Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Quicker on the Return

It is common knowledge among most travelers that the return leg of a trip always seems shorter than the initial portion. But while we all accept this phenomena, it's not clear exaclty why it happens. In my personal opinion, getting to a place takes longer because of the anticipation. You are eager to get to your destination, excited to get the trip underway, at least that's how I always feel before a trip. In fact, the feeling is not restricted to the actual commute, but rather the entire week--or month, depending--leading up to the vacation. For example, this whole week has just been dragging along, one minute feeling like five. The reason? Because I have a flight home to Denver Friday afternoon, and I cannot wait. As a result, the days seem to be at a standstill. It's that damn anticipation, the desire to get away that forces every moment to feel like an eternity. That is, until you actually get there, and then time can not speed by faster. And then you are back on a plane--or a car or train--making your way to your place of origin, welcoming reality again.

What is truly unfortunate is that the initial trip and the return are exactly the same amount of time, but our minds tell us differently. It's all in our heads. Trust me, there is scientific proof. According to an article in USA Today, researchers found that the phenomena made trips home seem 17% to 22% shorter than the initial one. The scientists interviewed people about trips they took, and each time, even though the trips were exactly the same length, most people felt the return trip took less time. Students riding bikes said the initial trip took an average of 44 minutes, but the return took 37, when in reality, both legs took 35. Yeah, they actually have numbers, data to back this up. As far as explanations, well, they claim that the effect, which they dub "the return trip effect," was caused because people expected the initial trip to be faster than it was. It's that optimism that messes with our heads, it skews our sense of what's coming.

So can this phenomena effect other aspects of our lives? Can it really be limited to travel? I'm not really sure, because there are not a lot of incidences where we take one route to get anywhere and choose that same route to get back. Because in life, we're always moving forward, in some respect. People could argue that it seems to take a long time to get anywhere in life, but a second to lose it all. While that is certainly true, you are not then moving back down that path you came down to get back to a certain point. Nope, once you lose it, you are still stuck in that current place, just without what you had before. So while we would all love to have the return trip effect kick in when we need to get somewhere faster--or at least feel like we're getting their quicker--the best we can do is trust that we will get there when we get there, and our minds will help us along the way.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hurricane Strands Passengers, Brings Unexpected Guests

This past weekend, Hurricane Irene slammed into the East Coast, leaving billions of dollars in damage, millions of people without power and thousands more stranded in airports. And while the impact was not as bad as many had anticipated, it still severerly hurt travel in one of the most frequented air spaces in the country.

Passengers wait in line. Credit: CNN
Airlines canceled over 11,000 flights over the weekend, including nearly 1,000 today. Not sure how many of those trips were fully booked, but no matter what, that meant for a whole lot of people hanging around airports across the nation waiting to get another flight or figure out alternate plans. Some made the best of it--like the guy who ended up at my rooftop party after his flight to New York was canceled on Saturday night--while others stressed and complained for hours until finally making it to their destinations.

Many travelers received refunds or rebookings without any penalties, but there were still hours of frustration for most. Customer service lines were jammed with calls, with people waiting up to an hour and a half before speaking with anyone. Obviously, this is not the first weather-related disruption for travelers, just think about everything we've gone through this year alone--blizzards, tornadoes, earthquakes. The best anyone can do is play the hand they are dealt.

For example, the guy I mentioned earlier, Chris, was making his way back to New York after visiting friends on the West Coast. He landed in Chicago, not sure if his flight would be canceled, hoping it would just be delayed. Despite the storm not being as extreme as expected in New York, he still ended up stranded in O'Hare. Luckily for him, United gave him a free hotel room for the night. But for Chris, a night in a hotel near the airport was no way to spend the night. He called his friend Josh, who just happened to be at my apartment for an end-of-summer soiree on our roof. Voila! Instant night out in Chicago. An unfortunate string of events that led to a fun evening meeting some new people.

