I travel a lot. I also travel unpredictably. I check in, spread my things, and then get a call that I have to be somewhere else quickly. Or, an interview that was supposed to leave me with plenty of time to check out of my hotel runs long. I am unfortunately an expert at emergency packing. Still, I fail at this often. I have scattered chargers, notebooks, and neckties across the country like a deranged Johnny Appleseed.
In the 20 years or so that I’ve been covering campaigns, I have come up with a few tricks that help me diminish these behaviors. Here are a few tips on how I process a hotel room, a list that was inspired in part by Merlin Mann who has a list of his own that he uses to maintain sanity on the road.
When you check in to the hotel, ask for three keys. Place one in your trousers that you’ll wear to your first meeting the next day and one in your briefcase for when you inevitably forget to grab it off the dresser before leaving for the day.
The minute you get into your room, collect all marketing material, fake plants, magazines, and cardboard tents advertising flaming desert drinks at the hotel bar and place them in the closet. Also place the exhausted coffee maker in the closet. It’s never going to make you a good cup of coffee, and it’s just taking up space and a power outlet.
Put keys, money, notebook, index cards, cellphone, and everything else you must have on your person on the clean dresser space nearest to the door or some other special place. (The pile will look something like this.) You should be able to grab everything in one swoop if you have to leave in a hurry.
Plug in and begin charging all devices immediately. You’re going to be on the road all day. If you’re not charged all the way, you’re screwed. Also: Travel with a remote charger and car charger.
Treat the bedspread with caution. It’s the thing they never clean. I know one journalist who travels with antiseptic wipes to clean the phone and the remote. (If you watch local TV long enough, you’ll see a piece explaining why this is necessary.) There are few surfaces more unintentionally disgusting.
Place the laundry bag from inside the closet in your suitcase for dirty workout clothes.
Never put your clothes in drawers. You’ll forget and leave them there when you leave.
Pack one sanity-saving device (candle for rooms that smell like death or a few bags of green tea or your favorite cookies). This is the one thing that pulls you from the existential dread of too much time on the road.
Pack an Ethernet cable. Some hotels still have old-fashioned Internet connections, and they are going to be far better than the gently failing Wi-Fi they’re offering.
Take a photograph of your room number. If you stay in a different hotel room every night in a different town, you’ll forget where you’re staying when you come home after a long day. This is also useful for parking spaces.
Before going to bed, set as many alarms as you can (cellphone, in-room clock, and wake-up call). This isn’t just to have a belt-and-suspenders approach to making your first meeting; it’s to keep you from fretting so that you can get a good night’s sleep.
Put a mini flashlight and shoes next to the bed for a middle-of-the-night fire drill. (This happened in Nashua, New Hampshire, once, though it was a false alarm.)
Wear pajamas. Even if you don’t wear them at home, you may find yourself outside your hotel room in a hurry. Plus, you’re not the only one who has slept in that room.
Never watch Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in a hotel room. You’ll never sleep for the guilt at having ordered it.
Check the back of the bathroom door. You may have hung something there when your defenses were down.
Leave a tip for the maid who deserves it.
When you leave to check out, always take your key. You’ll need it when you have to go back to get whatever you’ve inevitably forgotten. Once you arrive in the next hotel, throw away all the keys you have or you’ll get confused. (Or put them somewhere to give to your child who collects them.)