RV vs. Hotel – Which is Better?

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September 24, 2008

RV vs. Hotel! from Sean Michael on TheLongLongHoneymoon.com.

Being travel enthusiasts, my wife and I have stayed everywhere from flea-infested hostels, to skanky motels, to cozy bed & breakfasts, to five-star resorts. I’d like to think we’ve learned something about hotels, and how they compare vis-a-vis RVs. So let’s ponder the timeless question: “What’s better, staying in an RV or in a hotel?”

Probably the most elegant hotel atmosphere I’ve enjoyed has been the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan, at Christmastime. During my stay, the President of the United States was also staying at the Waldorf. I ran into Peyton and Archie Manning in the downstairs bar (Peyton was up for the Heisman that year). Heady times to be sure, but after three nights the final tab was enough to buy three months in a campground. And Peyton didn’t win the Heisman.

Believe it or not, the Waldorf wasn’t the nicest hotel room I’ve experienced. That honor probably goes to a Four Seasons hotel, also in Manhattan. Since they lost my reservation at the front desk, a kind clerk upgraded my room to a suite! Apology accepted, thank you sir. The Four Seasons suite was so plush and comfortable, it taught me a lesson applicable to RVs. You don’t need a lot of space to be happy; you need everything to be done just right.

That brings me to our Airstream travel trailer, and how it compares to staying in a hotel. We don’t have acres of space in our RV. We have no balconies, nor a full size computer desk paired with a fancy Aeron chair. There’s no turndown service, so we have to fold down the covers of our own bed — oh, the humanity! We don’t have any slideouts. Our ceilings are plenty tall, but you won’t find me doing a lot of jumping jacks inside. It’s a compact space, to be sure.

But everything is done just right. There’s quality oak in the cabinetry, the bed and sofa are comfortable, and we’ve got plenty of windows for sunlight. We have a full kitchen with oven, Corian counter tops, and a well stocked refrigerator. This is where we begin to explore the advantages of an RV. It’s all about what YOU like…

Our RV bed has one of those foam mattress covers that’s incredibly comfortable. We sleep on our own pillows, on our favorite 600 thread-count sheets, beneath a nice comforter. The shower is stocked with our own soaps and shampoos. The aforementioned refrigerator contains our favorite snacks and drinks. We’ve got our own HDTV, and my own video games console is tucked beneath it. If we want music, we plug our iPod into the trailer’s sound system.

The point here is simple — we not only have the necessities on our RV, we have OUR FAVORITES. It’s loaded with our personal stuff, and being inside feels like home. Traveling by RV has brought new meaning to the phrase “home away from home.” This isn’t rented space; it’s our space.

Then there’s the cleanliness factor. Sure, the nicer hotels appear to be clean. But are they really? I’ve been told that most hotels DON’T WASH THE BEDSPREADS. Heck, some hotels don’t even properly wash the glassware. Ewwwwww. Simply stated, if you want to stay in a germ free hotel room, you need to pack a large can of Lysol and a bucket of bleach. And a small, portable flamethrower wouldn’t be a bad idea.

I’m reminded of our all-time WORST hotel experience. It occurred in New Haven, Connecticut. My wife and I were road tripping up the east coast. We booked the room online, sight unseen, paying about $100 in advance. By the time we arrived at the hotel, it was well after midnight. We were thoroughly exhausted, and couldn’t safely drive another mile.

Stepping into the dark, rundown motel lobby, I immediately feared for my safety. There were several shifty looking people loitering in the lobby. Who loiters in a decrepit motel lobby after midnight? After accepting our room key, we quickly retreated to our quarters, and bolted the door.

The room itself offered your standard 40-year old motel accommodations, its thin wood paneling emitting a distinct aroma of cigarettes and body odor. We turned on the 1970s-era television, and were greeted by “complimentary” videos that would make an Amsterdam street walker blush. The shower and tub were covered with a thin layer of (hopefully?) human filth. The “towels” were thin, dingy polyester rags not suitable for scrubbing a pickup truck. We slept that night with one eye open, never feeling either clean or safe. When dawn arrived, we were happy to skip our showers and hit the road. Heck, we were just happy to have survived.

