Collecting freebies from hotels and travel can become an unstoppable pleasure, writes Elisabeth Easther.
I love free stuff. It's not something I'm especially proud of, it's just the truth. There's a special frisson that comes from pocketing a freebie and there are few better places to take that pleasure than a hotel.
Until recently, I had a bathroom cupboard dedicated to miniature bottles of shampoo, conditioner and moisturiser and another cupboard in the hall was devoted to shower caps, individual shoeshine sachets, towelling slippers and sewing kits. But today, those hotel freebies are mostly gone because I resolved to use them all until there were none left.
My collecting had become pathological. It was as if I was squirrelling these things away for some impending apocalypse that would see all the shampoo factories shut down. And really, when the end of the world is nigh, will I want to be washing my hair or cleaning my shoes?
Although I have kept a few of the sewing kits, some of them are so dinky I can't bring myself to use them, and if there is an apocalypse they'd come in handy for first aid. Still in their wrappers, those needles are probably sterile. Sutures, anyone? Although that said, the sewing kit isn't as common in the hotel-giveaway arsenal these days.
More commonly you'll find shaving gear (be warned, though, the razors are usually so crap they should come with bandaids) and toothbrush sets that I always take because they are just the ticket when guests forget their own.
And I'll probably never stop dropping a few individually wrapped mints into my handbag when confronted with a bowl of them; I'm sure I'll want fresh breath when the day of reckoning arrives. As for single-serve green tea bags, I take them too; you can never have enough green tea.
And don't get me started on the deep affection I feel for a breakfast buffet when it's included in the price of the room, which makes it feel like it's free even though it's not, really.
Travelling alone, I'll think nothing of pocketing a few boiled eggs and some fruit for later. And the money saved can be squandered later on souvenirs.
As for travelling with a child - I have been known to take Tupperware down to the dining room and surreptitiously make an entire day's picnic. The prospect of a hungry child can make a parent utterly shameless. Croissants smeared in Nutella are surprisingly delicious.
For all my fondness for free stuff, though, I need to make it clear I have never taken a robe, although I love how they're so fluffy and clean. I have taken several pairs of those silly slippers because I don't think they can be re-used, yet I never use them when I get home.
I once borrowed an airline blanket (having not given any thought to sleeping equipment before three months' backpacking around Central America) and goodness knows what super stuff it was made from but it was no worse for wear after months of being used as my towel, sheet and modesty wrap. I left it on the plane on my way home.
I suspect the reason humans are particularly partial to pocketing things while travelling is because, having just forked out for the flight and the hotel and all the other incidentals, by grabbing a few shampoos it feels like you're recouping some of those expenses. Which is rather ridiculous when you think about it, so from now on, the only thing I'm going to take while I'm on holiday is photographs.