I am aware that not everyone can get this lucky. Many people did not have friends in the cities where they were stranded. But the story does make a point that there is a way to make light of every situation. So no matter what kind of misfortune comes your way while traveling, there is always a way to make it better, more enjoyable.

This may seem a little too upbeat and optimistic for all those who faced horrific travel issues this weekend, and for those people, I truly am sorry. I am no stranger to those events. The best you can do is grin and bear it, and hope you get a damn good refund from your airline. If not, a good stiff drink should do the trick.

Friday, August 26, 2011

You’re Staying Where?

I love hotels! It may sound weird, but I really do. I like walking into a new place I’ve never been before, nicely cleaned and set up, just waiting for my arrival. I like seeing what each new room has to offer, from their toiletries, decorations and random other amenities. It’s exciting to be in a different place that isn’t your apartment, even if it’s just for a couple days. While every kind of hotel is thrilling, and I would more than happy to stay at a random Holiday Inn somewhere, in all honesty, it’s the luxury or boutique styles that are the most appealing to me. I mean, they are just so different than your typical chain hotels—which, unfortunately make up the majority of locations in the country. The real tragedy is not just that there are fewer unique hotels, but they are also much more expensive. But to experience something truly out there…I think it would be worth the money.

Sala Silvergruva. Credit: WSJ
So, you can just imagine how excited I got when I read about Sweden’s Sala Silvergruva, a hotel that is so far from ordinary, it borders on creepy. It’s located in a 600-year-old silver mine dug in solid marble. The high-style rooms are situated over 50 stories below ground, and it takes guests a full four minutes in an elevator to get to the outside world. The rooms have silver leather chairs and candelabras all over. And since you are sleeping underground, the hotel uses a partition and electric heaters to bring the temperature up from its usual 36 degrees to a more reasonable 64 degrees—down covers and extra blankets are provided. Talk about stepping out of your comfort zone.

If guests don’t want to sleep in a cave, they can opt for a wooden dormitory, originally built for miners. While it may not be as nice as the mine suite, it is much cheaper and you still get a similar experience. The suite costs around $600 per couple, with a dinner and subterranean tour included in the price. The dormitory costs $60 per person.

A cave is certainly intriguing to me, but I think sleeping in a refurbished plane would be more my style. At Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport, a Boeing 747 that used to fly for Pan Am was gutted and transformed into hotel accommodations. It has 27 rooms equipped with bunk beds and cabinets made from luggage bins. Guests share the bathrooms, but they have been revamped to include shows and porcelain toilets. If you have the money, you can get a suite in the nose and tail of the plane that have double beds and their own bathrooms. Bunk-bed rooms cost $60, while the suites cost around $500.

In the Netherlands, an old harbor crane was made into a one-room inn. The cab sits atop four legs at 56 feet high and features a double bed and bathroom with a toilet and showers. It has large windows that offer panoramic views, but the cab is still designed to rotate, so guests can change their view with the push of a joystick. Day rates range from $570 to $857.

While some of these sound really interesting, and I would like to try them out at least once, there is one concept I think I would gladly skip: A prison. That’s right, you heard me correctly. Some hoteliers have taken to turning closed down prisons into boutique hotels. I cannot imagine two things more opposite. The Malmaison Oxford Hotel was converted from a prison in 2005. Part of the old complex dates back to 1071—which I guess is pretty cool. But I don’t know if I could sleep in an old cell that once housed killers, rapists and thieves. Stockholm’s LĂ„ngholmen Hotel was also once a prison. It was where Sweden’s last execution was held in 1910 and closed in 1975. Decorations include mirrors that mimic guillotines and gray sheets striped like prison uniforms. Rooms are very small and have bunk beds.

So, there are more than a few quirky places out there for me to explore, and hopefully one day I'll get to see these hotels and experience everything they have to offer. Because, let's face it, it's not everyday you can sleep in a silver mine or an oil-rig escape pod, so why not step out of the ordinary, just once.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Montana's Big Sky: A Trip Down Memory Lane

Montana is called “Big Sky Country,” a nickname not understood by many until they witness the unobstructed beauty of its sprawling landscapes, rugged mountain ranges and wide open grassland. 

