Until the first travel trailers became available in the 1930s, auto tourists adapted their cars by adding beds, makeshift kitchens and roof decks.
The next step up from the travel trailer was the cabin camp, a primitive but permanent group of structures.
As large highway systems began to be developed in the 1920s, long-distance road journeys became more common, and the need for inexpensive, easily accessible overnight accommodation sites close to the main routes led to the growth of the motel concept.
Motels peaked in popularity in the 1960s with rising car travel, only to decline in response to competition from the newer chain hotels that became commonplace at highway interchanges as traffic was bypassed onto newly constructed freeways.
Motels are typically constructed in an "I"-, "L"-, or "U"-shaped layout that includes guest rooms; an attached manager's office; a small reception; and in some cases, a small diner and a swimming pool.
A motel was typically single-story with rooms opening directly onto a parking lot, making it easy to unload suitcases from a vehicle.
The price was higher but the cabins had electricity, indoor bathrooms, and occasionally a private garage or carport.
They were arranged in attractive clusters or a U-shape.
They also kept those pesky "tin can tourists" out of the farmer's fields.This was not an issue in an era where the major highways became the main street in every town along the way and inexpensive land at the edge of town could be developed with motels, car dealerships, fuel stations, lumber yards, amusement parks, roadside diners, drive-in restaurants, theaters, and countless other small roadside businesses.The automobile brought mobility and the motel could appear anywhere on the vast network of two-lane highways.Often, these camps were part of a larger complex containing a filling station, a café, and sometimes a convenience store.Facilities like the Rising Sun Auto Camp in Glacier National Park and Blue Bonnet Court in Texas were "mom-and-pop" facilities on the outskirts of towns that were as quirky as their owners.
A few motels (particularly in Niagara Falls, Ontario, where a motel strip extending from Lundy's Lane to the falls has long been marketed to newlyweds) would offer "honeymoon suites" with extra amenities such as whirlpool baths.