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Alternative/Creative Travel Products

What creative or budget or repurposed items have you discovered that work well for travel? In other words - travel hacks.
Example: Mountainsmith.com has a fold-up dog food bowl that makes a decent travel valet tray. And, it is comparatively cheap and durable.

Posted by
2607 posts

Many people will already know of this, but the zippered plastic packaging that sheet sets come in make a good substitute for packing cubes. Plus they're clear, so you can easily see what you're looking for. I use one for underwear, bathing suits, and socks, and another for rolled t-shirts (long or shirt sleeved), knit shirts and tank tops, and sweaters. Any toiletries or liquids that don't fit into my toiletry bag (you've probably guessed I check a bag for long trips) goes in another. Gallon ziplocks are also good for this.

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6669 posts

The plastic sack the newspaper comes in is great as a shoe wrapper ( one shoe per bag) so shoe bottoms are not in contact with clothes or the interior of the suitcase

Posted by
1043 posts

I buy cheap plastic shower caps from the 99Cent store (8/.99 or 100/9.99 at the beauty supply store) to use as refrigerator bowl covers. They work great for wrapping/packing shoes.

I use a free promotional nylon stringed backpack for dirty laundry. Dirty clothes don’t mix with clean and it lays flat in my suitcase. If I’m not doing hand laundry, dirty clothes are easy to carry to the laundry. On road trips I use a collapsible laundry basket, also from the 99Cent store.

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183 posts

I use the tiny plastic bottles that come from hair color touch up kits to hold small amounts of liquid foundation. The bottles hold enough makeup for at least a two week trip. The size is probably half an ounce.

This is probably well known, but using contact lens holders is great for creams, petroleum jelly, cream blush, etc.

Posted by
56 posts

Small battery operated votive candles work great as nightlights in hotels.
Also, office clips work great to keep curtains closed. Neither of these items take up much room.

Posted by
126 posts

I repurpose a sturdy cardboard hangtag from a clothing purchase to organize earrings; including studs, hoops and drops. Easy to punch a hole through (I usually use a picture hanging nail) and keeps all neat and easy to access. The small ziplock bags (also from clothes I've bought) containing an extra button or sometimes thread/yarn get pressed into use for necklaces and nicely eliminate a tangled mess in my small zippered pouch (usually a freebie item from some cosmetics gift with purchase) used for bringing my none-too-valuable jewelry options.

Posted by
17398 posts

I only rarely end up in lodgings with a kitchen, but I frequently buy bread, tomatoes, fruit and cheese that need to be sliced. I take the round, flexible plastic top from a carry-out food container to use as a plate and slicing surface. The lip prevents spills. The first one has made it through over one year on the road and is just now beginning to split at the edge.

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1649 posts

I use a small, 2 compartment plastic tray from a frozen dinner as a catchall in hotel rooms for room key, watch, earrings, coins, etc. I decorated it with red duct tape for visibility.

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1649 posts

I salvage zipper pockets from worn out purses, tidy them up and sew them into the back waist of travel pants to keep my passport, spare credit card and extra cash.

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3212 posts

A bandana has so many uses. Napkin, place mat, tourniquet, bandage, I have wet it and frozen it for an icepack when I broke a shoulder bone on safari.

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169 posts

The plastic sheets that cover dry cleaning are a little slippery, but are great for folding in/around clothes to prevent wrinkles. For us, this is especially good when packing for cruises and dressier clothes are required. For a valet tray, we use a large plastic can lid (from coffee or shortening, for example). Not as common, but I use a 7" x 10" heavy-duty plastic bag that comes with one of my prescriptions to corral smaller pill cases and bottles. The small battery-operated votives are also great for "mood lighting"!

Posted by
876 posts

Thanks revelssn!
I will definitely pack a couple of battery operated votive candles on future trips. I always travel with a night light, but sometimes it's difficult to find a good spot to plug it in.

Posted by
1711 posts

Picking up great ideas I will incorporate into our next trip. The votive, bandana, takeout cover - all great tips. CWSocial, one of our posters, Priscilla, takes a cheap neck wallet, cuts off the string, and sews it inside her vests. Similar to your idea. Just thought I would share.

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198 posts

We like the white noise of a fan while at home for sleeping. In hotels/ etc where there is no fan, we use an app on our phones for the white noise.

Posted by
1043 posts

The small 8x6x2 zippered bags that my horse’s fly mask comes in (like a very small sheet bag) works great for drugs. I use tiny zip lock baggies for each prescription. The zippered bag is large enough for drugs that need to stay in their original container..

To sort electronics cords, I wrap the cord with a colored hair tie. I can color coordinate the cord with the device, ie pink phone has pink charging cord tie.

Keep the hints coming everyone. We can all glean good ideas.

