The Motel Life: Should You Tip The Housekeeper?

I am writing this from Room 103 of the Travelodge in Covington, Georgia. There's not much to do here – instead of my usual weekend walks around a city's downtown area, I instead have done my walking at the Walmart that's next to my motel. This has definitely hampered my photographic output, but – on the plus side – it's the reason why I'm currently wearing brand new socks.

Covington is located off of Interstate 20, about 30 miles east of Atlanta. The next closest town is Conyers, which I actually visited several times in the early-and-mid 90's. It was in Conyers where some lady started claiming that the Virgin Mary was visiting her on the 13th of every month. That's why I was there – dragged along several times by my super-Catholic parents to hear what the Virgin Mary had to say to this lady. My family and I were on a bus trip to Conyers when the Superstorm Of 1993 hit. The bus never made it, as a blizzard had made the road to the lady's house unpassable. On the way back to Florida, the bus driver started to doze off, almost sending us to our deaths somewhere near Valdosta. It was the first time I saw snow, so – in the end – it was a pretty fun trip.

The Virgin Mary never made her way to Covington, nor have – to the best of my knowledge – any other Catholic All-Stars. With no miracles to witness and not much beyond the Walmart to explore, the overwhelming majority of my time in Covington has been spent in my motel room, which has been fine by me, as I had a bunch of writing to catch up on and plenty of baseball games on TV to keep me entertained.

I've also had a very friendly housekeeper to chat with during the two late-morning moments in which she's come by to see if I need more coffee and towels. That "late-morning" part is key: I sleep in on the weekends, usually until 11am or so. Far too often, my weekend sleeps are interrupted by housekeeping knocking on my door way too early, which is not the best way to start my day. Even worse is being woken up by hearing them say, "housekeeping", while knocking on the door to a nearby room – it's impossible to get back to sleep at that point, especially as the knocking and the sound of the cart and the "housekeeping" – always in the same damn tone and cadence, regardless of the housekeeper's gender or country of origin – creeps closer and closer. If you're a normal person, you probably don't have to worry about this, as you're likely waking up early to go out and be touristy or to continue on the road to wherever you're final destination might be. That ain't me, though – as my weekends are devoted mainly to rest, the dread of the too-early housekeeper is something I deal with regularly.

So it's a relief that I haven't had to deal with it this weekend. The courteousness of my housekeeper – combined with her niceness – means that I'll soon be making one more trip to the Walmart in order to use their ATM so that I can leave a tip for her when I depart on Monday morning.

Is this the point where you incredulously ask, "But, Carl, don't you tip the housekeeping staff every time? And why don't you just call them maids?" I hope not, because I like you and figured you'd give me the benefit of the doubt. If that's not the case, though, then let's answer your latter question first: when they knock on my door, they say, "housekeeping", which means they are housekeepers. If they knocked and said, "maid's a-knockin'!", then I would call them maids. Granted, it would be really cool if – just once – they would knock while saying, "maid's a-knockin'!"

On to the former question: No, I don't leave a tip every time. And I don't believe you should feel compelled to do so, either.

Let me restate the obvious (i.e. don't feign outrage just yet): this is a column about staying in cheap motels. This ain't about resorts, bed and breakfasts, or the fancy Hilton downtown with the rotating restaurant on top – this is about the $40 pit stop on the side of the highway. Based on the chats I've had with other housekeepers over the years, I've learned that – even when they leave one of those envelopes with the housekeeper's name lovingly scribbled on it by the coffeemaker – in the $40 pit stops on the side of the highway, a tip is not expected.

Of course, that does not mean that you should never tip. When should you? Let me continue my attempt at justifying my position by going over a couple scenarios:

1) How long are you staying?

If you're just passing through - only at the motel to get some sleep, and barely touching anything beyond a towel or two - then a tip isn't really necessary. If you're in town for an extended period, though – let's say anything over two days – then you should definitely consider tipping, especially if you're in a situation like me where you actually end up chatting with the housekeeper each time they drop by.

2) Are they knocking on your door at some god-awfully early hour?

Listen, I know that they're not doing it to be pricks. I know that they're likely knocking early because – you know – it's their job and they probably have a bunch of other rooms to clean that day. I'm a massively grumpy s.o.b. when anybody wakes me up early, though – all thoughts of tipping disappear once I'm interrupted from my happy dreams about rock-throwing monkeys (that's actually what I dreamt of last night, and the rocks weren't aimed at me, which is why it was a happy dream).

3) Have you made a mess?

Is the TV on the floor? Are there beer cans everywhere? Did you crack the carafe of the coffeemaker? If you've done anything at all that requires the housekeeper to do any extra work, then the least you should do is leave a nice tip.

4) Have you made a mess? You know, a mess involving any one of your body's fluids?

Did you puke? Did the start of a particularly-heavy period happen overnight? Did you make sweet love to one of the hand towels? This one should be obvious: if you've done anything – anything at all – in which you think to yourself, "man, I'm glad I don't have to clean that up", then you should absolutely leave a generous tip to the person who has to clean that up.

5) Have you got any cash on ya?

This is the trickiest one, and the one that most trips me up in situations when I feel I should tip. I rarely carry cash on me anymore. Part of it is a safety thing, but most of this is due to the fact that – until work takes me to parts of the country with toll roads – there's no reason for me to do so. Unless a situation occurs like the one today – where I've already made a point to hit up the ATM at the Walmart next to my motel (and maybe buy a couple more socks while there) – it's unlikely that I'll end up tipping in the morning, as that would mean that I'd have to leave the motel, find an ATM, buy something in order to break the $20 that the ATM gives me, then go back to the motel to leave my tip. Bad karma or not, that's just too much of an inconvenience, especially during the week, when I'm on a tight work schedule.

So this one's up to you. If you think you should tip but you have no cash, and you head off to the nearest ATM, then congrats on being saintly. If you don't, I'm not going to judge you and hopefully you won't judge me. That's just the way things are in this increasingly-cashless society of ours. Until they attach a credit card swiper to the housekeeping cart, I'm not going to lose sleep (or interrupt any monkey-related dreams) over it.

What do you think? I've never really discussed motel tipping with anyone - and I was a bit hesitant about writing this post because of that - so I'd love to know your opinion on this. Am I a heartless monster for not tipping every time, depriving housekeepers of some much-needed supplemental income? Did you figure that tipping just wasn't expected in cheap motels? Let me know - don't be shy.

The photo at the top of this post is of the curtains at the Travelodge in Covington, Georgia. More of my motel photography can be found at my Tumblr page, Motel Interiors. If you wanna say hey without leaving a comment, then drop me a line at carl@honeybrownblues.com.

Previously:

Dealing With Bugs | What's The Difference Between A Motel And A Hotel? | Trusting WiFi |Dealing With Other Motel Guests | Dealing With Expectations | When Should You Opt For A Cheap Motel?