I'm writing a short article about sports in Montana for my freelance job, and reading up on the various cities and places in the state reminded me of my road trip through the area the summer after my freshman year of college. I, along with my two best friends from high school, planned a trip up to Calgary, Canada, and decided the best way to get there would be to drive. The journey became part of the vacation, with Billings as our overnight stop on both legs--since Sari had a friend there who could provide us with a free place to stay. 

On the way up to Canada, after our night in Billings, we decided to take I-90 West through the state and drive up to Glacier National Park. It was a long drive that took us pretty much all day. But it was totally worth it. Not only did we get a glimpse of how wide open and scenic Montana is, we also got an amazing treat once we hit the Butte area and saw the rising peaks of the mountain ranges--just breathtaking. Our route took us around a lake that seemed to go on forever. (Since I don't remember exactly where we were, I had to look at a map, and I think this lake is called Flathead Lake.) As we drove along the water, we kept seeing signs for cherry farms. At the time, I had no idea that cherries grew in Montana, let alone there was such a booming business for harvesting the tasty fruits. Intrigued, we decided to pull over and buy some. We watched as the women took the freshly picked cherries from a bin and pour them into a bag for us. I think we got at least two pounds of cherries, and it didn't cost much.

And while the lake and the cherries were certainly memorable, nothing can compare to when we first entered Glacier. It didn't look real. It looked like a painting, a photograph that had been digitally displayed for all to see. But it was real, pristine water perfectly framed by walls of glacially formed rock and dirt all topped by a bright blue sky. It became even less of a dream when we removed our sandals and dipped our toes in the lake. We cooled off briefly and then got back in the car to continue our drive through the park--since we still had to reach Calgary by that night. We weaved up the sides of the peaks, stopping every few moments to snap a picture of another magnificent scene, because there were just so many we wanted to capture. Reluctantly, we heading down the other side and headed for the exit, knowing we had a long way left to go before we could rest our heads.

While my time in Montana was brief, it is clearly a place that has made an impression on me. I have some fond memories from that trip, and many of them happened on that drive through Big Sky Country. I can honestly say that I understand how special it is and why it is admired for its beauty. So while Montana may not seem like an exciting place, I encourage you all to give it a chance. I can guarantee you will be pleasantly surprised.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Where to Spend Labor Day Weekend

It's the last long weekend of the summer, the final hoorah before the cool breath of fall sets in and backyard barbecues and outdoor patios will become a thing of the past--at least until next summer. To celebrate the end of warmth, (and welcome the gorgeous changing leaves and scrumptious pumpkin smells) you need to pick a great place to go. Luckily, our country is full of fantastic long-weekend spots to get away to, the problem is picking one.

Orbitz released its Insider Index with a special section dedicated to the top places to travel for Labor Day weekend. Now, I'm not saying you have to pick one of these destinations, but it may give you a good starting off point. The Index tracked the most popular places people visit for Labor Day, as well as pricing for flights and hotels.

The top ten list includes:
  • New York
  • Las Vegas
  • Chicago
  • Denver
  • Seattle
  • San Francisco
  • Orlando
  • Boston
  • Los Angeles
  • Atlanta
Lucky for me, I live in one of the top destinations, and I'm actually going to one of the other ones for Labor Day--home to Denver! For those of you looking to plan a vacation, check any of these out. Orbitz said the best hotel rates are in Denver, Atlanta and Orlando. The best round-trip airfare is on flights to Atlanta, Orlando and Boston.

