Travel items you can’t live without at home?

As many of you know I graduated from college back in April, and at the time decided to “pursue” miles and points full time. The good news is that between everything I’m doing it has worked out incredibly well, and I couldn’t feel more fortunate to be able to do what I love everyday. So thanks to those of you that have supported me. I owe you all Diet Cokes with lime (and the especially loyal ones among you a ramekins of hot nuts).

I’ve spent most of the last six months on the road, given that one of the beautiful things about what I do is that I can “work” from anywhere. Starting December 1 I’ll be taking on a new travel related gig (hope to reveal the details of that soon) that will “clip my wings” just a bit, so I’m actually in the process of moving. I got my own place with a real home office and landline, because at a certain point spending 22 hours a day “working” from bed isn’t good for you, or so my mother tells me.

With that in mind, I’m hoping I can just give my mom my credit card (ahem, Chase Sapphire Preferred card, of course!) and she can decorate my place, because I have the fashion sense of Homer Simpson… and no patience for shopping.

That being said, I find myself wanting to incorporate as much of the road into home as I can. The beauty of being on the road isn’t just seeing new places, but also the “signature” amenities and simplicity that comes with many of our favorite travel brands.

For example, the most important thing to me is getting a W/Westin bed. They’re both great and probably the best investment out there, so that’s what I’m most excited about. Points, Miles & Martinis posted a promo code a few days ago for 35% off the W Store, though it seems to no longer work on beds as of a couple of days ago, at least not on the website. As expensive as they are I’m probably willing to pay full price anyway, though does anyone know a way to make them work? Maybe by phone, or no? Otherwise I’m tempted to wait till Westin has their next sale, though who knows how long that will be.

Anyway, I’d love to hear the things you’ve run across on the road that you can’t live without at home. This includes everything from ridiculously soft towels to one-cup coffee makers that require you to only push a single button. Any suggestions at all would be appreciated, no matter how minor/crazy they are.

Oh, and not necessarily travel related, but bonus points to anyone that can help me out with the following:

a) I’m addicted to ice coffee (I don’t care if it’s 100 degrees outside or snowing), and there’s not a Starbucks within five minutes of my new place (yes, I didn’t know such a place existed). How do you make good ice coffee at home?

b) I’m mildly obsessed with blackout curtains/shades. By that I mean a room that’s so dark that even after your eyes adjust you can’t see anything, even when it’s sunny outside. Thoughts on the best way to make it happen for a room with just “standard” blinds?

Anyway, can’t wait to hear some ideas!

Filed Under: Advice
  1. For your iced coffee dilemma, you can brew a pot of your favorite blend at home but at double the strength (half the water). Then fill a pitcher with ice and pour the hot coffee directly over the ice until it melts to become the perfectly chilled, perfectly flavored iced coffee you’ve normally gone out to buy. These were the instructions on the bag of Starbucks’ own iced coffee blend sold in stores. It worked great for me.

    Buying that blend is the way to go if you love it in-store anyway, though they stopped selling it around me in September.

  2. You’re getting an apt? Why don’t you just live in hotels.

    As for the blackout curtains, just buy a tension rod (should be like $10 – $20 at Wal-Mart) and some curtains. Works really well for me.

  3. @ Aaron — Awesome, thanks! Any clue where to get the sweetener like Starbucks has?

    @ MZT — As much as I’m a miles/points addict, at a certain point it’ll drive you crazy and you just need a semi-normal life. I’m a “maximizer” and the issue with that is that I’d be switching hotels every single night because you earn the most points that way. And in the long term that’s not really a life I want to live. Beyond that, spending all your time on the road is probably the unhealthiest way one can live (I speak from experience). No “fresh” food, huge breakfast buffets, club lounges with tasty cookies, etc.

    So I’ll keep traveling as I did before, though more moderately (saving a bit more time for the gym).

  4. For me, it’s my Nespresso machine that I first ran into in Seoul, then in Zurich.

    It takes pride of place in the kitchen now.

    The other thing I that I’ve started using is the shaver socket (that’s a 2 EuroPin socket). Makes charging some of the fun toys I’ve brought abroad a lot easier.

    Oh and the fact my bathroom smells of Hyatt White Ginger means nothing of course 😉

  5. I found that any window shade that professes to block out the light, doesn’t. I’m not a curtain fan so I got a true blackout shade and then really pretty shades that are mounted in front of them. My room is completely dark. Until it’s time to sleep, the blackout shade is up so I get to appreciate my lovely shades!

