Monthly Archives: November 2016

Some Household Item Can Repurpose For Travel

I’ve traveled a lot so far this year, and my formerly sturdy toiletry kit looks like it’s gone through a hurricane. The seemingly indestructible little bottles I bought for shampoo and lotion have cracked and exploded. The zipper broke on my toiletry bag. Teeny jars filled with cosmetics all broke or depleted at the same time. Even the cool collapsible travel hangers I bought years ago saw their final days.

Instead of heading to the Container Store to replace all of these items, I did one better: I scrounged around my house and sought out ordinary items that could do double duty in my toiletry kit. And you know what? I like them much better than the items I could buy in a store, because they’re free, environmentally friendly and durable.

Here are six items I’ve upcycled so far this year.

Old prescription bottles: With their transparent tangerine-colored sides and easy-pop-off lids, old prescription bottles are perfect to fill with facial wash, hair gel and lotion. They’re usually spill proof, and they only hold a few ounces (hear that, TSA?). Plus, the bottles are wide enough to scoop product from. (Biggest travel pet peeve: When you use a hotel toiletry and only half the shampoo ever comes out. Grr!) I soak the labels off and affix a masking tape label on the side.

Eyeglass cases: Every time I buy new eyeglasses, I’m given a new case, which ends up collecting dust bunnies in a drawer. Not anymore. Eyeglass cases are now my go-to carrier for phone chargers — they stay beautifully protected and untangled. I also use one for little items that are hard to locate in larger bag: things like nail clippers, nail files, pens and flash drives.

Pill organizers: I hate carting full-size cosmetics on a trip. They take up too much space and weigh down my bag. I found an old pill organizer, washed and sanitized it, and filled the compartments with foundation, concealer, lipstick and blush. My makeup now takes up much less space, and it’s simple to use. Tip: Buy a small lip brush for the lipstick — makes it easier to apply.

Rubber bands: When the last of my travel hangers broke, I realized I really didn’t need to replace them. I loved them because they were covered with non-skid material that kept my shirts from sliding off, the way they do on normal metal or wooden hangers. But now all I do is bring a few large rubber bands (those thick ones that come wrapped around broccoli or asparagus at the grocery store are perfect) and slip them onto both ends of a hotel room hanger. Voila — my clothes don’t slide off the hangers anymore.

Dental floss boxes: When your dental floss runs out, don’t throw away the box. Instead, use it to hide cash when you’re traveling. The box stays in my toiletry kit, and I’m pretty sure a burglar, even if he looked in my toiletry bag, likely wouldn’t open up the floss.

Duct tape: The morning I set out on a hiking trip in West Virginia, the aglet at the end of my hiking shoe’s laces ripped off. Duct tape to the rescue! Duct tape is always the No. 1 item I pack on trips, because it can fix everything — a broken strap on a backpack, a hole in a shoe, a tear in your trousers. It can even serve as a quickie bandage when you get a cut. I either roll a few yards and tuck it into my bag, or I rip off some pieces and affix them to the outside of my luggage, for use later. (Bonus: It helps make your bag easy to identify on the luggage carousel).

Some Travel Essentials You Can Find in the Trash

Travel supply stores have made a fortune selling things you can get for free. A number of items you might typically throw away, from old towels to empty yogurt containers, make excellent replacements for expensive specialty travel products. Trash — yes, trash — can help you organize your suitcase, stay clean on the road, protect your valuables and more. Plus, finding something to do with your garbage other than tossing it in the bin is an excellent way to go green. Recycle, outsmart the travel supply companies and save some cash by getting creative with your trash.

Bubble Wrap

To protect packed bottles from breakage, you could shell out nearly 20 bucks plus shipping on for protective sleeves from WineSkin — they’re basically bubble wrap in the shape of wine bottles to cushion your merlot and cabernet. Here’s how to make your own: Put a bottle of wine on that sheet of bubble wrap that has been hanging around in your closet. Fold over the bubble wrap so it covers the wine. Cut the wrap to fit the wine, and staple the side and bottom (leave an opening at the top). You’ve just saved a Jackson.

Sheet/Bedding Casing

Most comforters, sheets and pillowcases are sold in sturdy, rectangular, clear plastic casings. These casings, which are quite durable and usually have a zipper, closely resemble “packing cubes,” zippered containers that help travelers organize luggage. In fact, they’re pretty much the exact same product. You can save some money by saving your sheet casings: a set of four packing cubes retails for $30 to $40 plus shipping on Amazon. I actually prefer using plastic sheet casings to retail packing cubes, which are usually opaque, because the clear casings allow me to easily find my belongings.

Free Samples

Ever notice how the rows of travel-sized toiletries at your local drug store resemble free samples? The only difference is that travel-sized bottles aren’t free. They can cost upwards of $4 apiece, and those costs really add up if you purchase a handful of travel-sized items. Instead, stock up on free samples. I’m willing to bet you have a number of sample-sized toiletries sitting in your bathroom cabinets that are fated for the trash can. If you don’t have free samples sitting around, it’s easy to score some. A number of product websites offer free product samples available through the mail, and sites like ChaChing on a Shoestring and Complimentary Crap will show you how to get them.

Keep in mind that most companies require you to submit your email address and other contact information in order to obtain a free sample. Be sure to uncheck the “Yes, I’d like to receive product news and offerings” box if you want to stay spam-free, and don’t enter your contact information on a company website without reading (and feeling comfortable with) that company’s privacy policy.