If none of these sound appealing (or they are out of your price range or you've been to all of them before) there are plenty of other places to go. Why not try a nice camping trip in the mountains? Any mountain range will work, but I think the Rocky Mountains are the best, though I'm slightly biased. Or what about a family vacation to the water park capital of the world, Wisconsin Dells? There are dozens of reasonably priced hotels, great activities for kids, and some pleasant amenities for parents. National parks are a big seller for long weekends. Grand Canyon, Glacier, Yellowstone--all of them are great picks. Labor Day is also a great time to shop and take advantage of amazing deals and discounts. Clearly, New York, Chicago and LA are popular shopping destinations, but since those are all on the list, why not try Miami? You get the beach and a wide array of shops to enjoy. If you are a foodie, as so many travelers are, I think a great place to visit is New Orleans for some authentic cajun-style dishes that are sure to satisfy any palate.

So, I've thrown a lot out there for you, and obviously there are a lot of places I didn't mention, but this should give you some nice options to consider.

And even if you decide to stay put for the holiday weekend--because, let's face it, we could all stand to save a little money right now--then make sure to celebrate Labor Day right. Gather your friends and family, fire up the grill, grab some traditional American grub and sit back with a nice beer (or glass of wine!) That's a great way to spend your final weekend of summer!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

On Planes, Passengers Indulge

I've written a few posts about trying to stay active and eat healthy while traveling, since it is often difficult to maintain that lifestyle while on the road. Many people constantly ask how they can keep up with their diets or avoid packing on pounds while on vacation, so it seems oddly counterproductive to find out that most passengers will still choose the high-fat and calorie-laden items on airplane menus. What is going on here?

I read an article in the Wall Street Journal that critiques airplane food and discusses what people are choosing to eat onboard. While many carriers have tried to introduce healthy items like fresh salads, hummus plates, fruit and nut mixes, and greek yogurt, passengers seem to pass those over for something a bit more indulgent. For example, Alaska Airlines offers vegan and gluten-free items, and chicken and vegetable dishes. Yet, it's most popular item is the quarter-pound cheeseburger. United Airlines briefly had "active" and "organic" snack boxes, but ended up donating most of the food. In the end, it had to eliminate the items from the menu because they just were not selling. According to the airline, the most popular option is the "tapas" snack box, which has nine different items, like crackers, hummus, olives, cheese, almonds and candy, and weighs in at 553 calories. If experiments with healthy options seem to be failing as passengers decide to reach for salty, carb-ridden foods, what's the point of having them anyway?

Because there will always be at least one person on the plane that will choose the better product. But in all honesty, most airlines still fill menus with food that is not particularly good for you, even though they are making some moves in the right direction. Airlines like Delta still sell items like toffee-caramel popcorn or cans of Pringles sour cream-and-onion chips, which adds up to 375 calories. United's "Classic Snack Box" features both goldfish and pretzels, why do you need both?

Food experts say that many of these snack boxes contain between 600 and 700 calories, mostly because they are stuffed with a variety of different items that most people probably do not need. A turkey sandwich comes in at a reasonable 400 calories, but throw in potato chips, cookies, almonds and dried fruit, and you just bumped it up by another 300 calories or so. And since airlines do not print up the calorie counts for people, travelers believe they are consuming healthy options, when they really aren't. Since carriers cannot seem to sell beneficial food items, they are forced to either riddle them with more salty, high-calorie foods or remove them from menus all together.

For those who don't think twice about what they eat on planes, these options will suffice. But for those who are concerned about what they eat or are trying to maintain a diet or watch their waists, I suggest surpassing the food that airlines provide. The best thing you can do is pack your own food. It's easy to make a small sandwich and bring it on board, or pack small snacks like fruit, cheese and nuts. It's a safer bet calorie-wise, and it also saves you about $10.

Friday, August 12, 2011

InSite Newsletter

This is going to be a super quick post, but I just wanted to direct everyone to my article about Edmonton in the "InSite on Leisure Group Travel" newsletter. It's not the full feature I will be writing about my Fam tour there--that's set to be published in the February edition of their print magazine--this one is just a quick piece about boat tours down the North Saskatchewan River. Check out the article by clicking on the link below!