So, back to the original question: RV or hotel? Given the choice of RV or hotel, in most situations (ie. unless you’re offering a Waldorf Astoria or Four Seasons), I’m choosing RV. The RV is less expensive, more clean, just as comfortable — and it’s got my favorite cold beverage in the fridge.

What about you? If you have an RV, do you still stay in hotels? How would you compare the two experiences?

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  43. Steve

    You know I’ve heard it all before how wonderful and carefree the RV lifestyle is. But everyone always leaves out the little things about an RV that can make it less than a pleasure to travel in and live with. Take for instance the germ comments that everyone makes about hotel and motel rooms being dirty and nasty, but some how leave out the part about having to dump sewerage holding tanks in an rv that are about nastiest things around. Oh sure they all have said that they have developed ways (surgeon or exam gloves to do the job and rinsing out the tanks and the stinky slinky hose real good) but that hose and those tanks are anything but sanitary. And then the dump stations, well when you walk around them think about all the sloppy nasty inexperienced people that have spilled and splashed their fecal matter and raw sewerage where you are standing. Then you track it right back into your RV.
    You may not see it but dump stations and the full hookup areas in the campgrounds and RV parks are infested with bacteria and who knows what.
    Then after you use your interior out-house every time you open up that valve that lets the contents fall down into the tank you have just opened up a sewer with gases coming up into your living area. So what do you do to stop that, you sometimes put chemicals in your tanks to coverup the smell, but the germ carrying air is wafting through your nice sanitary RV.
    As far as the carefree part of traveling in an RV, and being able to stop just anywhere you want for the night, is just not true. You can’t just stop anywhere you want when you get tired. Oh sure some Wal-Marts let you sleep the night there but having to sleep in a parking lot at night at a 24 hour Wal-mart with all the horn blowing and trucks coming in and loud stereos blaring as they drive through is not my idea of a good nights sleep.
    And you just try to pull off just anywhere and park your RV at night without first checking with the owners of the establishment or the local police and see how many times the cops or whoever else ( criminals come to my mind) roust you at 3:00 am.
    In a car I can pull off anywhere to sight see or stop and take a break use the bathroom (plenty of rest areas restaurants, gas stations, welcome centers, and many other places) etc.
    Here recently I have discovered that many hotels are offering pretty good rates along the way. And there are hotels and motels everywhere. Some of their prices are getting the same as some RV parks and campgrounds. In fact at some you can receive a long term (weekly or biweekly or monthly) rate. And some hotels come with a small kitchen with refrig, stove, sink , microwave, etc. Use Google if you don’t believe me. So if I am going to be in an area for awhile to take my time and explore I can get a break on the rates. And when I flush the toilet I don’t have to get rid of what I just flushed again (dump station)!!
    At a hotel or motel all I have to do is check in and carry in a couple bags to my room, then at check out carry a couple bags and I am on my way.
    If I check into an rv park or campground I have to check in, take off the towed car behind the motorhome, back it into the slot get out take out the electric cord plug it in, either hook up or connect up the fresh water hose, level the rig. Then when it is time to leave I have to unhook the cords and hoses, hook up the car on back of the RV, stow everything loose away inside, check the tires on the rv ( you don’t want to have a blowout on one of these bohemeths ), then of course the dreaded dumping the sewerage tanks.
    I’m not saying that RVing is all that bad but please keep an open mind when comparing hotels motels and RVs, and tell the real truth and don’t leave out some of the facts and truths.

  44. Thanks for all of your excellent and insightful comments.

    Kathe, I liked the “cocoon” theory and have often said the same thing myself!

    Linda, I agree with you 100% about germs. At least in our RV I’m dealing with my own germs, and not a stranger’s – LOL.

    Dakzuki, I agree that to get a nice hotel, you really have to pony up a ton of cash. The average hotel in which most of us end up staying most of the time…does indeed suck. 😉

    Joe, I think you elegantly summed up many great advantages of the RV lifestyle in a few simple sentences. I love your final quote: “Living in an RV and moving with the weather is the greatest life in America.” Well said!

  45. I haven’t owned a house, rented an apartment, nor stayed in a motel since 1993. I lived in a travel trailer for 12 years before moving in with my mother who died last fall at age 95. I’ll be returning to the road this year in a motor home. The coming depression won’t affect me one bit because I won’t be paying costly property taxes, house maintenance, insurance, nor utilities. Living in an RV and moving with the weather is the greatest life in America.

