My friends from the travel blog For 91 Days recently asked me how I stay organised in a hotel room when travelling. What a great topic to add to the Tidy Tips section here! Over the past decade prior to the pandemic, I travelled roughly one million kilometres around the world all alone. Most of my trips were for work, but I also travelled leisurely whenever I had a bit of time off.
Being on the road so much and living out of a suitcase takes logistical coordination, as well as organisational talent. In the same sense that a tidy, organised home provides peace of mind, having a system in place to stay organised when you’re travelling is equally key to staying sane. And staying on time!
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Let’s face it, travel can be extremely stressful. Different time zones, new foods, and water quality you might not be used to. Hectic timelines and itineraries. All of this stuff is difficult as it is to navigate. The last thing you need is to be frantically searching your hotel room up and down for your phone charger two minutes before checkout. Or worse: your passport.
Say goodbye to misplacing your stuff and digging through your toiletry bag every morning. Here’s how to stay organised in a hotel room so that you feel at home and make it through your trip, whether it’s for business or pleasure.
Get Settled: Delegate Space
Everything in its place. Even if you’re in the luxurious position to book a large suite, it’s likely that you’re going to have much less space at your disposal than what you’re used to at home. Staying tidy and keeping everything in a designated place will help you stay organised throughout your stay.
Upon arrival, scan the room when you walk in and assess your temporary setup. Do you have countertop space in the bathroom? A closet or wardrobe in the entryway? Any drawers? Hooks? Is there a table, nightstand, or desk? Even in the tiniest of hotel rooms, you’ll usually find a small nightstand with an integrated or nearby electrical outlet. This is a great place to keep your phone charger cable plugged in for the duration of your stay.
If there is a desk, leave your keycard and handbag or briefcase there. This is going to be your main hub for your daily personal items. Every time you come back into the room, deposit your things in this same place.
Throw away any tickets or papers from the first leg of your trip, which you no longer need. Remove and throw away the airline’s sticky badge on your suitcase.
Hang your coat and any scarves or umbrellas on the coat hook in the entrance. No hooks? Put them in the closet.
Unpack Clothes Promptly After Check-In
You might be knackered after a 14-hour long flight and just want to order room service and then collapse. But take 15 minutes as soon as you walk through your hotel room door to unpack your stuff. Whether you’re staying for one night or two weeks, unpacking your bags and getting organised will help you avoid misplacing anything. Plus your clothing will be less wrinkled the sooner you get it back onto a hanger.
Hang up your clothes and arrange your undergarments and socks in neat stacks in the closet. Stow any extra shoes you brought on the lower shelf or cubby of the closet.
I prefer to avoid using any of the hotel room drawers because it’s too easy to leave things behind in them. Instead I place everything I’ve brought with me in terms of clothing and footwear in the wardrobe.
Organise Your Toiletries
I’ve stayed in some pretty darn expensive, much-hyped hotels (hello, Ace) on a regular basis, which had absolutely no space around or above the sink to put anything. It’s a nightmare. Especially when you’re paying $375 a night, yet find a cockroach staring at you one evening while you’re reading in bed. I kid you not.
Some hotel designers haven’t wrapped their heads around the fact that people bring toiletries with them and need space in the bath. For situations like this, you might prefer to opt for a hanging toiletry bag just in case the only space you have is to hang it from the bathroom doorknob or shower rod.
The really good hotels—they’re often not that expensive or hyped about—have invested some thought into you as a guest. You’ll typically find either a countertop in the bath, or a drawer, cabinet, or generously sized ledge above the sink to lay out your stash.
Here’s an example of the room I stayed in last week whilst on a short trip to Prague. This quiet room was only €53 a night, and it was smack centre downtown. It had a desk, lounge chair, and generously sized wardrobe with safe, plus the bathroom was thoughtfully designed. The sink had a good amount of space around it, and the shelf above it was large enough to accommodate my makeup bag and tidbits. Thank you, Grandior, I’ll be back.
My layout in the bath is always the same. There are usually two glasses in every hotel room. I use one for all my tooth cleaning stuff, and the other for my makeup brushes, hairbrush, and eyelash curler. I set out my facial cleaning products and travel-sized deodorant, but keep all my makeup in a little toiletry bag at the sink. This system has served me well for many years, and it keeps the bathroom very tidy during my stay.
