A hotel can make or break any trip. It can make it a pleasant distraction from everyday life, or it can be a soul-sucking nightmare that makes you question the point of reality. A good hotel — or motel, for that matter — can be so comfortable you never want to leave it; a bad hotel can be so wildly unpleasant that you barely show up to sleep in it.
If you're unsure of the difference between a hotel or a motel, a hotel has rooms inside the building, down a long hallway. A motel — also called a motor lodge or motor hotel — has doors on the outside. Motels have a reputation for being cheap and tawdry, mostly by the people who secretly desire to be cheap and tawdry themselves.
I've stayed in hotels and motels over many years for business trips, vacations, or family travel events that are better spoken of in another column. Or therapy session.
The comfort of your hotel stay is determined by three factors: The mattress, the pillow, and the neighbors.
I've slept on new or nearly-new mattresses where I was cradled in body-forming memory foam that made sleeping a joy, the morning alarm an unwelcome intruder. I would lull myself to sleep with plans of cramming my mattress into my suitcase and taking it home.
And I remember once, 15 years later, a mattress so dented on the edge like a spout on a milk pitcher that if I didn't sleep clear on the other edge, I would roll out.
Last week, I slept on a mattress where the staff had made my bed with damp sheets. When I checked in at 2:00 AM, the sheets had only dried in the middle, and there was no one to change them or give me new ones. I had to lie perfectly still to avoid getting on the wet part.
The only thing more important than a mattress is the pillow. Most people have the perfect pillow in their homes, with just the right thickness, so their heads can rest comfortably each night.
Some of you may say, "Ooh, we don't have one of those fancy pillows, Nelson Rockefeller." That may be, but you owe it to your own physical and mental health to get a better pillow. Maybe just not from the crazy guy.
A good hotel pillow is not too firm, not too soft. It's not so thin that the pillow case has doubled its size. And it's not so thick that your head is torqued to a 90-degree angle from your body. If you can hear your own shoulder, it's too thick.
Finally, neighbors are an important part of your hotel stay. You can have a great mattress and a great pillow, and terrible neighbors will ruin the entire experience. This is especially true in the hotels that seem to attract bratty children like moths to a flame. They burst into the hotel room and immediately begin bouncing on the beds. And their parents don't know how to control them, so they mumble, "Stop. Knock it off. No, don't," to no effect.
Meanwhile, the precious little monsters are still jumping and screaming until the parents forget that their little hotel room is surrounded by eight other rooms. So they wait until they reach their breaking point every five minutes and scream, "SHUT UP, YOU LITTLE MONSTERS! OTHER PEOPLE ARE TRYING TO SLEEP!"
Thanks for trying, mom and dad. You're the worst.
The only people worse than the shrieking brats and their children are the American Vacationer. They clomp around the room and shout conversations with their friends next door through the cardboard walls.
This past week, I stayed in a hotel in Tennessee and was looking forward to sleeping. The mattress was comfortable, the pillow wasn't too thin or thick, and the room was the perfect temperature (another important factor).
Around 11 PM, some guy crashes his door open and lumbers into the room above me, wearing steel pails for shoes. Later, as I was trying to sleep, he started riding a water buffalo around his room, laughing and shouting about how much he loved riding a water buffalo.
The next morning, at 7:00 AM, the guy resumed his water buffalo ride, singing bawdy tavern songs about water buffalos before the pair clomped away and checked out. I hoped his water buffalo tripped down the stairs., but I couldn't hear anything, so he presumably made it down safely.
Bottom line: If you ever want a decent sleep while you're on vacation, you need a comfortable bed, a nice pillow, and considerate neighbors who won't make a lot of noise and keep you awake.
So you might as well stay home. And let me stay with you because I haven't found a good hotel in the last few years.
Photo credit: William Warby (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)
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