money we save on nightly lodging and the chance to self-prepare three meals a day, I don’t sweat gas prices. (We even get a discount at El Monte RV thanks to the AAA Show Your Card & Save Program.)

When morning comes, the immersion continues. We slip in “Ramblin’ Man” or “Me and Bobby McGee,” and the RV becomes a moving theater again. Free and easy, down the road we go. And any time we want, we can stop the film and enter the picture.

Bruce Anderson

motel Eight miles to the gallon. Need I say more?

Probably not. But I’m going to. When I was 10, my family traveled up and down the West Coast, a 14-foot trailer in tow. Did I mention there were six of us crowding this rolling pleasure palace? So the romance of driving a gas-guzzling, road-hogging cow barn has somehow eluded me ever since.

And spare me the economic argument. Renting an RV can run upwards of $200 a day, and that’s before you’ve poured the $50 in gas it will take you just to get from, say, Sacramento to Santa Cruz.

When I’m on vacation, I don’t want to sweat electrical hookups. I don’t want to worry about water availability. Hell, I don’t want to make my bed, let alone fold it back into a wall. In a motel I won’t need to.

The first motel, the Milestone, opened in San Luis Obispo in 1925 to meet the needs of Western travelers. These new lodgings blended the hospitality of classic hotels with the convenience of highway locations and easy parking, no hookups required. Today, many motels offer swimming pools. Fitness centers. In-room coffee. Wi-fi. Cable TV. Where’s the downside?

For the past five summers, my family has stopped at the Adelaide Inn in Paso Robles, Calif., on our way to Carpinteria. And each summer we arrive in Paso earlier than the year before, so we can enjoy the pool, hot tub, fresh-baked cookies, miniature golf, and, yes, comfortable queen-size beds.

I suppose some travelers might find freedom in having a boxy metal carapace into which they can crawl no matter where they are. (Good luck finding those electrical hookups on the side of the freeway.) But a good motel is never far away. AAA rates more than 31,000 lodgings, and many of them, like the Adelaide, offer a discount for members.



This article was first published in April 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.