If You Plan To Stay At A European Hotel, Rick Steves Says To Pack This Unexpected Item

There are several things travel guru Rick Steves never forgets to pack for a trip to Europe. Most are purely practical — like his go-to money belt — while others are simply nice to have, such as a small journal for jotting down thoughts and memories. However, one of Steves' essential travel items is something you'd probably never think to bring: a universal drain stopper.

On his official packing list, the frequent traveler explained that a plastic (or silicone) drain stopper works in a pinch whenever a hotel or vacation rental doesn't have a working plug. This can be especially common in older properties, where drain stoppers can get lost or just don't fit the drain that well. Universal stoppers, as their name suggests, are designed to accommodate a range of drain types, so having one stashed in your bag can be smart no matter where you plan to travel.

With that said, you might want to grab a couple of sizes, as some flat drain stoppers are too small or large to fit certain sinks, which can prevent a seal from forming. Alternatively, a cone-shaped plug may fit some sinks and bathtubs more effectively, though this style will take up more room in your luggage.

Why a drain stopper is essential when traveling

A drain stopper may seem like an unusual item to bring on your dream European vacation, but having one can instantly upgrade your hotel or Airbnb experience. First, if your bathtub doesn't have a working plug, you won't be able to soak in the tub after a long day of sightseeing or standing in line at attractions. If you're traveling with children who are accustomed to taking baths, the lack of a working plug can also be a major obstacle. Even if it seems simple, the humble drain stopper could save the day.

A universal plug is also handy if you plan to do laundry when traveling. With the drain stopper, all you have to do is plug up your sink, run some warm water, and use a laundry detergent sheet or other soap to get the water sudsy. Drop your clothes in and let them get clean without having to run to the local laundromat or pay for expensive hotel laundry services.

Alternatives to the universal drain stopper

The sink and bathtub plugs Rick Steves recommends are affordable and compact, so they're pretty easy to stow in your travel bag. However, if you don't want to carry a drain stopper or can't buy one in time for your trip, there are a few hacks that work just as well. One easy option shared in the Rick Steves Travel Forum involves a plastic bag (try the hygiene bags stocked in your hotel bathroom) and some coins. Simply cover the drain with the bag, then top it with your heavy coins to create a DIY blockage — just don't let your money slip down the drain. Another iteration of this uses toilet paper. Take a small plastic bag, stuff it with toilet paper, and add water to soften the paper. Tie up the bag and work with it to fit the shape and size of your drain.

If you're only interested in using a drain stopper for doing laundry in your hotel room, you may not need to plug up the sink at all. Instead, several users on the Rick Steves Travel Forum suggest packing a two-gallon zippered plastic bag and using it as a makeshift washing machine. The Scrubba Wash Bag works the same way, just with a more durable design.