Posted by
2548 posts

I have made quilted drawstring bags for people in the hospital for their bed table to hold all their owned items so they don't get lost among everything else on the table. I use one of these brightly colored bags, which stand up on their own, for my bedside table when traveling to hold anything I use or need at night; ie, my earrings go in it, my morning meds, eye drops, glasses, reader, earphone, whatever, etc. Then all I have to do is pull the drawstring closed and pack it in my luggage in the morning. I don't have to worry that something fell off of the night stand and I left it behind. The bag has a quilted flat bottom with sides quilted partially up the bag. The rest is just regular fabric into where the ties fit thru a channel.

I second the bandanas because, as said, they have innumerable uses. Also, I also a binder clip for curtains or cords, etc. as someone described above. I love the idea of old zippered purse pocket or old money belts sewn into my vests...

Posted by
7840 posts

I third the bandana, lol!! Lots of uses.

I use the plastic lid from a big jug of ground coffee for my "plate" and have for a number of years. We (well, my brother as he makes the coffee in the AM) usually grind beans so I made the family go thru a whole big container of Folgers just so I could have the plastic lid, lol! The lid, the bandana and a spork in a ziplock always travel with me!

I always carry clothes pins - good not just for laundry but for clipping curtains like the upthread suggestion for binder clips as well as other things.

Posted by
384 posts

Bright-colored stuff that doesn't blend into the tasteful room decor - washcloth, tape around chargers, small pillow's case, pocketsized journal, favorite pen, name your important items.

I use a small pillow for my back on flights & drives, & learned the hard way to attach it to my body (left it on a plane, couldn't retrieve, waaah). Made an outer drawstring case with a long loop of ribbon, which then goes loosely around one shoulder. When I get up, so does it.

Instead of a neck wallet passport case thingy, a slightly larger fabric bag - thrift stores are a great source - that also holds what's usually in my pockets: chapstick, kleenex, eyedrops, pills in aforementioned bitsy plastic bag, credit card & some cash, journal, phone/camera. If we're ever on planes again, hugely easier to get at than wrassling around under jacket & seatbelt. Good for road trips, too, for hopping out without the whole purse/totebag. They also generally have wider & softer straps, comfier than those braided cord ones.

For cold planes & rooms, a big silk scarf as blankie. Squishes into nothing, feels luxurious & comforting, & spiffs up my, um, utilitarian wardrobe.

Ah, to pack again!

Posted by
2365 posts

Ziplock baggies, with the zipper top, have tons of uses. Sandwich size can hold documents and your passport in your bag (keeps them dry in case you get stuck in rain). Also good for toiletries, snacks, keeping small items together, bringing leftovers home from a picnic, and many other uses. Large size (gallon or 2.5 gallon) can be used as packing cubes - better than real cubes in that they squish the air out and can be the exact size you need. They can also be used for laundry - put a few clothing items, soap, and water in it, soak, knead and wash in the bag, then rinse in the sink or shower. Saves me from a lot of splashing, no sink stopper needed, and the clothes come out better.

Posted by
2607 posts

Hang onto those amenity cases the airlines provide on long flights. I use one to hold all of my meds while travelling. Another (I put a strip of colored tape on it) holds all of our chargers and cords (I just use twist ties to keep those from tangling). Yet another has all my first aid stuff.

Posted by
5414 posts

Dryer Sheets to absorb shoe odor, eliminate hair static especially if I wear a Winter knit cap, and the sheets are great for cleaning the iPhone and iPad screens. They also keep clothes smelling fresh if layered between the clothes in your luggage.

I take some twist ties ( green ones from my grocers fruit and veggie section ) and have used them to secure various electronic cables, as a broken zipper pull on a hoodie, secure a button and to hold my eyeglasses together when I lost one of those teeny screws. The interior wire fits perfectly to do this. On one occasion used twist ties to secure loose keys and on another secured a broken shoe lace. I never travel without them.

I’ve discovered that the various sized Altoid tins are very practical travel hacks. The larger one can store bandaids, a chapstick tube, twist ties and some adhesive blister shields. The sliding one is a perfect toothpick holder. The smallest tin holds foam ear plugs and safety pins.

Lastly I buy washcloths from Dollar or 99 cent stores. Besides being used in the shower or bath they wipe up spills, block cold air from leaky old window jams, scrub off gunk from shoes and boots, dab on or take off make up, and can be used to soak up excess water from washed socks. I trash all of them before I return home.

Posted by
3212 posts

For years I have carried various size ziplock bags, twist ties, clothes pins and elastic bands. I really had to think why I carry elastic bands, but as I do tend to have apartments, or some snack on the go, it can bind things together where twist ties don't work. Roll down the top and wrap the entire package with a wide (recycled) purple broccoli band. And now, with my 'covid hair' they might come in more handy particularly whenever I can get to those 3 month sojourns away Ottawa winters.

