How to make staying in a hotel for work easier and enjoyable

I’ve travelled for work a LOT in my life. For PR events, marketing activities, training, head office visits with companies based abroad or in different parts of the country, and even for companies that liked to hold their annual meetings abroad as a ‘work perk’. I’ve stayed in luxury hotels, I’ve stayed in Travelodges, I’ve shared hotel rooms with colleagues, and I’ve been unexpectedly upgraded to suites. After all this time I’ve pretty much perfected the art of the stress-free work hotel stay, so read on and hopefully you’ll find some useful suggestions!

Pack weather-versatile outfits – When travelling within the UK and Ireland at least, no matter what time of year it is, never ever leave for a work trip without a pair of shoes you can wear in the rain, and clothes that can be layered and removed as needed. Bring tights and a cardigan, and clothes that can be worn with or without them. It’s a horrible feeling to underestimate the weather and be cold/damp for your whole trip!

The do not disturb sign – Not just for people having a lie in after a heavy night. If you put this on your door in the morning, the hotel staff won’t come into your room to make the bed or replenish the toiletries. When you’re on holiday there’s something nice about coming back to a straightened up room, but personally when I’m travelling for work, I’m not at my most relaxed or easygoing, so I really don’t want someone in my room moving all my stuff. I have utmost respect for hotel staff because damn that’s a hard job, but it’s just that when I travel for work I really want my hotel room to be my own space. Sometimes when you use the DND sign, they even leave you an extra towel, toilet roll and shortbread packets outside your room for you to pick up on your way back in.

Bring your favourite tea with you – Come on now, does anyone really enjoy that vile Twinings Breakfast Blend? The best hotel room I’ve ever stayed in had a little bottle of complimentary fresh milk in the mini fridge, big chunky mugs instead of measly cups, and bags of Yorkshire Tea. It was heaven to come back to that in the evening, and so now I always bring my Clipper teabags (I’ve switched because they’re plastic free and taste just as good as Yorkshire Tea) with me so I can have a comforting cuppa when I get in, just like I would at home. Of course this only works if you’re travelling within the UK where we have kettles in hotel rooms, but then, who drinks tea when they’re abroad anyway?

Spend the evening doing your ‘self maintenance’ – I strongly do not recommend working in your hotel room, but even if you don’t work, it can be tricky to fully switch off when you’re in work trip mode. I often can’t concentrate on a book, or even crap TV. So instead, make a list of all the ‘body chores’ you’ve been meaning to get around to doing – your self tan, cutting/painting your nails, dying or deep conditioning your hair, shaving your legs, face masks… and spend your evening doing it all!

Laundry bag routine – If you’ve ever bought anything from Aesop, or received fancy pyjamas as a gift, you probably already own one of these nice drawstring cotton bags. They are perfect for keeping on top of your laundry, because you can hang it off the side of the desk chair, or on a wardrobe door handle, and every time you take off your socks and underwear for the day, you just conveniently stuff them in the bag. It means you never have to worry that there’s a forgotten pair of knickers under the bed when you leave, and you won’t be picking up stray socks from the floor when you’re supposed to be checking out to catch your train home. Also, it eliminates the need for a plastic shopping bag, which is what I used to use before, and, well, would never dream of using now!

Be wise about your skincare products – The key with skincare is to make it as fuss-free as possible, because you never know what kind of bathroom facilities you’re going to be confronted with. When I travel, I always bring a travel size of Caudalie’s Cleansing Oil instead because it dissolves makeup on its own and then rinses off. It’s the most convenient makeup remover ever! I also bring my bar of facial soap for a second cleanse/morning cleanse. Then I bring a small slice of soap to wash my body with too, because unless its a nice hotel, I know I’ll hate the shower gel they have (recently I’ve been trying to move away from plastic wherever I can, hence the bars of soap!). Some people recommend bringing skincare sample sachets along on a trip, but I wouldn’t recommend trying new skincare while you’re travelling for work – you never know if something will trigger a reaction, or make you so greasy that your foundation slips off your face by noon. I usually just bring my full size serum and cream because I don’t want to take them out of their normal packaging (for example, you don’t want to dip your fingers into a product that is designed to be squeezed out of a tube because the preservatives won’t work).

Fluffy slipper socks – It’s very difficult to fully relax when you’re on a work trip, but a pair of comforting fluffy socks certainly helps me.

Always be lovely to the staff – There’s no excuse for being rude to hotel staff, and it’s something I’ve seen a LOT of from people on business trips. No matter how tired, stressed or irritable you are, there’s no need to make someone feel like crap just because you do. And you never know when you might need them. If the TV broke in your room, I certainly wouldn’t rush to help you if you’d been a dick to me two hours earlier.