Edmonton from the Water


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Rationing: Turning One Meal into Four

It does not seem completely plausible to purchase one sandwich and get four meals out of it. But trust me, it's definitely doable, especially when you are a strapped-for-cash traveler with limited space for anything in your backpack. Trekking across various regions of the globe leaves very few options for packing--and eating--extravagantly, so making the most out of something little is imperative.

I know from personal experience that you can jam a whole lot into one backpack, even if you think it is not big enough to carry it all. On my seven-week trip through Europe, I managed to fit two pairs of jeans, four pairs of shorts, 10 tank tops, three cute tops, a dress, 20 pairs of underwear (you can never have enough), eight pairs of socks, five bras, a pair of tennis shoes, flip-flops, a sweatshirt and a rain jacket all into my one bag. And there was still enough room to hold my toiletries, camera, camera charger, outlet converters and all my money, credit cards and passport. So where does the sandwich come into play?

Well, just as I had to take advantage of what little room I had in my backpack, I had to stretch every meal to the limit. That bag of chips we bought on our last day in Nice had to make it through a five hour train ride to Switzerland, a late night check in at the hostel that left little room to eat, and a whole day of sightseeing through the town of Interlaken. A small jar of peanut butter and bag of pretzels was my go-to snack option for a week, not to mention a full meal or two. And that sandwich, well, let's just say one single panini bought in Italy had to survive at least two days, meaning it was my lunch, dinner, breakfast and lunch again. So how do you effectively transform what is considered to be one full meal into four small ones?

Rationing--and one heaping dose of will power. Right from the minute that sandwich lands in your hands, resist the urge to dive right in--as difficult as it may be. Lay it out on a table, grab a knife and cut it into four equal portions. Take one of the pieces to eat right away, and wrap the rest to store for later. Voila! A five dollar sandwich just turned into four meals, meaning you can save $15 for something else. I know what some of you are thinking, "how the hell can one quarter of a sandwich sustain me for a whole afternoon?" It's a fair question. That's where small snacks come in. I found granola bars, pretzels, and trail mix were sufficient foods to nibble on between larger meals. But remember, those need to be rationed, too, because it is not cheap to buy those items in Europe or anywhere else for that matter, so you want to make sure you savor what you have. Also, the more you do this, the easier it will become, your body will adapt to smaller portions, and you will learn to live off mini meals.

For those of you going on extreme travel expeditions with lots of hiking, biking, walking, etc., I recommend not heeding this advice. You need way more food to sustain that level of activity, but there are ways to keep the food spending down even when you have to eat a lot. If you are traveling with friends, split as much as you can, and get larger portions, so you can always store some away for later. If you are staying in hostels with a kitchen, buy items at grocery stores and make your own sandwiches or cook up a big pot of pasta. Trust me, buying a $3 loaf of bread, a pound of sliced meat and some cheese will go alot further than spending $6 on one sandwich.

Of course, I will be the first to admit that there are certain things I refuse to skimp on. And when you travel, you have the right to indulge every once and a while, it is a vacation after all. For me, it was the chocolate filled crepes in Paris--of course, those are tough to save for later anyway, because, well, you can't really store them efficiently. And in Italy, there was no way I could have just one piece of pizza. So I recommend choosing a couple spots where there is a meal you just have to be able to sit down to and enjoy completely. Because what is travel without a little reward?

The art of rationing is definitely helpful while traveling. It helps save money and lightens your load--in more ways than one. And while I would not recommend doing it at any other time--though I just pulled it off this week--it is a good skill to keep on hand for a variety of other circumstances.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Your Outfit Could Get You an Upgrade

When most people fly, they probably put as little thought as possible into what they are wearing. Obviously, there are those business travelers who always dress like they are about to go to a board meeting, because they probably are heading to one straight from the airport. For the rest of us, our travel outfits are usually pretty basic and tend to be as comfortable as possible. I usually go with jeans and a casual top, or shorts if I'm going somewhere warm. Rarely do I wear a dress or skirt, because they are not the ideal apparel for a plane. However, a recent article on USA Today has seriously made me reconsider my attire of choice when I travel.