  46. Dakzuki

    RV is way better.

    I stay in hotels all the time for work. They suck. Give me a state park and my RV any day.

    I can count on one hand the hotels I actually liked in all my 20+ years at my job (not counting international travel where we get really nice hotels $$$).

  47. Linda

    RV, we started like most campers in tents, love tent camping except for public bath/restroom facilities. So we bought a mh. I traveled extensively for my job (newly retired) just to define extensively in 2005 215 days. All motel nights, mostly one nighters, dragging all that luggage!!! Cleaning every room with bleach wipes. All price range, 38 different states and Canada.

    In our mh never have to worry about leaving something behind, our own bed, our own bathroom, our own coodies and germs. When we take the grandchildren, they can sit on the floor ,the toilet, use the shower and I don’t have to worry. If they catch something its going to be family germs.

    Cost?? We made a 35 day trip with three grandchildren this summer, from Florida to San Diego and lots of points in between. In an RV you can stay places where there are no motels, like the Wichita Mountian Wildlife Reserve in OK and have a huge Bison walk right through your campsite, try that for excitement with the kids. NOBODY in their school has been that close to a real live buffalo. Our averge per day cost for camping fees and fuel was $157.00. You never ever will do that with 5 people staying in motels. We only stayed about 4 nights in parking lots enroute. State and National campgrounds are the most wonderful. We stayed in 3 commercial c/g.

    Yes, it costs to own and maintain your own RV vs renting, but owning, it’s in the yard, loaded and ready to go in a moment. Don’t think I’ll ever be able to full time, love to travel, but need those roots a house provides.

    I could go on and on about the advantages.

  48. Kathe Sutfin

    We started 25 years ago in a tent and now have a 26′ TT. It seems every time we have to travel somewhere and stay in a motel we forget something. You are goint to a wedding and your makeup bag is home, or your shoes and one time my husbands undies. Thank goodness for Walmart. Sometimes however it can be a costly item that you have two of at home. One in the house and one in the camper. I don’t know about anyone else, but we carry spare, sweats, shorts etc. RVing means getting into your own special cacoon with your animals, books and YOUR stuff.

  49. Wow, thanks to all for your comments. I think the general consensus is that RV trumps hotel, at least when it comes to overall comfort, familiarity, and cleanliness. I’m not the cleanest guy in the world, but at least in our RV I’m dealing with my own dirt.

    Tony, it was a pleasure meeting you as well. It’s interesting to hear about your time with ABC News. I might add that most of our fancy hotel stays were on business trips too! I’m more of a Motel 6 kind of guy, at least when it’s time to open my wallet. The phrase, “champagne taste, beer budget” comes to mind. 😉 Kristy and I look forward to seeing you again someday. We are always on the move, so don’t be surprised if we end up in your neighborhood sometime in the future!

  50. Having met you both I can say it was a pleasure. During my first 5 years of full-timing I was the ABC News West Coast Wildland Fire consultant. I saw a many hotel rooms during that time. Pretty nice places they put me in, some were 3 room suites, but in the end I wasn’t comfortable until I returned “home” tom my RV. Even 3 room suites I felt out of place. I didn’t have to pay for them of course as ABC News did, but still the return to the RV (my home) was such a pleasure. No motels for me anymore unless an extraordinary incident occurred to dictate it. Great article and it was my pleasure getting to meet you both! ….Tony aka ” firedude”


  51. Edie Zaprir

    We also travelled a lot: hotels, motels and B&B, but now we are fulltiming in our RV (class B, only 20 ft) and it’s the best !!! We always have our little home with us wherever we go. We don’t have to look for a hotel room anymore.

  52. Andrew Orton

    RV by far!

  53. Nothing beats the comfort and convenience of being in a familiar surrounding and that is what makes the RV so special. You can travel to new and different places, meet new friends, and participate in endless activities, but when it is time to turn in for the night what can be better than your own bed and pillow?

