Help me choose from among a few transportation/lodging options for a St. Louis-Columbia-Knoxville trip.
I am giving two talks in one week, one at the University of Missouri in Columbia MO on Monday and one in Knoxville, Tennessee on Friday. My plan is to fly (from either Boston or Providence, I'll be in southern MA) into St. Louis and either drive or take public transportation to MU and then take a nice leisurely rental car drive to TN and visit some friends along the way and fly home from Knoxville.
My main question is if it's relatively simple to get from St. Louis to Columbia in some way other than driving my own rental car, like is there a shuttle or bus to the university from the airport? These guys
Second question is whether there are any "you MUST stay here" places near MU? (I prefer cheap and funky motel type places over big chain hotels, and I usually check airbnb as well) Or anything on the way along any of the various routes to Knoxville that would help me choose among the routes I have available?
Last question is whether there is some other option I am not thinking of? There's a great non-stop flight from Boston to Kansas City MO, for example, but the rental car prices there are a bunch higher than St Louis. I am not trying to do this trip on the cheap but would love to not spend money I didn't have to on stuff like rental cars so I could spend it on stuff like nifty motels and fun road food. I am a fairly seasoned traveler so I check stuff out via kayak.com, carrentals.com and a few other sites, but if the world of rental cars has changed in the last year or so, please school me! Thanks for any advice.