The piece talked about how nicer dressed people usually get a bit of star treatment when they travel, and many airlines will upgrade them to business or first class, even if they are not a frequent flier or the flight is not oversold. I'm not saying it happens every time a man wears a suit on a plane or a woman opts for the nice dress, but it can occur every once and a while.

I will admit, I have never been upgraded before--at least, not when I was traveling on my own--and I would feel so privileged if it happened to me. Perhaps I should rethink the jeans route in favor of nice dress pants or a skirt and a button down shirt. A dress could work, but it would have to have the perfect balance of professionalism and sex appeal, because lets face it, that upgrade will depend a lot on whether or not the gate agent is a man or a woman and if they really approve of the outfit.

When searching online for travel outfits, I came across some interesting fashion websites that laid out various clothing items that could be combined to create a nice travel outfit. Many took cues from celebrities, who always have to maintain a level of style, even if it is on a plane. One website,, offered some nice ideas for different categories of travel, like "Domestic Business Travel," and "Domestic Weekend Trip." I could certainly pull some inspiration from these sites.

My next trip is not until Labor Day weekend, so I have some time to prepare the perfect ensemble. Unfortunately, I'm flying an airline that does not have business class, but maybe I can be moved up to the economy plus rows where I can get a little extra leg room and a free snack. Yeah, that's the life.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Move, Learn, Eat: The Digital Equivalent of Eat, Pray, Love

Rather than read over 300 pages of a book or watch a two-hour movie to reach spiritual and emotional understanding, you can simply log on to YouTube and watch three, one-minute clips that are just as inspiring, if not more. (Just as a note, I would definitely recommend reading Eat, Pray, Love, because it is an incredible book. The movie, you can forgo.)

Recently, independent filmmaker Rick Mereki went on a round-the-world trip to 11 countries accompanied by two of his friends. His mission: To document all their experiences and pare them down into three short clips relating to the words Move, Learn and Eat. The following movies are perfectly edited, set to inspirational music and feature images that will make anyone smile--I caught myself smiling the whole time I was watching them, and even laughed out loud a couple times, which drew more than a couple looks from coworkers.

I really enjoyed these short films, and I think any travel enthusiast will, too. So, check them out.

LEARN from Rick Mereki on Vimeo.

EAT from Rick Mereki on Vimeo.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Common Decency on Planes

A couple weeks ago, I was out to dinner with a few girlfriends and the subject of airplane travel came up. We were discussing how frustrating it can be dealing with demanding passengers, limited space in the overhead bins, minimal leg room, etc. Basically, all the small things that irk everyone when it comes to traveling. But what we all agreed was the most annoying were the people who made the experience even worse. You know the ones I'm talking about. The passenger who leans his or her seat all the way back in an already cramped coach area; the person who takes up both armrests, invading your space just enough to make the whole flight uncomfortable; and the people who do not heed the carry on baggage rules and shove oversized bags in the bins, leaving no space for anyone else's stuff. These are the people who lack common courtesy when it comes to flying, and they come in many forms, ranging from the naive leisure travelers who do not fly enough to know the rules or what to do in certain circumstances, to the business passengers who have so much experience that they feel entitled.

Then I came across this article on USA Today talking about the same subject, and it mentioned a few other annoying tendencies that passengers have. Some of these disrespectful habits include talking too loudly on cellphones, bringing food on board that smells bad, or disregarding the flight attendants request that all electronic devices be shut off.

What it comes down to is that passengers are self-centered, thinking everything is about them. But they have to remember that they are not the only ones on a plane, and there is limited space that has to be shared. I'm not sure when everyone forgot that famous childhood rule of sharing, but it seems to have completely disappeared. Perhaps people need to be re-educated on the ins and outs of proper plane etiquette.

