A Few Words on How We Travel
We have been traveling three or four months a year since Wayne retired in 1995. We vary how we travel; occasionally we go to programs sponsored by Elderhostel, now called Road Scholar, and visit the local attractions on our free days. Much of the time we pick a state to visit, read up on its attractions; get in the car and go without setting a firm schedule so we can take advantage of unexpected opportunities.
Some of our travel schedule is kept pretty loose. That is, on our way somewhere we don’t plan which town we will stop in; it will depend on what attracted our attention earlier in the day and when we feel it’s time to stop driving.
Sleazy accommodations continued to be offered for many years after the franchised, more upscale motels began to spread, and we have stayed in our fair share of both. Increased competition squeezed most second-rate motels and cabins out of business, and what remains is at least minimally acceptable.
In making a choice of where to stay we usually pick up the green-covered Traveler at information centers located at the rest stops as you enter a state. The Traveler ad says, "Read ’em and sleep. Coast to coast, more hotels accept Traveler Discount Guide’s coupons than any other guide." Coupons are available for the full range of motels from Econo Lodge and Motel 6 up to Marriot and Holiday Inn. Maps in the Traveler help you find the motel.
Most motels can be seen from the highway, so they are easy to find. We have occasionally had problems finding a place. Travelodge, one of our preferred places to stay, seems to hide its locations on purpose.
At some exits off the interstates you might see a dozen different motels vying for your business. In terms of basics we have not found much difference--a bed, a television and a shower. A microwave and refrigerator have become common. In the past five or six years, even most low-priced motels have added high-speed wireless Internet.
Two places we stayed recently--one high-end, one low-end--had wireless on their menu of services, but neither worked. In both cases, the receptionist had no idea why. In the high-end motel, she placed Wayne in contact with her consultant by phone. In the low-end hotel, they sent a man to our room to work on it with him. In both cases he was successful in making the connection, but in several other cases he had to take his laptop to the lobby to make the connection because of the weak signal to our room.
So if you opt for a higher priced room, what do you get for the extra $30 to $40 a night? They often upgrade the breakfast to "Free Deluxe Continental Breakfast," which sometimes means homemade Belgian waffles or a hot breakfast bar. The television might be larger and offer premium channels. Other amenities might include: "Beautiful Heated Indoor Pool & Atrium," "Olympic Size Pool," "Exercise Room," "Hot Tub" or "Jacuzzi Suites."
You might also pay a premium if the motel is close to major attractions or otherwise in a special location. The travel coupon guide also has other information that might be useful to the traveler in making a choice. A few motels offer free accommodations for kids younger than 16. Pets usually cost extra. Those that accept pets indicate that they do; most also will indicate a weight limit, usually 25 pounds. Basically, you can pretty well make a choice that fits your needs while you are still at the information center, and some centers will help you make reservations. If you are traveling on a holiday or a special event is scheduled while you are there, the lower rates don’t hold, but the other information you need in making a choice still will be helpful.
We have experienced the more expensive motel/hotel--only when someone else was picking up the tab because we were invited speakers at a professional conference or were attending an Elderhostel (Roads Scholar). Elderhostels are often held in moderately upscale accommodations. The main difference in the prices seemed to be the heavier bath towels, more knowledgeable staff and, of course, the conference rooms and good restaurants.
In recent years we, on occasion, have stayed in one of the more primitive cabins, but only if we were in a rural or back-roads location with nothing else available. The last one we stayed in was in the north woods of Minnesota, and it was no treat. It was, however, better than sleeping in our car. Bed-and-breakfasts, on the other hand, are often very desirable, and when visiting in Canada, these have been our preferred choice. Occasionally to get in the mood for understanding the events that happened in a community over the past we’ve stayed at various bed-and-breakfast inns.
Our first experience with bed and breakfast inns was many years ago, when they were often difficult to find and priced low for the traveler on a budget. This is no longer the case; the price has gone up, but so have the amenities. We have found that today’s bed-and-breakfasts serve a multitude of functions at a variety of prices. They offer three particular amenities and charms you won’t find in even the most expensive big-city hotel.
First, there is history. In some inns you step back into a time when only the rich could live in luxury. Many of these inns strive to avoid modern décor; what they do provide is an opportunity to see how the wealthy of a previous era lived. They do this, of course, with the addition of hot and cold running showers. This is the only opportunity many of us have to stay in authentic mansions or homes of historic significance, and we’re always impressed when we can step back into history in comfort.
Some inns have served a multiplicity of functions. One Wayne stayed in the Springfield, Missouri, area was the Mansion at Elfindale, which was built by a Springfield millionaire in 1890. After getting a divorce and depleting her funds making it a showplace, his ex-wife donated it to the Catholic Church, which turned it into an academy for girls. It was later sold to a group of Iranians as a safe house for the Shah of Iran, then restored and turned into an inn in 1990.
Second, there is the elegance of the rooms. The rooms are often filled with antiques. Although we are not particularly fans of antiques and our home is furnished in Danish modern, we can appreciate being surrounded by well-made items that are more than 100 years old. Each of the Elfindale’s 13 guest rooms contains a collection of antiques and has a name expressing its character, such as Art Deco, Flora Jane and Governor’s.
Third, the breakfasts are not your typical roll and coffee or eggs and bacon. The hosts make a specialty out of serving the unusual but tasty. At the Inn on Crescent Lake at Excelsior Springs, Missouri, visitors might get a breakfast that includes sour-cream waffles with sautéed bananas, homemade blueberry pancakes or herb-infused scrambled eggs with oven-roasted potatoes.
All of the inns we have stayed in have been refurbished homes from the 1800s and early 1900s. One in Lexington, Missouri, was built pre-Civil War and had been used in a movie about the James gang.
For the owners, refurbishing is often a labor of love. They strive for authenticity, something that often comes at a high price. We have been impressed with the mystique of these bed and breakfasts. They offer a character and atmosphere seldom found in today’s busy world.
We both come from families that have spread out across the United States, and we have relatives friendly enough that on most of our trips we drop in for at least a few days to visit them. This gives us an insider’s view of many of the communities we have visited. For example, a cousin, Joan Hahn, led us on a two-day tour of Lindsborg, Kansas, a little bit of Sweden in America. One of our daughters has hosted our trips to Tennessee and Georgia and another one hosted many of our visits to California. Wayne’s brother has hosted some of our visits in Florida and Carla’s brother has hosted us to sites in Arizona.