Own up – do you have a collection of hotel toiletries in your bathroom cabinet?
You know – those cute mini-soaps and bottles of shampoo and body lotion in stylish packaging, that you couldn’t resist taking home as a souvenir. I’m sure hotels fully expect us to do this, and build the cost into their room charges. Yet somehow we feel a little guilty, as though we’re stealing. After all, we pay-as-we-go for food and drink in a minibar, so why is there a different system for toiletries and amenities?
The cost to the planet
I’ve often wondered what happens to those partially-used products that do get left behind. Environmentally, they must be disastrous, if they are all tossed into landfill. Even if staff were allowed to take them home, I suspect that this would reach a point of saturation within a short time, so would not provide a full solution.
Somehow I can’t imagine large hotel chains spending the time sifting out, and recycling, unused products. I’m aware that some have moved to a dispenser system with refillable containers – a great idea. Marriott and Intercontinental Hotels have both announced that they are moving to such a system, and are banning miniature toiletries, and I’m certain this will be the future direction of travel for the industry.
No doubt others will follow suit within a short time. Even if this lacks the romance of a beautifully-packaged gift set, it’s hard to argue with the ecological advantages.
Buy your own
Several personal care products now come in handy travel sizes. These include toothpaste, sunscreen, shampoo and conditioner. When I lived in the UK, I occasionally went to Boots the Chemist to buy these, as they were conveniently set out in a dedicated area of the store. Discounts were offered for multiple purchases.
You can often find trial sizes or ‘travel packs’ of products in your favourite ranges, too, although the latter might not necessarily contain the products you actually use. Beware, however. A UK consumer affairs site, MoneySavingExpert.com, conducted some research and found out that travel size toiletries can cost 7 times as much as the full size! So you’re paying a lot for the convenience.
These days, I avoid the whole dilemma and don’t take hotel toiletries or anything else for that matter. Firstly, I’m fussy about what I use. I have sensitive skin, so I have to be careful. Secondly, I’m never 100% sure about the quality of some of the products provided by hotels. Unless you can afford five star luxury, the likelihood is that you’ll never have heard of the brands on offer. Thirdly, and illogically, I’ve tended not to use the items I’ve taken home in the past.
Instead, hotel toiletries have sat neglected and forgotten in a cupboard. I’ve occasionally put some out for visiting house guests, who also never use them. Hilariously, I’ve stayed in other people’s homes where hotel toiletries are put out for me – and I’ve never used them either! There must be some peculiarly human psychology going on here, but whatever it is, I’ve decided that enough is enough.
Instead, I now use the DIY method. I have a motley collection of small empty bottles, saved over the years, which I refill with my own products. Along with some handy cosmetic and perfume samples given to me in stores, these form my own personal amenity pack. The containers are all small enough to contain less than the 100 ml limit allowed through airport security.
The only snag is that I do sometimes forget what I’ve put into an empty bottle. I might put shampoo into a former shower gel bottle, for instance. Then I end up having to sniff the contents to try and remember what they are! I need to make a set of labels.
What do we really need?
Of course it’s not just toiletries that are on offer these days. Hotel rooms have everything from shoe cleaners to emery boards, sewing kits and combs. Is this really necessary? In my opinion, all we really need is a dispenser of hand wash at the basin and decent quality shower gel, shampoo and conditioner dispensed in the shower. An emergency supply of one or two feminine sanitary products can be a much-appreciated life saver. Perhaps a razor and a sachet of shaving gel for the fellas.
What about flying?
When it comes to flying long haul, my two key preoccupations are staying fresh, and staying hydrated. So I was a little surprised to open my amenity pack, when flying to London a few months ago, and finding laundry items (a stain remover soap bar and a bottle of crease release spray) alongside the usual socks, earplugs and sleep blindfold. None of which I used.
If I could design my own pack, it would contain: a bamboo toothbrush, a tear-open packet of tooth powder (rather than a plastic tube of toothpaste), mouthwash, micellar facial wipes, a facial spray of moisturising mist, a hand towelette and a little pot of multi-purpose balm. Plus a razor and a tear-open sachet of shaving foam for my husband. That’s not too much to ask, is it!
Virgin Atlantic, always innovative and a little irreverent, took a humorous approach when certain desirable amenities started to disappear from their planes. They discreetly imprinted them with ‘Pinched from Virgin’ – thus gaining a little bit of random publicity in the process! I loved that story, told by Richard Branson in his book Business stripped bare: adventures of a global entrepreneur.
Some airlines are re-thinking their amenity packs and making them more eco-friendly, as this article from Conde Nast Traveller shows. Which is great news.
Free gifts – or bribes?
So why do hotels and airlines provide so many superfluous extras? Perhaps some guests and travellers are a lot more demanding than my husband and me, or have very different expectations. But I suspect that it’s all about marketing. The industry has worked out that humans love shiny trinkets, whether we need them or not. Indulging us with these little gifts is a way of making us feel special, so that we’re more likely to stay, or fly, with that company again.
Even if we end up with a full bathroom cupboard. However, as soon as the industry is convinced that ecological considerations are more important to customers than self-indulgence, it will shift its focus and deliver accordingly. Signs are that this is already happening – and that can only be a good thing. Meanwhile, take those half-filled little bottles home with you, because you’re actually doing the planet a favour!
UPDATE 12 October 2019: California just introduced a law banning small bottles of hotel toiletries. This is clearly the direction of travel.
If you’re interested in environmental aspects of travel, you might enjoy my post on eco-luxury and volunteering.
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