Enter Lonely Planet. The travel website conducted a survey about the kinds of thinfs that make flying miserable for passengers. Based on what it learned, Lonely Planet created a practical "Passengers' Airline Behavior Bill of Rights." The overarching complaint: Other people messing with their seat and personal space. The "rights" of travelers said that passengers can recline, except during meals and when prohibited by the flight crew. And giving fair warning when one is about to recline is advised. Other problems like annoying children were common annoyances, and it is stated that if a child is kicking your seat, you have every right to ask the parent to stop it.

One of my favorite "rights" is Article V: Freedom of no speech. It states:
There shall be no requirement for other passengers to listen to you drone on about your child, cat or other subject not directly germane to an immediate inflight emergency situation. The right of other passengers to give you the ‘book-off’ shall not be infringed, nor shall you assist with the answer to 14-across if unprompted.
I cannot tell you how many times I have settled into my seat, pulled out a book or my iPod, fully prepared to float off into my own world, only to have it disrupted by some middle-aged man telling me there is no way I look a day over twenty or some older woman telling me an hour long story about her book club.

I can also appreciate Article XII: The right of reasonable alcohol consumption:
No person, apart from those who are drunk and obnoxious or minors, shall be prohibited from imbibing an alcoholic beverage should they feel that it is a good idea, despite all indications to the contrary.
I usually avoid drinking on planes--mostly because I fly coach and it costs more than I'm willing to spend for a glass of wine. However, if I have the privilege of sitting in business class, where an alcoholic beverage is complimentary, I figure, why not? And I should certainly have that right. After all, it has been a hell of a day, and I have a long flight ahead of me, and the guy sitting ten rows behind me decided to store his incredibly large bag in the overhead compartment just above my seat, forcing me to gate check my bag because there is no more space.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Nice Parting Gift

How many of you are guilty of swiping those miniature bottles of soap, conditioner and lotion from a hotel bathroom before checking out? Come on, don't be shy. Trust me, we all do it, especially if they are a particularly nice brand. I mean, let's be honest, a tiny bottle with a Comfort Inn label stuck on it is not exactly appealing. But slap L'Occitane or Peter Thomas Roth or Crabtree & Evelyn on it, and it instantly becomes a high-end item. Luckily for us, more hotels are choosing to stock their bathrooms with products from well-known beauty companies. Hotels see it as a marketing strategy, as well as a way to boost awareness of certain brands. For guests, it's a nice little gift to take with us to use on our next trip. (Especially since hotel bath products conveniently fit the no-liquid-carry-ons-over-three-ounces rule.)

Peter Thomas Roth. Credit: WSJ
Hilton Hotels recently commissioned six new products from Peter Thomas Roth's cosmetics brand, which will be useed in all its name-brand hotels. It's mid-market brands, Embassy Suites and Doubletree now carry Crabtree & Evelyn. Since Hilton is a hotel within my price range, I'm happy to hear about these developments and upgrades.

The Ritz-Carlton features products with their own label, but I have a feeling that they are not cheaply made by any means. Especially considering that the hotel stocks its Club Floors and suites with Bulgari products--not too shabby.

Bliss. Credit: WSJ
Starwood's boutique hotel chain, W, opted for products that fit the modern, edgy decor of its hotels. It chose Bliss beauty brand, which appeals to a younger demographic--apparently my generation. I had honestly never heard of Bliss until reading about it being featured at W, but it has certainly caught my attention.

The question is, do these beauty brands gain anything from putting their products in hotel bathrooms? I assume since they are free to use and guests take them at their leisure, probably not. But I also believe that many people, particularly women, would go in search of the brand after seeing it in a hotel. If nothing else, it's publicity.

I don't often stay in hotels, but when I do, I definitely check out the merchandise in the bathroom. More often than not, it is a brand I normally wouldn't buy, either cause of price or personal preference. So it can be nice to get a sample of something different. And if I really like it--or if it smells amazing--I just might considering picking some up for myself when I get home. Or just grab the bottles by the handfuls and never look back.