Hotel mini soaps are like crack

No matter where my parents lived, there was always a bag of mini toiletries stashed somewhere. And by bag I do not mean a wee gift bag or small piece of hand luggage, I mean a proper shopping bag, probably culled from a duty free shop somewhere. The bag bulged because there was never a soap, shampoo, body lotion, sewing kit, shaving kit, business class amenity, cologne, cracker or mini ketchup, that my parents did not keep. When I would drift through the house, engulfed in ennui of my own pre-teen creation, (which was a lot, in retrospect), I would take the bag down from the shelf in the linen closet and sift through the bounty.

There were paper-wrapped soaps from France that smelled like lime and cloves and white shirts that never stain or wrinkle. There were bottles upon bottles of 4711 cologne from flights to Germany. Zippered welcome pouches with slippers, sleep masks, combs and toothbrushes from flights to Japan (the yukata robes liberated from the Hotel Okura in Tokyo accompanied these nicely), mingled with lotions and potions from hotels throughout Europe - souvenirs of business trips made throughout the 70s - and Asia - souvenirs of business trips made throughout the 80s.

But it wasn't just fancy things in the bag. There were also the brittle pink soaps picked up en route during family vacations at budget hotels that lined the highway. Mini bottles of Scope, though my parents were die-hard Listerine people. Shoe shine sponges and tiny emory boards, all packed in cute boxes with names and locations stamped on the outside.

I love hotels, partly because of these free samples of luxury that filled the bag, and in turn fed my imagination. Like Tiffany's, nothing bad could ever happen in a fancy hotel that gave its guests presents. Travel seemed elegant.

But the reality of travel is quite different, and lack of space combined with the diminishing quality of hotel giveaways have made me less likely to bring anything home with me, though the spirit of mini soap crack still runs strong in my veins. The first thing I do when I get into my room is go into the bathroom and gleefully explore the freebies on the counter, but unless the product is exceptional, it typically stays behind (the Hermes soap, shampoo, bath gel and lotion from a recent stay in Munich was squirrled away in my suitcase within two minutes of checking in, just in case hotel management decided I wasn't worthy and came to take it back).

But of everything found on my recent work trips, this is my very favorite - a very cute toothpaste and mini toothbrush combination liberated from the hotel outside Milan. I have no use for it and shouldn't have even taken it, but absolutely could not resist it. In the classic vein of travel goods of old, it is far too special to use casually, but not nice enough to give away as wampum. It belongs on a shelf somewhere, right? Saved for a rainy day when no toothpaste can be found and I am jonesing particularly hard for a souvenir of free.

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