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

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