You book a hotel room to get away and yet—even as you luxuriate in the starchy, just-laundered sheets, a gratis square of chocolate melting in your mouth—you can find yourself thinking wistfully of home. Or, at least in my case, of my Seamless account. This paradoxical phenomenon is, of course, compounded when the purpose of your travels is not strictly a choice—an extended business trip, say, or your second cousin’s destination wedding. With this in mind, we polled experts—from an interior designer to a sleep doctor for suggestions on how to make even the most sterile of hotel rooms feel a little bit more like home. That way you can kick back, unwrap the next gratis chocolat and relish the fact that you aren’t the one responsible for washing those sheets in the morning. Without further ado, their tips (with some of ours thrown in for good measure):
1. Unpack (Duh!): It may sound obvious, but many of us neglect to do it. Which leads to that not-so-pleasant “living out of a suitcase” feeling. A stay longer than three days calls for a full unpack. Less than that, though, globetrotting Fashion Me Now blogger Lucy Williams recommends hanging up only the essentials and the fancy bits, “like silk shirts or dresses that crease so they’re ready-to-wear.” This rule doesn’t just apply to clothes: “I unpack my makeup and beauty stuff first, so I can see what I’ve brought and remember to use it!” says Williams. Better yet: Spread a towel out on the bathroom counter or dressing area and arrange all your beauty and skincare products to create a luxurious vanity.
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2. Make it Your Own: “As an interior designer, I don’t hesitate to move the furniture around in my room,” says Heather Clawson, interior designer and founder of Habitually Chic, who advises making small adjustments to the layout to better suit your tastes and purposes. For instance, says Clawson, “I once moved a desk to sit in front of a window in a Paris hotel room so I could work with a view.” Hate the glare of the digital clock at your bedside? Unplug it and stow it under the bed. Creeped out by the photo of a woman laughing in your bathroom? Feel free to take it off the wall. Just be sure, cautions Clawson, to put it all back before you check out.
3. Make Scents of It. Scent is the most evocative sense—sniffing something familiar will instantly transport you. “I always pack a Diptyque travel candle and monogrammed matches,” says Clawson. “The scent reminds me of home and adds ambiance.” Williams recommends paying special attention to the scent of your linens. “A good pillow spray is really nice, as it makes everywhere smell like home,” says Williams, who keeps This Works Sleep Spray in her travel arsenal.
4. Sleep Tight. A good night’s rest is probably the most essential—and elusive—aspect of a successful hotel stay. Sleep specialist Dr. Nitun Verma, who serves as Chief Medical Officer of Peerwell, a company treating chronic disease, says common barriers to sleep are noise, stress and emotional discomfort, and uncomfortable bedding. “For instance,” he says, “if the pillow is different from what you’re used to, your [disturbed] sleep posture can prevent sleep.” He says “most hotels have multiple pillow options,” and advises finicky sleepers to “call ahead to get the right fit.” Noise is the easiest to combat–bring earplugs or use a White Noise App. (I’m partial to the Relax Melodies App). Verma recommends traveling with a mini audio cable so you can plug your phone directly into the alarm clock or TV. “Your music through the TV speakers fills the room better,” he says, blocking out unwanted noise. If you’re sensitive to light, like Williams (and myself), be sure to pack an eye mask. I swear by cashmere ones—ridiculously soft, completely opaque and luxurious enough to make sleep feel like a real indulgence.
5. Get into a Routine. Even better: incorporate some of the routines you keep at home—say, showering before bed or doing a crossword puzzle in the morning—while away. This can be especially beneficial around bedtime because, explains Verma, doing the things you usually do before you hit the hay helps signal to your brain that it’s time to turn in. “Bring a phone or tablet with your favorite shows,” advises Verma. “Is there a typical show you watch just before sleep? Bring the same show so you keep your home routine.”
6. Stock Up on Your Favorite Snacks: Everything looks worse when you’re hungry. I usually stow a few energy bars in my carry-on just in case. Clawson recommends scoping out your local bodega “if you’re not traveling on an expense account,” so you can have your favorite drinks and snacks on hand.
7. Don’t Forget to Pack Comfy, Indoor-Only Clothes! "I tend to always bring a couple of comfy bits for hanging out in at the end of a long day,” says Williams. “A cashmere hoodie, Jersey jogging bottoms or leggings and thick socks tend to do the trick.” They may not be the most exciting things to make room for in your suitcase (and they probably don’t go with your Jackie-O-takes-Europe sartorial fantasy) but, trust me, they are essential. Try to avoid wearing the items outside—that way they’ll feel cleaner and fresher after a long day exploring the new locale (looking like Jackie O, of course).
8. Unwind. For Clawson, that means long candle-lit baths before bed. For Williams, it’s whipping out her laptop and watching an episode of one of her favorite shows to “switch off before bed.” For me, it’s listening to a podcast and playing Candy Crush at the same time. If you’re having trouble relaxing, Dr. Verma suggests a brief meditation practice. “10 minutes minimum is recommended,” he says. Whatever your jam is, make a point to carve out some time to do it—no matter how hectic your schedule is. After all, you’re miles away from home—you may as well enjoy it.