“I still enjoy travelling a lot. I mean, it amazes me that I still get excited in hotel rooms just to see what kind of shampoo they’ve left me.” – Bill Bryson
Just like Bill, I too get a thrill from throwing open the bathroom door, turning on the light, waiting for it to flicker into life and the accompanying hum of the extractor fan and looking straight away for the complimentary shower gel and shampoo all neatly arranged as though in a chemistry laboratory next to the wash basin.
Never mind the number of stars the place boasts on TripAdvisor or proudly displayed as a certificate at the reception desk for me this is the really true measure of a hotel.
I can’t really accurately remember when these little gifts first started to appear in hotel bathrooms, certainly not on my early overseas adventures that’s for sure. On my very first holiday to Sorrento in Italy in 1976 I am absolutely certain there were none and there wasn’t a lot else either – no mini-bar of course and no television and it was light years before WiFi and Internet access.
Guests were expected to provide their own toiletries in those days and without baggage weight restrictions holidaymakers used to lug an entire bathroom full of lotions and potions half way across the World and then take them back home again!
Thinking about it, I suppose they first came to my attention in 1995 when I was on a coach tour holiday of some of the National Parks in the USA and each motel bathroom that we stayed at had these little bottles of gooey bathroom goodies and every night I collected them up and secreted them in my wash bag.
Soon the wash bag was full and the zipper was straining fit to burst but at some point along the trip we stopped at a shopping mall where there was a ‘dollar shop’ and my brother, Richard and I found some nice little wicker baskets that were perfect for keeping them in and giving away as gifts for family and friends when we returned back home. The beauty of this was that none of my family and friends had ever come across complimentary give-away cosmetics before either so they all thought that they were getting a really genuine gift.
I had never been to one of these out-of-town shopping malls before and I remember thinking that is was really dreadful, sadly, we now have these soulless, pointless places all over the UK.
Who started it I asked, well, claiming credit on its web site for introducing complimentary gels is the Canadian international luxury, five-star hotel chain, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts but I am certain there will be some conflicting claims from elsewhere.
These days any self-respecting B&B or hotel has free shampoo in little plastic bottles except those that have large squeezy containers that are screwed to the wall so that you can’t take them away and for me this always loses the place a couple of points when I complete the post stay satisfaction survey.
When staying in the room I always remain reluctant to use the giveaways because I view them as a sort of holiday bonus, a trophy and together with the sewing kits and the plastic combs and cheap toothbrushes I collect them up and take them home (except the plastic shower caps which always remind me of the rain bonnets that my mum used to wear and look completely ridiculous). I mean next time you are tempted to pull one over your head make sure that you lock the bathroom door and then just take a moment to take a look at yourself in the mirror. I guarantee that you will look ridiculous!
I can’t explain why they excite me, they are not top-quality products after all, I’m sure that most of them are based on some sort of industrial soap that probably doesn’t have many scalp or skin improvement qualities anyway. Sometimes Kim gets carried away and will say something like “Oh look, there is Moulton-Brown products in the bathroom”, I know that it is cheap washing-up liquid but I say nothing and tactfully keep this information to myself. In fact I am almost certain that although they may be different coloured liquid in the bottles that they are all the same product anyway and the shampoo works just as well as bubble bath and vice versa.
Back at home they sit in a box in the bathroom and every so often it overflows and the cabinet door won’t shut properly and it has to be cleared out and the little bottles disposed of – these days I take them to a homeless charity in the town and hope they come in useful somewhere.
“Hotels have plenty of items, all cute and travel-sized, waiting in store rooms and all you have to do is pick up the phone and ask. And checking out from the hotel isn’t like going through airport security. No respectable hotelier is going to want to pry open your luggage and search for shampoo. We hope you take the amenities. We want you to use them later and think of us.” – Jacob Tomsky – ‘Heads in Beds’
Apart from complimentary shampoo and shower gel what else do you own up to when taking things from a hotel room?