  54. Rick & Gail

    We just got back last July from a 3 month cross country trip from Va to Cal and back in our 97 Motorhome. This being our first trip out west we were a little apprehensive, but had a wonderful time. While out west we met up with some relatives to tour Yellowstone and had to stay 3 nights in the Lake Lodge and 2 nights in Cody Wy. They were both nice hotels with the stay in Cody at the Cody Cowboy Village the BEST room I have stayed in anywhere, bar none. And we have stayed in everything from sleeping bags under the stars to 5 star hotels, but I will ALWAYS prefer our MH over any hotel for the very reasons stated in your article. I like the fact that I KNOW who slept in the bed the night before and the germs encountered are mine or my wife’s. I will stay in a hotel IF NECESSARY, but only if necessary.

  55. kathy

    We recently went to a class reunion and the hotel was $100.00 per nite times 4 nites….no way. A group of us campers went across the street and camped for a full week for less!!! And had a great time at nite with campfires and root beer floats…We are all in our late 50’s and 60’s and you would have thought we were kids…ha ha. And true we had our own beds, bath and breakfasts our way!

  56. We have a fifth wheel and still go to motels for a quick getaway or one that we will be only there for a brief time and moving on. We often stayed in a motel going to florida after a long days drive from De. we would stop in S.C. overnight without having to set up the RV. We would eat at the local restaurant and get an early nights rest and be up and on the road before dawn without having to worry about waking anyone in a campground. Preferences would always be to stay in our RV, and like other’s said, you know it’s clean and has all the amenities. But we have had very nice times at motels and hotels in our travels and you will find the good, the bad, and the ugly somewhere along the road.

  57. Jere Jarrell

    Just this week I saw a item on tv—the hotels in Phoenix are having trouble with bed bugs—my RV doesn’t have that problem. Also do you watch CSI? All the stuff they find in motel rooms with their black lights — yuck!. J.

  58. Bill

    We have stayed at many motels….like the author…big name and small. Recently stayed at a Hilton, with a very nice room. Trouble was, our little Papillon dogs were able to find razor blades and all sorts of junk under the beds. I had to call the maid back, and as I held up the bed, she vacuumed under it.

    Now, I don’t expect a maid to go to that extreme with each room, but I was worried about our dogs, and it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back…and convinced my wife that we really needed a motorhome…where we had the control to keep it clean for ourselves and our loved ones (pets included).

    We’ve only camped a few times, but it’s been fun….and we’re looking forward to many more adventures.

  59. Tony King

    I’ve traveled in a Motorhome for 30 years and last summer because of time decided to take a 2 week car/hotel vacation. I can say without a doubt…..without a shadow of doubt, I will take my Motorhome over the car/hotel . My food , my bed , my schedule , better views , and best of all my own bathroom. Having to use filthy public toilets while traveling all day long is gross and a major hassle.

  60. We’re tent campers, not RV’ers, but all of our family trips are an ongoing debate between camping and motels. On our way back from a week of camping and hiking in Montana this summer, driving through the Badlands late afternoon, we bagged the planned motel room in Bismarck, with an easy hot shower and a quick breakfast, and turned up into Teddy Roosevelt National Park and the Cottonwood Campground. I was really glad to pull into the campground with the terrific badlands views and the smell of sage.

    For us, camping wasn’t a choice about relative luxuries: we knew we were headed for the cot and the cold and no plumbing. It was about extending the experience, staying in a place that felt like the West and didn’t just have Western decor.

    Check out our website for info on our book “Camping the North Shore: A guide to the 23 best campgrounds in Minnesota’s spectacular Lake Superior region.”

  61. David Campbell

    For several years we stayed in hotels and motels since we thought that staying in an RV was not what we wanted to do any more. “Been there, done that”. After one experience in a motel near the Salton Sea we began to think about buying a new truck camper again, which we did. Used that for 3 years, but when access to the bathroom for the wife while driving where pulling off was not an option, we traded it for a motorhome. (Plus a few bucks!) Now after several long (2 and 3 months) trips over the last three years we are again firmly committed to an RV. We don’t even have to stop in a motel every few days just to take a good shower and sleep in a bed that we have to climb up into. We did have a shower, but it was a “wet” bathroom that I almost couldn’t use. But now we have a separate shower that I can even turn around in!. Our own bed, our own recliners and best of all we can stop anywhere.