Many years ago, I wrote a monthly travel tips column for Eastern Air Lines (remember them? Supposedly they're planning a comeback). In it, I asked notable customers of the airline what one object they would never travel without.
Kitty Carlisle Hart, actor, opera singer, Broadway star, and wife of Broadway composer Moss Hart, but most famous perhaps for being a longtime panelist on To Tell the Truth (a popular television game show for those of you under 50), answered that she always traveled with a toaster, because hotel room service never delivered toast warm or crispy enough. Those were the days when stars traveled with steamer trunks, I suppose.
But the most useful tip came from the late Eileen Ford, founder of the Ford Models agency. "Always travel with your own pillow," she advised. "I tell all my girls to bring their favorite pillow from home. You'll sleep better, and you'll look better." And after all, isn't that what being a model is all about?
Ever since that interview, back in 1988, I started bringing my own pillow whenever I left home.
But flying with your pillow comes with two downsides. First, even the softest 100% down pillow (the kind I prefer) takes up room in your suitcase; second, there's always the risk that you'll leave it behind, either on the plane or in the hotel room. I've even had hotel maids abscond with my pillow, perhaps because it offended their sense of décor.
Which is why I've been heartened to see more hotels offer "pillow menus," giving guests a choice of firmness and materials. Recently, I stayed at several Intercontinental resorts and hotels in Asia (the Intercontinental Bangkok and sister properties in Hua Hin and Samui Baan Taling Ngam in Thailand; and the one-of-a-kind Danang Sun Peninsula Resort in Vietnam) and was impressed that I could choose the perfect pillow from an extensive menu: down soft, down super firm, synthetic soft, synthetic medium, memory foam, silk, even rubber, although I can't imagine who would want to sleep on a rubber pillow.
But it's not just super luxury hotels offering pillow menus these days. Even some Holiday Inns, such as the Holiday Inn in Melaka, Malaysia, offers one.
I just wish every hotel did this, so I would have more room in my suitcase and eliminate the chance of leaving my pillow behind. After all, what's more important than a good night's sleep when you stay in a hotel? Probably the main reason why hotels don't offer better pillows or a wider choice is that pillows are one of the things, along with towels, that guests "pinch" most often.
In any case, when people ask me what my number one travel tip is, you can guess what I answer: bring your own pillow. Or stay in a hotel with a pillow menu.