  6. I’m with MZT why don’t you just line in hotels!

    As for blackout curtains….have your Mom take you to a fabric shop, or craft store that sells fabric, and you can purchase black-out fabric there along with the tension rod MZT suggested. If you don’t have acess to a sewing machine a stapler will work to get the curtain rod pocket & hem of the fabric just right. (Although I will say that is the ghetto way of doing it.)

    Since you are getting your own place one of the things I always do when travelling is buy something for my home in the place I am visiting. (Rugs/plates/bowls/pillow covers/etc….scratch the pillow covers for you!!) It’s nice to look around my place and be reminded of all the incredible places I have been… well as they “Oh I got that in ______” when company is over.

    Have fun with it!

  7. I discovered cold-brewed iced coffee a bit ago and have not been able to go back! It’s smoother and sweeter than pouring chilled coffee over ice and you can taste the difference. It’s also easy to make a bunch at a time, because you essentially make a syrup that you then just add to water and ice all week.

    1) Make a mixture with a 1 part coffee grounds/2 parts water ratio and let it brew (covered so the water doesn’t evaporate) in the fridge overnight or for as long as you can.
    2) Pour the thick, sludge-like mixture over a colander with a coffee filter inside (if you have a flour sifter or something with finer mesh, all the better, but the coffee filter should do just fine).
    3) Use this syrup to make iced coffee until it runs out! You can experiment with your favorite mixture at this step, but I find 1 part syrup to 4 parts water is great (you may want less water if you add milk). I think you’ll also find you need less sweetener with this method.

    I agree that simple syrup (sugar water) is the best sweetener for cold drinks, because the sugar’s already dissolved.

  8. Here’s another tip for making iced coffee. If you don’t want your coffee to be diluted when the ice melts, make coffee ice cubes! The night before when you make coffee, pour some of it into an ice tray and stick it in the freezer.

  9. +1 on a nespresso. But I prefer iced lattes. Get a couple of those Italian syrup bottles and I can’t tell the difference between home and Starbucks.

  10. If you find TSA withdrawal symptoms to be getting you down, you can always buy,

    My father-in-law has a great basket of shampoos and other toiletries from hotels around the world. It’s not your standard Westin White Tea fare. He keeps them in a basket in the guess bathroom. If you have your own collection that would be a pretty cool thing to have available to anybody coming over.

    We find 2″ faux wood blinds to work pretty well in keeping out the light.

    Most phone companies offer reminders that can also be used as wake up calls. It’s not the same as the random quirky call you get at hotels but it works.

  11. The W Hotel Store has promos all the time and they’re very likely to have one for bedding before Christmas so try to hold off until there is a good sale.

  12. I think you should get ANA’s (or really, Japanese) automated toilets and/or bidets installed in your apartment.

  13. LOVE all the ideas and am looking into ’em all right now. Thanks so much, folks.

    @ Steve — Woah, how did you make it work? Did you use promo code WSTAR35? Which bed did you enter it on? Can’t seem to make it work.

  14. I am too obsessed with iced coffee and make mine at home almost everyday. Here’s what I do. Buy a darker roast (that’s what I like) and grid it very coarsely (the least fine setting) at the store, or at home if you have a grinder.

    Buy a french press (the bigger the better) and for a 12 cup french press i put in one cup of coffee grounds. Then cover with cold water to fill the press. Let it sit over night and in the morning you will have delicious cold brewed coffee. It’s amazing. Leaves out all acidity and gives you full, awesome flavor like you get at good coffee shops!

  15. I have looked into getting the W bed before though reading more of the reviews on FatWallet, etc. concerning the big promo codes it made it seem like it was not the right way to go and that the bed is rather in pretty cheaply made compared to what you could buy for a little bit more from a mattress store. I guess people love it for a fee month then it looses its springiness. Something to look into.

  16. @Alex – I was going to send Lucky the same link! Too funny! The PW gives a great tutorial for making iced coffee.

  17. “Starting December 1 I’ll be taking on a new travel related gig (hope to reveal the details of that soon)”

    @ Lucky: Who do you think you are? British Airways? “I’ll wait until December 2 to announce what happened on December 1.” 🙂

    Come on man, spill the beans..

