After traveling the world, a writer details what every home needs to create a better living space.

Katherine Plumhoff
September 16, 2020
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When I left my job in 2018 to travel around South America, I thought I was going on a sabbatical. But I loved it and didn’t want to go back to an expensive apartment and a grueling work schedule, so six months of travel turned into a year of travel turned into a stint living in Buenos Aires. I started supporting myself as a writer and editor during that time and realized that I could continue doing that work while on the road, so in May 2019, I set out to travel across the States and around Mexico.

In just that leg of my trip—Detroit to L.A., Tijuana to La Paz, Guadalajara to Mexico City to Oaxaca to Tulum and more—I slept in over 90 different beds. I kept track for a while because I’m the kind of person who likes to keep track of things (like the books I read). But a few months in, I stopped noting the specific sleeping conditions I found myself in and instead started noting what made certain sleeping conditions resonate with me more than others.

I had such up-close-and-personal looks at dozens and dozens of Airbnbs and friends’ and acquaintances’ homes that I felt inspired to start jotting down what I wanted to emulate when I eventually had my own home again. What decor choices made a house feel beautiful but also livable? Which cooking gadgets were necessary and which just cluttered up a kitchen counter? And what minuscule decor decisions helped with functional design?

We’re all spending more time than ever at home right now, so there’s never been a better time to make your space work for you. Below are the top products and design choices I found to make life a little more comfortable.

A phone charger permanently installed next to your bed

Bonus points if it’s brushed chrome and matches the lamp on your nightstand (a lamp and a nightstand are also necessary, especially for evening reading). It seems like such a small thing, but it’s truly so freeing not to have to track down where your phone charger is at all times and cart it around with you from room to room when you need a charge. It feels ridiculously luxe to own multiple chargers and have them installed in key locations.

Anker Wireless Charger
$11.95
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Amazon

Your own travel photos blown up, framed, and hung

I’m all for supporting living artists, and I hope my future home will have some really beautiful pieces. But one of the best design choices I saw was at the house of a friend who had also done a big around-the-world trip and had photos from that trip hanging up in every room. She’d chosen plain white wooden frames for the photos, all of which were incredible vistas or colorful portraits. These items started great conversations, were wonderful souvenirs (super easy to travel home with!), and made those memories last.

Egofine 8x10 Picture Frames
$27.99
( $39.99 save 30%)
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Amazon

Voice-enabled speaker system in the kitchen

Yes, I am wary of Alexa or Google, so I have to think carefully about how exactly I’ll set one of these up, but there’s something about being wrist-deep in diced onion and asking my robot friend to put on the exact reggaeton song that will make the next round of chopping all the more enjoyable. I did this for the first time when staying at my aunt’s house, and it felt like one of those moments where being an adult is the best thing on earth. Thank you, Years on This Planet, for bringing me good knife skills, the ability to cook without a recipe, and a deep appreciation of Bad Bunny.

Echo Dot
$39.99
( $49.99 save 20%)
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Amazon

A microwavable silicone popcorn bowl

I first used one of these at a friend’s family lakehouse, and it blew my mind. I firmly believe that a movie marathon isn’t a movie marathon without popcorn, but I hate the weird aftertaste and the wasteful packaging of highly-processed bags of microwave popcorn—and the inevitable (for me) oil splatters and smoke alarm involvement of the kernels-on-the­-stovetop method. These collapsible bowls make perfectly fluffy popcorn with no oil or butter or extra plastic. You just dump half a cup of kernels in the bottom, stick it in the microwave for a few minutes, and sprinkle on whatever toppings you’d like afterward. Magic.

W+P Collapsible Popcorn Bowl
$20.00
SHOP IT
Sur La Table

The best nonstick frying pan out there

I’ve cooked with dozens of different pans over the last year, and Carote’s granite-coated pans are the only ones that are actually fully nonstick. Scrambled eggs slide out without leaving crusty bits behind, and that’s what I’m looking for come breakfast time. They’re beautiful to boot, with faux-wood Bakelite handles and grey mosaic designs. 

Carote 8 Inch Non-stick Frying Pan Skillet Omelet Pan
$11.99
( $16.99 save 29%)
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Amazon

A good pullout couch

And of course, having a pullout couch at home is a great way to have friends, like me, come stay for a night or two to liven up your life. I slept on all kinds of beds, from leftover college futons that stabbed me in the back all night to hotel-quality guest room beds laden with throw pillows—but this Wayfair sofa made its way into the rotation three or four times, and I was always happy to see it. It’s comfortable, affordable, and comes with a storage compartment, so pillows, sheets, and comforters are always at hand.

Efim 86" Reversible Sleeper Sofa & Chaise
$699.99
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Wayfair