Image: 66 Motel
Robyn Beck  /  AFPGETTY IMAGES
The sign outside the 66 Motel is shown in Needles, Calif. While travelers on a long-haul driving trip probably don't want a posh stay at a nice botique, honeymooners also don't want a stay right off the Interstate.
By Amy Bradley-Hole Travel columnist
updated 2/7/2007 11:00:11 AM ET 2007-02-07T16:00:11

The last time I planned a big trip, I went online to check out some hotels and their restaurants. I found one hotel that had beautiful rooms, but they looked a little small; despite the tight quarters, the hotel was pricier than other properties in the area. Then I noticed that the property billed itself as a “boutique hotel.” Because I knew what this term meant, all of my questions were answered. Yes, the rooms probably were a little small, but the restaurant was probably quite nice, and the rate was probably higher because the service was excellent. There are many different types of lodging these days, and knowing the terminology can help you make wise booking decisions, just as I did.

Motels. “Motel” is a combination of the words “motor” and “hotel,” and motels have traditionally provided affordable and convenient lodging for motorists. At one time, motels were distinguished by the fact that all rooms opened to the parking lot. Now, many of the chain lodgings found at major interstate exits are considered motels. Motel guests are usually looking for an accessible location, basic accommodations, lots of parking — and a free breakfast never hurts!

Hotels. “Hotel” is a very broad term that encompasses many, many different types of properties. Like motels, hotels provide overnight accommodations, but rooms run the gamut from basic to five-star. Unlike motel rooms, all hotel rooms open to the interior of the building. Hotels also provide many more services than motels do. At hotels, travelers may find full-service restaurants, room service, pools, fitness centers, conference rooms, spas and more.

Resorts. Resorts are properties found at popular vacation destinations that strive to offer “all-in-one” accommodations. At many resorts, travelers never need to leave the property, because everything vacationers want — from shopping to fine dining to recreation activities — can be found on site. Resorts often cater to specific types of travelers, such as families, honeymooners or gamblers.

Boutique hotels. Boutique hotels are smaller properties that offer unique accommodations and personalized services. Boutiques are often expensive, and rightfully so. Their small size often guarantees a very high staff-to-guest ratio, and that means great service and a real attention to detail. Hate that generic hotel décor — the loud carpeting, lifeless bed linens and sterile landscape prints — that you find in the big chains? Boutique rooms are often individually decorated, and the linens beat anything that most of us can afford at home. Boutiques can also have themes. For example, “art hotels” showcase original artwork that has been collected by the hotels’ owners in both the guest rooms and the common areas. And “garden hotels” feature lush landscaping on large acreages.

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Bed-and-breakfasts. So, you obviously get a bed and a breakfast included in your rate, but there’s more to it. B&Bs are usually private residences, so think of staying at a B&B as staying at a friend’s house. You get your own bedroom, but you may or may not have your own bathroom. (Tip: If having your own bathroom is important to you, ask for an en suite room.) Breakfast is served communally in the home’s dining room. B&Bs are usually quite affordable alternatives to a traditional hotel. They are often located in charming or historic homes, and because they house only a few guests at a time, you get lots of personal attention from the owners.

But there are drawbacks. You may be sharing a bathroom with complete strangers, and some owners expect you to leave during the day so that they can clean up and have some peace and quiet. Moreover, “charming” and “historical” can often mean “really tiny rooms” and “drafty with plumbing and electricity that hasn’t been updated for decades.”

Hostels. Ah, hostels: the choice refuge for impoverished students and backpackers around the world. While not so common in America, hostels are very popular in Europe and Australia. Hostels provide lodgers with a bed, and sometimes a locker, but common areas, such as bathrooms and lounges, are shared with all other residents (think: college dormitories). Hostels have great low rates and can be fun places to meet people, but they are not the place for anyone who loves privacy and hates noise.

Extended-stay properties. Extended-stay properties have rooms that offer more than the standard combination of bed, desk, TV and bathroom. They typically provide such “kitchenette” amenities as refrigerators, microwave ovens, sinks and stovetops, and they usually have onsite laundry facilities. Extended-stay rooms are generally a little larger than standard hotel rooms, and they often include a small living area, in which case they may be billed as having “junior suite”-style accommodations. Extended-stay properties are meant to provide a comfortable, homey atmosphere for travelers who are staying for many nights; for this reason, they are especially popular with business travelers. Extended-stay properties may also offer competitive weekly rates. In Florida, Colorado and other seasonal vacation spots, extended-stay hotels sometimes offer monthly and full-season rentals as well.

So when booking your next hotel stay, make sure the property you choose is exactly what you need. After all, if you’re looking for a place to crash after driving 600 miles, you probably don’t need silk sheets on the bed and an oil painting on the wall. And if you’re on your honeymoon, the flashing neon lights of that place at Exit 243 just won’t cut it.

If you know what type of lodging you‘re checking into, you’ll smile when your head hits the pillow.

Amy Bradley-Hole has worked in the hotel industry for many years in many different positions and at all types of properties — from small luxury boutique hotels to large resorts, both in the United States and abroad. E-mail her or read more of her articleson Tripso.com!

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