One for the Road – and Twenty More to Take Home

The Quest for Hotel Freebies

I hate to say this, but historians have it all wrong. Christopher Columbus never set off on that voyage because he wanted to discover a new world. The whole trip was just one big excuse to scarf up free travel shampoo.
It’s true. Ask any woman who’s married to a frequent business traveler – or worse, to a tightwad frequent business traveler – and she’ll tell you the same thing. There’s just something about a tiny little two-ounce plastic container with a hotel logo on it that men like that are powerless to resist.

In my husband’s case it’s never enough for him to simply use the contents of those little containers – he must possess the little containers. So he squirrels them away in his dop kit and brings them home. All of them. Not just the shampoo, but the conditioner, the soap, the mouthwash, the lotion, the cotton swabs, the shower hats, the bath gels, the sewing kits, the emery boards, the disposable razors, the shoe shine mitts – all of them. And when you factor in the amount of time that man spends on the road (at least eighty nights per year), multiply that by the number of items available in a typical hotel bathroom, and double or triple that figure because Housekeeping keeps replacing what is missing from the vanity every morning, you can see why I tend to be a bit testy about the whole business.

I’m sure a lot of you probably know a tightwad travel toiletry collector personally (I call them Freebie Freaks.) You may even be married to one. But here’s something I’ll bet you don’t know – there’s a lot of competition among their ranks. Oddly enough, that competition has nothing to do with status. It matters not whether an item was procured from a Motel 6 or a Ritz Carleton. The only thing that counts is who has amassed the biggest stockpile, and who went to the greatest extreme to get it. Case in point: On a multi-city trip Marc has been known to transport a used bar of soap from Hotel A to Hotel B in order to preserve Hotel B’s wrapped bars for his stash. His friend, Eric, on the other hand, also transports used soap from A to B – and then he carefully wraps up what remains of the used bar and brings it home. Advantage Eric.

However, when it comes to actually consuming the stuff once he gets home with it, Marc is the undisputed champion of the Freebie Freaks. Not only has this man not used a single store bought toiletry item in over three years, he will painstakingly meld together several bars of varying size, shape, color, place of origin and fragrance, until he ends up with an enormous block of soap that resembles some kind of geological granite core sample – which is exactly what it feels like when it falls on my foot in the shower.

About the only redeeming aspect of this "did I get everything?” obsession of his is the amount of trouble it has caused him over the years. First there was that unfortunate incident in the Quito airport when he was detained because the scent from his cache of hotel shampoos sent the bomb-sniffing dogs into a frenzy. Then there was the time the lid came off a bottle of lavender-scented face wash, spilling the contents all over his suitcase, saturating his clothes and forcing him to attend the rest of his meetings smelling like somebody’s sweet little old grandmother from Natchez, Mississippi.

And speaking of scents, I have a theory. I’ll never be able to prove this of course, but I suspect that cosmetic manufacturers use hotel guests as guinea pigs to test exotic fragrances. What else would explain such bizarre amalgamations as oatmeal and sage, or chamomile and kiwi, or banana and rosemary, or mango and basil or – my favorite – eucalyptus and BUTTER? Marc steps out of the shower and I don’t know whether to douse him with poppy seed dressing, use him for potpourri in the guest bathroom, or stuff him in a turkey. (That last one sounds promising, but it may just be the mood I’m in right now.)

Supposedly Christopher Columbus left Spain on Aug. 3, 1492 and didn’t get back home until March 15, 1493. I feel sorry for his poor wife, Filipa. Can you imagine having to unpack his bag?

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