  18. You can buy a bottle of Classic syrup for $6 or $7 from Starbucks and use that for your at-home iced coffee. You can even buy a pound of iced coffee blend and use it at home. Cold brewing is great but bear in mind it has less caffeine that way, if that’s what you’re after.

  19. Congrats on your move!

    Things you’ll need:

    -Keurig single serve brewer. They have special “brew over ice” k-cups. Don’t get the cheap $99 brewer, they break often.

    -Premium Egyptian cotton bed sheets. Best deals for this are usually at

    -A cocktail shaker and a full set of bar-ware 😉

  20. You’re buying a great bed, but don’t forget about great pillows. Best I ever enjoyed were at Boston’s Nine Zero hotel; I called hotel and they come from Down Inc ( Company doesn’t have an online store, but they’ll help you by phone — we love our pillows even after years!

    Also, sugar syrup is often available at Asian markets — sugar syrup is common for sweetening cold drinks in Asia.

  21. I bought two king size W beds in 2007 and 2008 using the 40% off coupon. Both of sag a little bit now. I would suggest you to check some other beds.

  22. As a former Starbucks “partner”, I would suggest brewing a French or Italian Roast with a french press (but a regular brewer is fine). Try it at 2x your normal amount and adjust from there! The key is to make it strong enough because the coffee will be further diluted with the addition of ice cubes. Starbucks’ syrups can be a bit pricey, but try Amazon for deals!

  23. Kevin’s method is the best I have found for cold coffee. A large French Press is inexpensive and easier than alex’s cheese cloth method. The cold brew method really is awesome.

    Depending on how fast you consume your coffee, you might want to store it. Being cheap, we just buy a glass bottle of high end chocolate milk, consume milk, run the bottle through the dishwasher, then pour in the cold coffee to refrigerate. The lid keeps the coffee from absorbing stray flavors from the fridge.

    If you drink hot coffee: Technivorm Moccamaster.

    If you drink espresso: Rancilio Silvia

    You don’t need a knife set. A good chef’s knife, a paring knife and kitchen shears are all you will ever use. Maybe a bread knife if you eat a lot of fresh bread.

    Do not get teflon pots and pans. The only teflon you want is a large frying pan and a small frying pan, and maybe just a small one to start.

    Good pots and pans can be put in the oven with their lids on. If you aren’t much of a cook and don’t plan on changing that, just get cheap shit, your future partner might actually care enough to get good stuff, and her preference is almost guaranteed to be different than yours.

    Garage sales (this is where mothers come in handy) are great for getting the necessities that you need but don’t really care about. You can get much nicer stuff used for much less money than the cheap particle board crap new.

    I wouldn’t trade my Tempurpedic bed for any hotel bed.

  24. @ Steve — OMG, it worked. Thank you, thank you, thank you! It seems it only works if you buy the mattress separately from the entire set.

    Now here’s a question. I was going to go with the starlight bedding/mattress set. I can get the 35% discount on the mattress and 35% discount on the starlight bedding set, but not on the combined “package.” Does anyone know if the starlight bedding set for $270 (queen sized bed) includes pillows? The description doesn’t say what it includes (here:

  25. Ben,

    I really do like your writing style. That said, since I really liked the “rap off” you and Gary had, maybe you can do another one: See whose mommy can do a better job decorating their humble abode hotel-style 🙂

  26. Lots of great advice in this thread. The best combination of simple and good iced coffee is cold brewing in a French press for 8-12 hours. Sugar/syrup does not belong in iced coffee in my opinion, it makes if less refreshing. If you like milk in your iced coffee I’d offer two alternatives. First which is what I usually do at home as it requires no preparation. Pull a couple of shots (ristretto) on an espresso machine and mix with cold milk, no ice. The best consumer espresso machine for less than $1000 is the La Pavoni Europiccolo. It’s quick to learn and pretty soon you’ll be pulling significantly better shots at a similar rate as the automatic machines. The absolute best iced coffee I’ve had in the world (and I’ve sought out the best in Jamaica, Italy, Thailand and Japan among others) was in San Francisco, New Orleans Style Iced Coffee. I encourage you to try making it at least once, or to head to Blue Bottle next time you’re in San Francisco.

    Crap, now I have to drive in terrible traffic to Stumptown to get some good beans to make some iced coffee.

