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An Insider’s Guide to Motel Living

happy motel staff

Ever wonder what it would be like to spend a couple of weeks living in a motel? My family and I had the opportunity to find out for ourselves last summer. We ended up spending nine weeks living at a local motel—the Best Western Otonabee Inn—in the wake of a house fire.

a best western sign

A full year later, I still can’t stop thinking about the exceptional service we received from the motel staff during our stay. It was the little things that made a big difference: the way the breakfast room staff would take a moment to ask us how our house repairs were going and the way Jeremy at the front desk would take a break from his paperwork to share a kind word or a laugh. The staff knew we were going through a stressful time and they did their best to boost our mood and lighten our load.

hotel staff happy at desk

Of course, we weren’t the only ones who benefited from the staff’s commitment to customer service. I also had the chance to watch them in action, helping other people. I was so inspired by one particular act of kindness that I felt compelled to fire off a note to the owner of the motel to tell him about it:

“Early one morning, I was sitting in the lobby, reading the newspaper, when a young mom arrived at the hotel, clearly distraught. It was Canada Day, all the stores were closed, and she had remembered at the last minute that her son needed a t-shirt for camp. She asked the front desk staff if they happened to have one in the lost and found and Nicole (front desk person) not only managed to find a t-shirt. She also managed to find a towel and pair of sunglasses! The mom was so grateful that she started to cry. It was a pretty moving scene. Needless to say, I will be singing your staff’s praises far and wide for a very long time.”

a gazebo in a yard

What we learned

That may have been the most important lesson we learned during our weeks of living in a motel: what a far-reaching impact a simple act of kindness can have on the lives of everyone it touches. But that wasn’t the only thing we learned. We also learned how to maximize comfort and minimize stress while away from home. Here are a few practical tips, based on our experience:

Do your homework when it comes to choosing the right room.

Maybe you’d like a room with a patio or a balcony or a spectacular view. If you don’t have the luxury of researching your options ahead of time, simply ask the motel staff for their best advice when you arrive at check-in. They’re the resident experts, after all. And while you’re at it, be sure to find out what else is available in the area. Ask the staff to recommend the best restaurants within walking distance of the hotel and to highlight other attractions you might want to know about, including local parks and walking trails. They’ll be happy to help.

Take full advantage of the on-site amenities.

During our time at the Best Western Otonabee Inn, we hit the complimentary breakfast buffet on a daily basis, for example. Doing so saved us the hassle (to say nothing of the expense) of finding a meal someplace else first thing in the morning.

hotel breakfast bar

Don’t be afraid to opt out of hotel services, if they are going to make your life more rather than less stressful.

If, for example, what you are craving more than anything else on a particular day is good old-fashioned peace and quiet, don’t be afraid to hang out the “do not disturb” sign and pass on the opportunity to have your room cleaned that day. (Hey, there’s always tomorrow.) Bottom line? Ask for what you need—even if what you need is less rather than more.