Posted by
5298 posts

Keep any unused plastic utensils (particularly the knife) from you airline meal. Or used if you feel like cleaning them. Handy for small eating later.

The votive thing is brilliant.

Posted by
1189 posts

I take a brightly coloured top from a peanut butter jar, blue or red, and put my jewellery in it at night.
Useful in a hotel when you can easily miss stuff when you pack up in the morning.
A cheap over the door hook is useful,as we all know there are never enough hooks for clothes.

Posted by
4245 posts

Love the votive idea. I have a teeny little flashlight, about the size of a pencil stub, that lives in my travel kit. But the votive would be great.

Posted by
1649 posts

Barbara, thanks for that additional idea to use cheap neck wallets for hidden storage. I knew there was a reason to keep the 2 that I have. I'm staring at them now with a new way to think of how to use them. Thanks!

Posted by
1711 posts

I’m also gonna take that bit of advice. I have one neck wallet but it bothered me when I took it for a test run. I don’t sew but my sister does. My vest is even the same light beige color.

Posted by
593 posts

Ah, you are my people.

My small bar of soap (the only soap I'm not allergic to) and my tiny bottle of shampoo (same) would fall through the holder that is meant for holding giant bottles of liquid body wash in foreign showers. So I take a piece of sturdy but still flexible plastic mesh about the size of a file card to line the holder. I believe the original problem-solving piece of mesh was cut from a plastic placemat I found in an Italian hardware store.

I take a tiny spray bottle (about the size of a tube of chapstick) that was in the make-up section of CVS and use it to mist the wrinkles out of my cotton or linen shirts.

I take a heavy-duty quart size ziploc bag and machine-sew some compartments into it to hold several items like tweezers. Once I sewed a few bags like this into a "book" and labeled each compartment with what should go in it, but decided that was TOO much organization for me.

I mentioned this in another thread here, but I took some extra-wide black elastic used for making waistbands and made external pockets on the back of my Pacsafe purse so that I wouldn't have to open the purse to get chapstick or kleenex.

Coming from Minnesota, we often have to change planes in New York to go to Italy, so I like to take a little disposable "freshen-up kit" in a ziploc bag into the New York airport --- it contains an old toothbrush with toothpaste already on it and a tiny cup from a bottle of cough medicine (for water) and half of an ancient washcloth with my soap rubbed onto it and the other half dry to use as a towel after I wash my face. I don't exactly know why I make this kit disposable --- it wouldn't have to be.

Posted by
1018 posts

When I was determined to cut down on sizes of things, I realized that the small travel size of Secret deodorant was the same size circumference as my preferred Tom's brand. So I bought it (about $1 or so), threw way the Secret inside, and replaced it with my Tom's. That was at least 10 years ago, and I'm still reusing that same Secret "sleeve" in my travel kit, just refreshing the deodorant stick inside as necessary.

Posted by
1649 posts

I use the tiny plastic bottles that come from hair color touch up kits to hold small amounts of liquid foundation

Such a great idea! I hadn't thought of using those little bottles. I'll also use them for contact lens solution. And since I have a new one every 3 weeks, they can be disposable.

Posted by
876 posts

If those tiny bottles in hair color kits are plastic, as I assume they are, there is no way I would use them for contact lens solution!
All plastic is somewhat porous and who know what chemicals might leach out into your lens solution.

Posted by
3534 posts

I use two Eagle Creek shoe bags as my main two packing cubes. One holds dresses and a cardigan. The second holds tops and capris. The clothes don’t have to be rolled and don’t wrinkle. They’re not cheap, but i like them much better than other cubes I ordered & returned.

I bring a silicone collapsible cup for my water cup because I’ve read about the questionable cleaning of cups in hotels. I also use it as a makeshift coffee cup on the mornings I really need some caffeine as I’m getting ready - hottest water from the tap & an instant coffee stick.

A Clinique free tiny bag is my airplane access bag - mints, Burts Bees, pen, tiny iShuffle w/ music, ear buds and reading glasses.

I always carry a small flashlight in my pocket when i go out for dinner. I’ve had a few stairways or entrances where one of the lights needed to be replaced.

Hair conditioner- I take a small tube of “after haircolor, use this conditioner “ from a home color package. It’s so concentrated; lasts several weeks.

Anything critical or likely to get left gets wrapped with brightly-lined thin duct tape: phone charger, electrical adapters, my Day-of-week medicine and also the location where it fits in my toiletry kit.

How about creative shoes? We had a Switzerland Jungfrau area & Italy down to Rome trip. Even though it was September, Switzerland had a couple of very cold days in our forecast. I didn’t want to bring extra shoes just for Switzerland, so I wore a pair of grocery store nylons, a pair of trouser socks and a regular lightweight pair of dark socks with my Keen Rose black sandals. I wasn’t cold since we hiking, and the traction on those sandals was perfect for the trails.

