US Coast to Coast trip so far. Picture courtesy of Google Maps
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We are now leaving Memphis TN to drive South to New Orleans in Louisiana, crossing Mississippi in the process via the State capital Jackson. Mississippi is home of the blues, famous for its cotton fields and the birthplace of Elvis Presley. 3 million people inhabit this State with Jackson standing at 175,000 souls. We are now entering another level of pickup domination: the Ford F-Series leads and the Top 3 to 5 best-sellers in the State potentially being pickups… I’ve also chosen this post as an opportunity to give you my impressions on US budget motels…
Apt soundtrack leaving Memphis…
Driving to the tune of the Walk the Line soundtrack – yes I’m going to Jackson, I noticed a trend towards commercial F150 crew cab models (with black bumpers), a very healthy amount of F250 while the Ram pickup – like the 1500 (Albert) I’m driving, now pops up on the road at levels not seen since the start of this trip. I also spotted shiny new Toyota Tundras for the first time in a while.
Nissan Altima in Winona MS
Logically (as it is manufactured here in Mississippi), the Nissan Altima should be the best-selling passenger car in this State, but the hero of the day is the Chevrolet Malibu, a car I had hardly spotted since I landed in the US, before today that is. A constant flow of Malibu is travelling along Mississippi highways right now.
Building on my observations in Tennessee, the GMC Acadia can be seen very frequently in Mississippi, as well as the Buick Enclave and Ford Taurus. In terms of heritage I saw a surprisingly high amount of Chevrolet HHR. On the other hand, I didn’t notice any particular surge in popularity for the Toyota Corolla, manufactured in Blue Springs, Mississippi.
Albert in Winona MS
I did not want to tamper with the authenticity of my Coast to Coast trip and decided to test out the oh-so-American concept of budget motels, perfect for this type of voyage. Going for the cheaper end of the scale while trying to avoid falling into dodgy-land, here are my impressions. Note this is based on all motels I stayed at up until Texas which post-dates this article so it is a definitive list (I won’t update it!)… But first a big salute to US highway signage that indicate all food, lodging and gas options before each exit. Makes for a very simplified choice process.
The best value-for-money US motel chain I have stayed at is Econolodge, at $49.99 in Savannah. The typical motel experience with flat buildings (meaning not 2nd storey), a parking spot in front of each room, sleepy welcome (at 11pm, granted) but all the amenities in the room including free wifi (a given in all motel chains) and a comfortable sleep. At the time it was the cheapest motel I got to stay in and also the best.
2. Motel 6
Owned by the Accor Group, Motel 6 is the most frequent motel chain I have spotted along US highways and it also gave me the best value-for-money night of the entire trip at $39.99 in Dallas. Add in a very warm welcome, one of the best beds and rooms in the trip and a worried ‘you didn’t like it?’ by the receptionist when I checked out after only one night and you’d think Motel 6 would come first in my ranking. Not so, simply because of a relatively expensive first night in Washington DC ($89.99), with the same level of comfort. Given Motel 6 is much more widely spread than Econolodge it would be my default choice along this trip.
3. La Quinta
Not the cheapest chain (but not the most expensive either), ok rooms and very consistent quality levels across two nights in different States. Not that it was a point of difference for me, but I know many customers choose La Quinta motels because they are the only chain at that price level to be consistently pet friendly. The receptionist at the La Quinta Amarillo TX will remain as one of the more colourful characters of this trip: “Whyyyyyy are you staying in Amarillo there is nothing here!” A breath of fresh air among the circumspect (yet polite) welcome I received in most other places.
Albert in Days Inn Nashville TN
4. Days Inn
Another very frequent motel chain along my route, Days Inn however loses a couple of spots due to too large variations in price and quality over my trip. The best experience was a $59.99 night in Nashville with top notch quality, wifi and amenities, but I enquired at a couple of other Days Inn along the way: double the price and double the dodgy factor.
5. Sentry Inn in New Orleans
Although this motel, reached at ungodly hours of the night on my way from Memphis, was potentially the closest to dodgy I got to on this trip, in a questionable neighbourhood and with feeble wifi, it gets in the Top 5 uniquely because of the flamboyant African-American receptionist wearing fluorescent, diamond-adorned pink nails longer than her hand, lovingly checking me out with a collection of ‘baby’, ‘honey’ and other ‘luv’. I’m still blushing.
Next stop: New Orleans