In general, my mantra is “If you don’t need it, leave it home.” Once in a while, though, I make an exception because the item makes life so much easier.
One such item is the travel tray. They aren’t particularly popular items at travel supply stores so you might have trouble finding them, but you do occasionally run into them in unexpected places. The best one I got was a brown Hello Kitty travel tray for $1 at the dollar store in the San Francisco Japantown a few years ago (OK, so it’s Hello Kitty… but how can you beat a buck?).
What makes these travel trays OK in my book is that when not in use, they’re just completely flat, like a sheet of cardboard. To use it, you pinch the corners together and snap the buttons together, and now you have a little tray.
Why is a travel tray so convenient that I actually think it’s OK to pack? Because it helps you keep all your stuff together in one place when you get back to your hotel room! Your wallet, your cell phone, your car keys, your hotel key card…
While you might have a place for everything when you’re home (and not even think about it when you go to grab them), staying at a hotel means things aren’t at their ordinary places. It would be so easy to misplace things.
I’ve gone so far as to keep my cell phone in the travel tray while getting it charged!
Fortunately, once you unsnap the corners, these travel trays are pretty travelite-friendly. Just slide them into the side of your carry-on and you’ll barely notice it’s there.