3 Travel Tips You Haven’t Read Elsewhere (We Promise)

How to avoid leaving something behind at your hotel by using the “rectangle of safety” and the “not-mine” mantra.

Even the most seasoned travelers have had those slap-the-forehead moments because they’ve left something behind in a hotel room. Here are three ways to avoid that mishap.

1. The weird-but-effective “Not Mine” ritual.

You’re all packed—or so you think. Sweep your eyes over the bedroom and register every corner of the space. Look at each object and say, “Not mine.” Do the same in the bathroom and all the other spaces you’ve used. Eventually, you will hit on something that is yours.

The out-loud part is key. Writers know that we catch most of our typos when we read our work aloud. It feels silly. So does saying, “Not mine” 20 times. Do it anyway.

Few people have been around the globe more than travel writer extraordinaire Becca Hensley, but there was a time when she habitually left her makeup bag in the hotel room (twice on one trip!). But now she swears by the not-mine strategy. “I have forgotten very little since I employed that technique,” she says, “and I taught it to my husband and daughter, too.”

2. Use the “Rectangle of Safety.”

The reason we forget things is because we’re in an unfamiliar place; we don’t have the same spatial or color cues, or the same safe spots for valuables, so our things tend to blend in with the hotel room’s objects. Many items can be replaced, but some essential things must go into your pockets (if you don’t carry a purse or man-bag) before you make your exit. Thinking I’ll just put them at the end of the bed can lead to disaster: objects get lost in the folds of the sheets or fall onto the floor. The room’s TV remote gets mixed up in there. Something is under that hotel towel. And the desktop is loaded with distracting objects.

To make sure you don’t leave anything important behind, grab something with sharply defined edges—an empty breakfast tray or even a magazine. Put it on a table or anywhere with a flat surface. Everything that’s crucial needs to go inside that rectangle: passport, wallet, phone, sunglasses. After a few trips, this technique will become second nature, and you’ll look at that rectangle and know exactly what is missing.

3. Hold onto the soon-to-be-useless key.

In the age of plastic electronic key cards, no one returns keys to hotel front desks anymore. We just leave them in the room. Don’t do that. Take them with you as you exit. Stick them in your pocket in the same way that you would if you were heading out for lunch and coming back.

Why? If you’ve left something in the room, the last thing you’ll want is to have to ask for a replacement key in the lobby and scramble back up to the room that isn’t yours anymore. If you’ve left something behind, you’ll want to be able to make a quick, inconspicuous return instead of creating an ordeal in the hotel when you should be serenely heading to your bizjet for the flight home.