Tiny Luxuries Travelers and Foodies Love

September 1, 2019, 12:30 PM UTC
The back of a young woman walking and walking along the pedestrian street in the evening in Bangkok, Thailand.
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Sitting down to a meal recently, I slid my phone out from my back pocket to set it on the table; I don’t like to sit on it. But instead of having to leave it there, I discovered a tiny luxury: a small, phone-sized shelf just under the bar where I was seated. I could keep my phone nearby but didn’t have to see it, distracting me or other diners as we ate and talked.

It struck me that little conveniences like this are treasures we should appreciate—and spread the word about. Surveying other frequent travelers and restaurant experts, I learned that the things we—especially travel writers—desire aren’t major luxuries. All we require are places to put our stuff, enough (high-quality) lighting, and frankly, clean bathrooms.

The hotel room as office space.
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Places to Put Things

Just like my happy discovery of the restaurant’s tiny phone shelf, it turns out that what many travel writers long for is simply a place to put their things. While under-bar hooks have grown more common at bars, travelers still need a place for a purse at the table. Sarah Maiellano, a Philadelphia-based writer for USA Today and others, recalls eating at the renowned New York City restaurant Le Bernardin and getting a purse stool, “Like an elegant, small footstool, but placed tableside for purses.”

More frequently in Mexico I’ve seen restaurant servers pull up a standing rack on which purses can hang like coats, and Amy Robertson, who has traveled the world for three careers (consulting, international aid, and writing), mentions that in Lebanon, restaurants will often pull up an extra chair for your purse.

A joy for every traveler: having one’s supplies well within reach.
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The joy in having a place to put your stuff continues at the hotel, with Canadian newspaper and magazine writer Ann Britton Campbell just looking for a second luggage rack. “Simple math here,” she says. Two people in a room means there will be two suitcases: “I can’t tell you how happy I am when I wheel in and don’t have to arm wrestle my husband for the single luggage rack.”

Clean WCs

But whether at a hotel or a restaurant, most of the little things that experts seek to make themselves more comfortable are found in the restroom. Even there, Houstonia magazine and Houston Chronicle writer Mai Pham looks for places to put things, delighting in a ring or jewelry tray, while Sam David, the Singapore-based digital and social editor for NewBase, just wants enough wall hooks for towels and clothes.

Sometimes it’s simply about keeping supplies handy. Lorraine Goldberg, a director of social strategy at Meredith Corp., notes the ease of mind she gets from hotels and restaurants that supply tampons in the bathroom. Other times it’s about having the right supplies: Michelle Matthews, founder of Luckie Guides, loves to find products by Aesop, the delightfully fancy Australian soap company whose items grace many high-end restaurant restrooms.

Washing up in style: A hotel room’s well-designed sink makes all the difference.
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Speaking of unexpected small comforts, Tel Aviv– and San Francisco–based style writer Flora Tsapovsky (seen in the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle and AFAR) waxes lovingly about bathroom lights that turn on when you open the door. “I always get confused about where the lights are in new rooms,” she says, while others sing the praises of motion sensor lights. Being able to see in the bathroom matters a lot, adds travel writer and photographer Johanna Read: “As a woman of a certain age, I love hotels with lighted magnifying mirrors in the bathroom.”

Other writers are grateful for heated towel racks, electrical outlets, and heated floors (“It changed my life,” says MyRecipes assistant editor Sarra Sedghi). One writer particularly enjoyed the rubber duckies supplied by the hotel. But sometimes it’s about more than just comfort and convenience.

Istanbul-based author Ruth Terry points out that of all the hair dryers she finds in hotels, they never have a diffuser attachment—a crucial piece for those with textured and curly hair.

A bellhop’s assistance proves invaluable.
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Amenities That Fit

It turns out that having supplies at a hotel in a size or form that fits goes a long way toward making guests feel like they’re living the high life; nothing feels less luxurious than a hotel robe that doesn’t quite wrap around you. Pham mentions that the Grand Velas hotel in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, requested her shoe size before arrival to leave appropriately sized slippers.

Enjoying the sun on a hotel balcony in Florence, Italy.
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For Amanda Blum, a tech strategist and freelance writer based in Portland, Ore., having a footrest under the bar at a restaurant means that as a shorter person, her legs won’t go numb because they’re dangling down, unsupported. Meanwhile, tall person Adrienne Cooper of Fun Foodie NYC Tours often ends up with very sore knees after a night at the bar, from being pressed up against the hard wood—except when she finds one conveniently lined with a little padding.

Indulging in a leisurely lunch at a sidewalk café.
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Feed Us

But perhaps the best way to make people feel welcome is to feed them. Snacks are the way to everyone’s heart, which is why travel writer Jennifer Mattson—who writes for Thrillist and The Atlantic, among others—recalls the delight of arriving at her room at Hotel El Ganzo in San José del Cabo, Mexico, and finding a selection of artisanal doughnut treats. Pam Mandel, cofounder of The Statesider, will never forget the 24-hour snack options laid out at the Cedarbrook Lodge outside Seattle: “You roll in at 10 p.m., and you’ve been slogging, but you can’t be bothered to go out, and the kitchen is closed … and then, you find real snacks, not just one tired Nature Valley granola bar.”

Coffee in the room is a low bar to clear, but hotels can raise it, says Jenny Peters, a writer for USA Today’s 10Best, with a bottle of milk in the fridge to go with it: “An amazing little thing that makes it awesome.”

A welcome sight: coffee service in a boutique hotel room.
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Pretty Little Things

It’s those amazing little things that make a restaurant or hotel stand out. Jan Schroder, editor-in-chief of The Travel 100, recalls a restaurant where the host stand had a row of hooks with reading glasses lined up for older diners to use.

Atlanta-based freelance writer Laura Scholz likes to find yoga mats in a hotel room for a quick workout or stretch without having to go down to the gym.

For Hannah Freedman, senior editor at Family Traveller, it’s a button to open and close the curtains by the bed: “It’s totally unnecessary, but there’s just something about being able to wake up and take in the view without even leaving bed that really makes a vacation feel truly luxurious.”

A photogenic French breakfast at a sidewalk café in Paris.
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And content writer Catherine Tully just wants an hour of adults-only time in the pool at the end of the night. “Kids are great and all,” Tully says. “But it’s perfect to be able to unwind after a busy day without all the splashing and screaming.”

Things like this cost almost nothing and make all the difference at hotels—and restaurants. Food writer Tove Danovich of Portland, Ore., recalls that, as her party was preparing to leave Seattle’s acclaimed Canlis restaurant, the server warmed their coats in front of the fireplace.

A very good hotel guest gets a well-deserved nap.
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In the end, it’s thoughtful service that makes the ultimate difference to jaded masses of frequent fliers. Whether it means warming coats by a hearth or asking travelers if they need help with luggage before a hired car arrives, having experienced professionals on staff with the power, skill, and foresight to go above and beyond for guests makes all the difference.

“Any hotel can have a long list of amenities. But having staff that are just as glad to be there as the guests—that’s rare,” says Zora O’Neill, travel writer and author of All Strangers Are Kin: Adventures in Arabic and the Arab World. “I want a hotel that invests in its people—with training and with a living wage that makes them want to stay for decades—as much as it does in its beds and its aromatherapy gadgets or whatever.”

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