  27. Lucky, the W hotel bed is a Simmons Beauty Rest bed which comes in either a plush or pillow top version. FatWallet has coupon threads for the W hotel bed, but none of the codes are currently valid. I encourage you to go to a mattress store and try out the mattresses yourself. Sears sometimes has some good deals on matresses, especially during a Friends and Family sale. You might always wish to consider getting a Costco membership again, as Costco seels many types of mattresses in store and online, and they offer a money back guarantee on them, irrespective of time.

    Once you decide upon a mattress, get a good mattress pad. It is very important for you to rotate your matress from top to bottom and bottom to top every 3-6 months so that it wears evenly: this will increase both the life and comfort of your mattress.

  28. Ben,

    When I lived in New Orleans, I refused to give up my coffee habit in the blazing hot summers, so I switched to iced coffee. Good solution but I quickly ran out of patience trying to brew the perfect ratio of coffee to ice cubes. I discovered Cool Brew and it saved my life.

    They have lots of flavors and you can order online.

  29. For iced coffee, cold brewing is where it’s at – just as others above have said! It makes such a huge difference compared to just chilling hot coffee. I use the French press method some others mentioned… leave it sitting out on the countertop or in the fridge (room temp “brewing” tastes more flavorful to me), stir in sugar to taste, and put it over ice with a tiny bit of real cream in it. You will never be happy with an iced coffee from anywhere else! Another tip: get good beans and grind them fresh. I love Illy the best.

    For other stuff: love my Frette towels! LOVE them. You can occasionally find them on Gilt in limited color choices for $25 each – still expensive but not $50/ea like usual. They’ll last me forever, so I think it’s a small daily luxury that’s worth it. Also: 1000 thread count sheets – available on for $100ish.

  30. Here are my recommendations for Ice Coffee relatd products:

    Starbucks Instant Ice Coffee:

    Keurig One Touch Brewer:

    Ice Coffee Fills for Keurig Brewer:

    Black Out Curtains:

    **these curtins come in all colors and blackout 99% of uv light. I live in Finland where the sun never sets in winter and use these on all my windows. **

    I think Amazon is running deals/sales on most of these products. I use and recommend them all.

    Hope that helps!

  31. The Peter Thomas Roth products found in the Hilton Hotels are pretty incredible. Really nice face washes, shower gel, and shampoo

    Hilton properties also have great hand cream prodcuts from La Source which smell great and arent oily.

    The ENTIRE Westin collection is available on Amazon (earn a few miles too!). Nice products if you are looking for bedding

    Good luck with your new place!

  32. RueLaLa is having a sale on W Hotel Beds this Thursday. Go on sale 11am EST time and stuff sells out quick.

  33. @ dealswelike — I think you might be my hero! Any clue how much of a discount they’ll provide? The W Store currently has the 35% discount code, but it doesn’t apply to the mattress and bedding set, but just the mattress. Any clue if both will be for sale, or just one? Can’t wait!

  34. A few things I wish I could emulate at home –
    1. Less “stuff”. Those things you can really live without but somehow have because you should as an “adult”. Stuff you never miss when traveling.
    2. Heated defogging mirror.
    3. Cleaning service

    They all just require a bit of extra effort or money.

  35. @ Ken — I figured out the issue. It seems that the discount applies to the mattress, though not to the mattress set, which is supposedly already discounted. I guess that makes sense.

  36. Lucky – just getting back to this thread. So honored to be your hero 🙂

    Not sure what the sale will bring but overall I am decently pleased with ruelala sales. In my experience clothes seem to have the best sales. Remember, 11 am EST tomorrow. Not to worry though, I will be sure to remind you!

  37. Purchasing custom blackout shades for my bedroom was the single best improvement I made to my condo. I’m not sure what brand because I purchased through someone with an interior design license, but they are honeycomb/cellular blinds that look like normal cellular shades. Something like these:,50. They’re mounted in front of my window and are amazing. I also got ones that open top down or bottom up so that I can let some light in, but still have some privacy.

  38. black out windows…
    you are from Florida…get storm shutters that are on the outside.

    you must also be acquainted with Fenster Rolladen

    if it is an apartment they probably don’t allow you to do that type of thing on the outside, but there must be a way to mount them on the inside

    i love mine, they are electric and you can’t see a thing.

    coffe maker… i have a Jura and love it just push the button and you have your coffee… so fay the machine has lasted 12 years. you get the whole beans and are not locked into buying the nespresso capsules.

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