Posted by
5429 posts

Snack size Ziploc bags are the perfect size to hold Euro bills-- keeps them from getting sweated through in a money belt during hot weather. (Although it sometimes seems that I'm the only one who still loves a money belt.)

Posted by
1189 posts

I still love money belts, Laura. :)
And I always put the contents of a money belt inside a Ziploc bag first; saves it from getting damp.

Posted by
1649 posts

LIZinPA, good point about the contact lens solution in little bottles. I guess I'll use my good Nalgene bottle for that (or the travel-sized store bought ones) and the little disposable bottles for something that I don't put in my eyes.

Posted by
3212 posts

One to warn against is making your own toothpaste tabs. I had a carry on for a month trip and due to allergies, I had to load up on sunscreen I knew was safe for me. I needed a toothpaste alternative. The instructions weren't difficult but in the end, finding the right paste to start with, was.
On a sheet of wax paper, squirt out little dabs of old fashioned tooth paste, not gel. Sprinkle with baking soda, let dry.
I guess I tried to fool myself my white opaque paste wasn't a gel. It took a lot longer to dry and though they cleaned my teeth, it was never a frothy mouth of paste....more like bits of toy tire with a little foam. They never converted totally to a liquid. And suffering through it for over 30 days got old really fast. Hindsight is I should have sought out a pharmacy, but much of my travel was remote.
I have since found a tooth powder that didn't cost the earth or have warnings about potential metal content, and learned the Lush tooth tabs are worth the extra for clean teeth and breath in a guaranteed package.

Posted by
1597 posts

Please for contacts just buy the small travel size solutions. Transferring the solution into some other container is not a good idea.... you just compromised the the sterile integrity of your solution.

I admit that I am not that creative so I generally just don't worry too much about this. Personally my big thing is "take baggies" because they take up no room, weigh basically nothing and have hundreds of uses. (Stopping up the bathroom sink for laundry, corralling ticket stubs and paper you want to save, saving leftovers, temporary icepack etc...)

Posted by
1150 posts

I like nancy 8 idea to keep your soap from sliding thru the cracks. (I also tend to run into run into corroded metal ones)

I you need a solution before you can look for a placemat in Italy 😉, you could cut some samples from that sort of waffley shelf liner. It would also help if things tend to slide away from you off the night stand

Posted by
86 posts

One of the items in my ‘just in case’ case is a tiny super glue. Came in handy twice in one trip; when my Teva sandal sole separated (had an office clip to hold it together while it dried) and to repair the tour guide’s sunglasses. They come in a 4 pack at the dollar store.

And CWsocial, the way Priscilla sewed the neck wallet onto the inside of her vest (sans strings) also gave her an extra pocket as she sewed around the bottom and up both sides.

Posted by
24193 posts

it must have been nice to be able to help the tour leader, it is usually the other way around as they help so many people with so many needs,

Well done, min.

Posted by
119 posts

I take a small hairbrush with me. (Travel size, free gift from cosmetic counter years ago). I slide it inside an empty toilet paper roll—the cardboard protects the tines inside my bag. Easy to replace if needed.

Posted by
86 posts

Awesome tips everyone. Thanks so much.

I will be using the votive candle and divided plastic food tray valet options on my next trip!

Posted by
702 posts

Duct tape is useful to have on trips (just like crazy glue) - but it comes in such big heavy rolls. However, you can just roll some of it around itself to make a mini roll. It stay sticky.

Posted by
6669 posts

Duct tape is useful to have on trips (just like crazy glue) - but it comes in such big heavy rolls. However, you can just roll some of it around itself to make a mini roll. It stay sticky.

Isabel, I wrap mine around a golf pencil

Rather than a pencil, use a soda straw?

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6 posts

For Duck tape, I used a old gift card or plastic Hotel key. You can wrap several feet on it, stays flat. I carry Duck tape with me everyday. You just never know when you are going to need a piece of tape.

Posted by
1306 posts

Duct Tape: I had a broken kitchen utensil. So, I ground off the broken end and kept just the handle. This makes a fine spool for duct tape. I haven't had to use duct tape yet. But, I think it would be good for repairing luggage or a backpack. I tried using duct tape to repair a hiking boot. That was a complete failure.
The battery votive candle light mentioned near the top is a great idea. I have experienced power failure at a B&B in Italy. At least it was a small place and was more like a power outage at home.

Posted by
24193 posts

are you saying you have an electric pillow?

Posted by
1150 posts

SUN, you amuse me. What you have created sounds like a shiv, which you wrap duct tape around and then blithely carry thru the airport :)
I vote for a golf pencil as a more peaceful choice w less murky undertones

Posted by
1189 posts

Ok: now I want to know what an electric pillow would involve.....lurid, highly coloured dreams perhaps? ;)
Old Rick Steves videos streaming to you overnight?