And lastly, a few things to never ever forget:

  • Ear plugs. As my dear favourite fictional character, Dale Cooper once said: “Once a traveler leaves his home, he loses almost 100% of his ability to control his environment.” (if you aren’t familiar with Twin Peaks, this is said while he is being kept awake by a huge group of other business people who are combatting jetlag by getting drink and singing all night. Now I’ve never experienced that, but I would have been grateful for earplugs while staying in a room next door to a very amorous couple… and now I’ll never forget them (the earplugs that is, I’m trying desperately to forget the couple).
  • Pyjamas. I’m just putting this here because I DID once forget pyjamas and it just so happened to be in the one hotel I’ve ever stayed in that didn’t have over the top central heating. I had to tear around a Primark between meetings and ended up buying the crappest pjs ever because they were ‘between deliveries’. Never again.
  • Pillow spray. Not only will this help you to calm down if you’re nervous about something big going on during your trip, it also means you don’t have to worry about any weird smelling hotel rooms!
  • A long charging cable. Even modern hotel rooms with plug points by the bed are sometimes too far away to charge your phone and FaceTime your SO (or play a game) at the same time, so make sure your cable can handle it!
  • Your takeaway coffee cup. Be environmentally responsible and don’t use travelling as an excuse to fall back on disposable cups. Plus, having your cup with you means you can fill it with filter coffee at the hotel breakfast to start your day with WAY more coffee than you’d be able to drink in one sitting!
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A Feminist Engagement

A quick note: In this blog post I will talk about how my partner and I got engaged. This is in no way intended to criticise any one else’s proposal – ESPECIALLY LGBTQ+ couples who have had to fight for their right to just to have access to the traditional, patriarchal symbolism of marriage and engagement. The story is in essence heteronormative because we are a middle class cis man and woman, but the actual message is intended to be highly inclusive. I am not going to compromise when sharing my opinions on engagement traditions, because if I can’t share them here, where can I? But I don’t mean for you to feel hurt or judged if these formed part of your (or your dream) proposal. I believe that we have a responsibility as feminists to challenge the way things are done. It’s not a personal attack on you or your relationship, I know that there are many factors to take into account when considering how to get engaged and married, and I respect your right to choose your own path. Just as I don’t know your backstory, you do not know ours. 

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A year and a half ago, walking down Tottenham Court Road at the weekend, my partner James and I were talking about the future. We’d spoken about it many, many times before, about love, marriage, relationships, children. But this time, the conversation bent a little and we drew ourselves into a discussion about when. We stopped outside Boots, with half of London pushing past us unnoticed, and hesitantly, emotionally landed on 2017 as the year we wanted to get married. A consensual agreement, whatever form it takes, is essential to any feminist engagement. Springing a marriage proposal on someone out of nowhere has been widely misrepresented as romantic because of the misogynistic, heteronormative assumption that women are always ready to get married. These surprise proposals can range anywhere from a bit misguided to emotionally manipulative, and there’s just no need for it.

Over the next few months we frequently discussed the idea of a ‘proposal’, and whether or not we wanted it to be a part of our love story. James asked me about rings, saying he didn’t want to get me a diamond because not only are they horrifically unethical, their value came purely from a marketing campaign by De Beers in the early 20th Century (and also, as a geologist he has serious opinions about rocks). But I was adamant that I didn’t want a ring, and his response was relief. We both think that ethically sourced wedding rings are a beautiful way to symbolise your dedication to your partner. But engagement rings are yet another example of imbalanced, gendered expectations between women and men. ‘Marking’ a woman as yours when you have no such mark yourself. ‘Buying’ her. I’m not saying I think they’re inherently bad, especially since it’s becoming more mainstream for non-heteronormative couples to have them too, but for us it just seemed like pointless consumerism. There was absolutely no way that one of us was wearing an engagement ring while the other wasn’t, but we also didn’t see the appeal in both of us wearing one.

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However, the idea of proposing just seemed so lovely. A declaration of love, a statement of intent and a memory that we could share. Plus, neither of us had cried over the sheer weight of our feelings for each other since we first said ‘I love you’, and it’s nice to do that occasionally. We were immediately in mutual agreement that I would be the one to do it. Much of this was from a desire to challenge the status quo of course – engagements have a very sexist history, there’s no denying it. But also, I am bisexual, so until I met James I never knew who I’d end up with. I never really imagined being proposed to, but often thought about myself doing it, because that’s just who I am – it’s the kind of gesture I live for.

