Monday, February 17, 2014

What Comes and Goes: Organizing Your Travel Essentials

   There is a set of five drawers built into the wall of the guest room of my 1940‘s Cape Cod house. That’s where I stash all my travel things.

   Whenever I pack for a trip, I know I can find what I need in one of those drawers and what I pick up along the way comes home with me and is stashed there. That means, after a busy year of travel, the drawers are stuffed, crammed with luggage tags, eye masks, adapters, hotel amenities, little cosmetic bags from airlines, tubes of lip balm and toothpaste, refillable 3 oz bottles and all the other travel-related odds and ends one collects.

   It’s interesting what we rely on to make travel more comfortable and what we bring back with us. I have a stash of airline socks from overnight international flights and tiny sewing kits from hotels; one makes long flights more comfortable and the other keeps me supplied with spare buttons. I always keep one or two hotel shower caps in my cosmetic bag and I’ve used them for much more than keeping my hair dry. They can wrap a sandwich, protect my camera from the rain or hold shells and sea glass from the beach. I always take a spare when I check out.

   One drawer holds the compression bags that help me fit more in a suitcase, crumpled boarding passes, a luggage scale, a travel-sized hair dryer and flat iron and--amid a jumble of camera chargers-- little notebooks and discarded makeup.  Opening another I find city maps and sunglasses and little souvenirs I’d forgotten I bought.

   January and February are good months to reorganize and get rid of the clutter. I put on a movie or catch up on an entire season of Downton Abbey and go through each drawer, organizing the things I need and tossing what is no longer useful. I sort through the various quart-size resealable plastic bags left over from trips, each with one or two half-empty bottles of mouthwash or hand lotion. I pull out the all the extra tiny shampoo and conditioner bottles and miniature bars of soap from favorite hotels to give to my daughters or donate to programs like AAA’s Soap for Hope.

   By the time I’m done there is room in each drawer. I’m up to day with the Dowager Countess and Lord and Lady Grantham’s headstrong girls. Things are tidy and easy to find and I’m organized for another year of adventures.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” (available at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane) and can be reached at

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Weight of Words


        Lately, I have been editing my collection of books, thinning the shelves, lightening the load of reading material I’ve accumulated over the last decade or so.

Each day I take an empty shopping bag, the sturdy fabric kind with strong handles, down to the storeroom in my basement and I bring it back up full of books. I take the heavy bag to the “used book” counter at the bookstore downtown. They take what they want, give me store credit and I donate the rest to a favorite charity. This has been going on for a couple of weeks now. Over and over again I descend to the storeroom and return with as much as I can carry away. 

I have never been one to resist a good book. It’s not in my DNA. I pick them up at garage sales, at bookstores--new and used-- at airports and library sales. I’m swayed by an illustration, a subject, a cover, an author. I hold the book in my hands and in my mind’s eye I can actually see myself reading it, swathed in afghans, sipping tea, reclining on the chaise lounge in my room. Each book holds the promise of a few moments to myself, the chance that it will improve me, educate me, enthrall me. So I am sold. Then, the book comes home to sit beside my chair, gather dust beside my bed until it is read and, finally, rest on the shelves in my basement. Sometimes I buy a book because someone I know might like it but I either forget to give it to them or realize it wasn’t the right gift after all, and on the shelf it goes.

Every once in a while, when the weight of books becomes too much for the shelves ------and my conscience--to support, I hold myself accountable for the clutter and decide what I will keep for a bit longer and what I will let go.

Some of the books on those shelves are old friends. They are my family. Those books will stay there until I’m the one carried out of the house. Others were impossible to resist at the time, but they’ve lost their appeal.  Some were fun to read but not something I want to keep forever. Others--the travel guides and how-to books, for instance--are obsolete and others are no longer up-to-date. Into the bag they all go. Carrying one bag at a time up the stairs, I feel like I’m secretly tunneling my way out a fortress of words.

Of course, there is that store credit. And I have already brought home one or two new books from my book-selling trips. But that’s something to worry about in a few years. When the shelves fill up again.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s weekly column is published by Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” (available at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane) and can be reached at