Pro tip: throughout the year save any facial or makeup samples you get at Sephora or find in magazines. I corral all of these samples into a little container in a closet drawer I use to store travel items. When I have a trip coming up and start packing, I select the samples best suited to the duration of my stay. This way I will use up the products during my trip, and not have to lug too many toiletries back home with me. If I really liked a sample product I used on a trip, I'll make a note of it so I can check the dutyfree shop at the airport on my way back, or purchase it when I get home.
Use the Safe
Stay safe and use your safe. Lock away your passport, laptop, any fine jewellery, cash, or other valuables whenever you leave the room. Even if it’s only for a coffee!
You’ll usually find a small hotel safe built into the closet, a drawer, or nightstand. If you know you’ll definitely need a safe, but aren’t sure if your hotel provides one, ask them ahead of your arrival.
I have had at least one situation where my room was missing one. Housekeeping was, however, able to lock-mount a portable safe into my wardrobe upon my arrival. I generally don’t use cash or bring any good jewellery with me, so that solution was fine to store my laptop and passport.
Stow Your Suitcase
Stow your suitcase in the closet if there’s enough space, or on top of the wardrobe. If there is no room, hide the suitcase behind the curtains to keep it out of sight. If you’re only on a short trip, you should have plenty of room left in the wardrobe to stow your overnight bag or your carry-on luggage.
Stay Tidy Throughout Your Stay
My number one tip is to use a laundry bag when travelling to stay organised in a hotel room. If you don’t want to buy one, you can simply repurpose a shopping bag, either plastic or paper, as your laundry bag. When you’re unpacking, set your laundry bag up in the closet so you can throw your dirty gear in it at the end of the day.
When you’re ready to pack back up prior to checkout, you just either wrap the entire laundry bag up and put it in your suitcase, or transfer the contents to a packing cube you’ve denoted for your dirty stuff.
One of my favourite hotels I regularly stay at in Manhattan has built-in drawers right inside the wardrobe. I know I just said I don’t use drawers, but if they are in the closet, I will use the top drawer for dirty stuff. Super easy. When I go to pack up, I toss it all into an extra packing cube I bring along for dirty stuff on longer trips. Or you can just use an extra plastic bag from one of your shopping excursions.
My favourite packing cubes: I use this set from Eagle Creek and it’s held up for years. Click the image to see the sizing.
Apart from that, when it comes to staying organised in a hotel room, the number one rule is to stick to the “everything in its place” thought every single time you come back into the room. That means: keycard on the table. Shoes in the closet. Phone into the charger. Have you done some shopping? Put the receipts in your wallet, and the bags right into the closet.
Be a Good Hotel Guest—Pick Up After Yourself
I used to be a chambermaid many years ago. It was not a fun job and on some shifts I honestly wanted to bawl. Today my situation is different, and I can stay in hotel rooms myself. I respect the housekeepers’ profession all the more.
I vividly remember the messes I had to clean up as a young maid. Not just “trashed” rooms, but unspeakable things like feces, blood, semen, splattered food, urine, sometimes everything literally everywhere except for where it belonged! And that was in a good hotel. On more days than one I wondered what animals had been staying there. 😳
I never want to be that jerk. I scrub the toilet bowl myself if I’ve had a mess, and I put all my waste in the bin before I go out. Before checking out, I place any dirty cups or glasses in the bathroom sink, wipe my toothpaste drip from the faucet, and toss out the disposable hotel slippers I used.
Bascially, upon checkout the only tell tale sign that I’ve been in my room at all is that my bed is unmade, the rubbish bins are full, and I’ve bundled my used towels, bathrobe, and bathmat in the bathtub. That makes it easier for the housekeeper to collect it all in one go. I guess I want to make her job easier because I know first-hand she has other much worse rooms to contend with.
All packed up and ready to go with your suitcase at the door? Do one final sweep of the room and bath. You don’t want to leave anything behind! I usually check the desk, open the closet one last time, and poke my head into the bathroom to make sure I didn’t forget anything.
If you’re staying in the US, which unfortunately still does not pay service workers a living wage, it’s nice to leave a tip for your housekeeper before you shut the door behind you. She made your bed during your stay, perhaps laid out an evening chocolate for you like they do at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, and tidied your bathroom spotlessly every day.
Kudos to all the wonderful housekeepers out there who have provided a comfortable hotel experience on so many otherwise uncomfortable trips! ❤️