If you’re wondering how James, ‘as a man’ felt about the subject – he simply didn’t. As a feminist the idea of anything being a ‘threat to his masculinity’ is laughable to him. I’m not sure what else to say on the subject, other than by him being strong enough to free himself from oppressive, fragile ideas about how to ‘be a man’, he was able to experience the joy and excitement that comes with the person he loves making a grandly romantic gesture of love towards him.

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So with that decided, the task fell to me to decide how and when I was going to do it.  I had a vague idea in mind but it didn’t fully form until we decided to go on holiday to Paris. James’ birthday fell in the week we planned to go away and I thought to myself that it would be the perfect opportunity to ask him. But Paris didn’t seem like a particularly personal choice, so I suggested we spend a few days there and then travel south to explore the Calanques National Park on his birthday (a beautiful national pack on the coast near Marseille that consists of incredible rocky cliffs leading into little beaches, the perfect holiday spot for a geologist). He enthusiastically agreed to this, because one of our favourite things to do as a couple is hike. I think it must have been pretty obvious what I was planning at this point, and he tells me he was pretty sure after I suggested a ‘birthday hike through a beautiful outcrop of rocky cliffs’, haha.

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Location decided, my plan for how to actually go about it came to me almost immediately. We briefly discussed the idea of gifts like watches and bracelets instead of a ring, but we were both totally disinterested and a bit uncomfortable with the whole ‘here is a gift, will you marry me’ thing. We definitely felt like there was something missing from the whole thing, and I realised that it was the idea that our love should benefit only us. I decided to spend the money I would have spent on a ring on charity donations. I worked out that if I were to save up to buy a ring in my current financial situation, I could afford to spend £500 on it (another thing that we really need to stop doing? Selling the idea that a proposal has to be extravagant. Not everyone has disposable income and people shouldn’t feel the need to empty their bank account for love) so I set that as my donation budget, and that’s when the full idea came to me:

I chose five charities that reminded me of something I love about James. They were things that are external to our relationship, aspects of his personality that I deeply admire but have nothing to do with me. I donated £100 to each charity, and asked them if they would be able to send me a ‘thank you’ letter (all but one said they do this anyway so I wasn’t putting them out, the other emailed it to me so I printed it and put it in an envelope). On the back of each of the envelopes, I wrote the reason why I’d donated to that particular charity.

5 reasons2.jpgThe charities chose were WaterAid, Women’s Aid, Woman Kind, Amnesty International and Mind.

After spending a magical few days in Paris, we travelled down on the TGV to Marseilles, and the next day was his birthday. I packed us a picnic in our backpack, hid the five letters in different places in there and put a note on the top saying ‘five reasons’. I wouldn’t let him go in the backpack until we had hiked to our picnic spot – one of the hundreds of secluded beaches dotted along the Calanques coastline.

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After we had settled on the beautiful stony beach, I told James he could finally look in the backpack. He drew each letter out and read the notes on the backs (I told him not to open them until he found them all) and was completely confused, but touched by whatever I was doing. After he had found them all and had opened a couple, I took his hands and said that these charities all worked on areas that are related to things I admire about who he is as a person, and then started telling him all of the things I love about the way he is with me. The way I love how safe he makes me feel, how patient he is with me, how he makes me laugh so much and how he is so open, so kind, so affectionate. Obviously we were both crying at this point, and through my tears I managed to say ‘I want to marry you’, to which he responded ‘Of course’ and kissed me. Then we both realised I hadn’t actually said what I meant to say, so I pulled away and said ‘Will you marry me’ to which he again responded ‘Of course’, and we kissed. So yeah, I messed that part up lmao.

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We cried a bit more as he read all the letters. We had our lunch (brie and tomatoes on still-warm bread from the patisserie next to our AirBnB), and splashed in the freezing water for a bit. It was absolutely perfect, and I was so happy and proud that I was able to make my partner feel so loved and wanted.

Everything about our proposal was intensely unique to both of us, but at the same time it also helped other people. Me being the one to do it ended up being the least important part. Our proposal’s unique, personal nature, combined with a concerted effort to help make other people’s lives better is what made it feminist. And we will always be proud of that. I hope that weddings and engagements don’t go away, because they are a wonderful way to express dedication and love. But they are steeped in years of oppression, negativity, consumerism and selfishness. I’m absolutely not saying people should do what we did and I’m definitely not saying that I created the perfect proposal. Rather, I just want to share this and use it to communicate the idea that we all need to work hard emotionally, creatively and intelligently to make these gestures as beautiful and inclusive as they have the potential to be.