Old Pillowcase

Commandeer your teenage son’s drool-soaked SpongeBob SquarePants pillowcase — it’s time he advances to more sophisticated bedding anyway. But don’t throw it out! Travel supply stores sell similar sacks and pouches for $10 or more. Use that ratty pillow case as a dirty laundry bag (secure the top with a rubber band or tie it with something stringy if you want some closure), a shoe bag or a disposable just-in-case-this-spills bag to protect your liquid-filled bottles and tubes.

Old Towels

At home I reuse my old towels untold times; they’re good for dusting, cleaning up messes, lining animal beds and much more. On the road, my old towels take on new and exciting roles as airplane seat cushions (just fold it a few times) and suitcase padding (wrap it around your breakables).

Paper Shoes

If your local nail salon gives you a pair of paper shoes with your pedicure, don’t toss ’em the moment you exit the salon. Air travelers must remove their shoes and walk in stocking feet or barefoot (yuck!) through the airport security checkpoint … unless they have disposable paper shoes, which are permitted by the TSA. You can purchase disposable shoes from Amazon, or you can snag a free pair of TSA-approved disposable shoes while treating your feet to some pampering before your next getaway.

Old Wallet

If you go through a new wallet every couple of years, hang on to the worn-out wallet and use it as a decoy when you’re traveling. Keep most of your money and credit cards in a second “real” wallet or in a secure money belt, and then put some small bills in the dummy wallet. If you run into thieves in a foreign land, throw the criminals your dummy wallet and make a quick getaway. (For more ideas, see Money Safety Tips for Travelers.)

Egg Carton Tray

A half-dozen egg carton tray makes an amazing travel jewelry box. It doesn’t appear enticing to thieves, it has segregated compartments to keep your necklaces from getting tangled and, best of all, it’s free. For an even fancier jewelry box, allow your child or pet to decorate the carton. The plastic container in which wet wipes are sold also makes a handy jewelry box, sans separate compartments.

Duct tape is the ultimate fix-all travel item, but nylons are a close second. You can use old nylons to bind up a broken suitcase, to tie around your luggage for easy identification at baggage claim, as a laundry line in your bathroom or to use for washing delicate items (instead of a mesh bag). Keep your old soap scraps, stuff them in an out-of-use stocking and you have a free exfoliating soap scrubber to use in the shower!

Yogurt Container

Browsing on travel supply websites, I came across the innovative Tie Caddy, which keeps packed ties wrinkle-free. It’s a clear tube filled with a “patented winding mechanism” that curls ties into neat rolls. While empty yogurt containers don’t have an inner winding mechanism, they work fine as a scarf- or tie-protector if you don’t mind taking the time (it took me about 60 seconds) to roll the thing up yourself. Just be sure to clean and dry the yogurt container thoroughly first, of course.

Tips to Pack Light Every Time

After years of traveling, I’ve learned the many advantages of bringing only a carry-on: avoiding baggage fees, not having to worry about the airlines losing my luggage and being less encumbered by heavy bags while navigating a new place. And while other fliers are waiting at baggage claim watching the belt go round and round, I’m breezing past them to hop in a cab and get on with my day.

I’m often asked how I manage to squeeze everything into a single carry-on and personal item, even for trips as long as a few weeks. I’ve put together advice for three tricky packing scenarios, as well as a list of general carry-on rules of thumb. (I hope readers will add their own tips in the comments too!) Some travelers are happy checking a bag or two, and that’s great. But for folks who want to lighten their load but don’t know how — this one’s for you.

carry on luggage suitcases couple

Challenge No. 1: A Long Trip Through Multiple Climates

Not sure how to pack for your epic South American journey from the chilly mountains of Patagonia to the sunny beaches of Rio de Janeiro? Worry not. Even this can be done solely with a carry-on — take inspiration from this guy, who managed an around-the-world trip with no bags at all!

First off, if you’re going for much longer than a week, resign yourself to doing a little laundry. (Your shoulders and back will thank you when you’re not lugging 17 days’ worth of clothes.) You can pay your hotel to do it for you, look for a nearby laundromat — think of it as a glimpse into the local culture! — or simply wash your dirty duds in your bathroom sink.

Second, get creative. This is the time when all those clever dual-purpose travel garments are actually worth the money, like pants that can be turned into shorts by zipping off the legs or jackets that have a gazillion pockets for all your odds and ends. (See Pack This: 11 Versatile Travel Essentials for more travel products that do double duty.) It’s also important to choose your carry-on wisely. Make sure that it has enough pockets and compartments to help keep you organized, and that it’s as roomy as possible without exceeding your airline’s size requirements.

The secret to dealing with multiple climates is layering. The same lightweight T-shirt that you’d wear when strolling around the humid streets of Buenos Aires can serve as a base layer during your hike in the snowy Andes. Keep your heavy layers to a minimum — you can wear the same sweater or fleece every day as long as you keep changing the lighter shirt closest to your skin. And be sure to bring your jacket on the plane with you so you don’t have to stuff it into your suitcase.

If your trip starts in a wintry climate and ends in a tropical one, consider mailing your cold-weather gear home so you don’t have to lug it around for the rest of the trip. This can get expensive depending on where you are in the world, but if you have several weeks left in your trip, the lightening of your load could be worth the price. An alternative is to bring along older clothes that you don’t mind donating or leaving behind along the way.

Challenge No. 2: A Week on a Cruise Ship

Shorts, bathing suits and tank tops are easy enough to pack, but the most common sticking point for cruisers is formal night. How can you get a tux or an opulent ball gown into that teeny little carry-on?

Luckily, these days you don’t really have to. Many cruisers opt to skip formal night altogether and head to the buffet or order room service instead. But if getting gussied up for formal night is as much a part of your dream cruise as ocean breezes and fruity cocktails, you’ve got options. Men can pay to rent a tuxedo on some ships if they want to dress to the nines — but on many cruise lines you can get by with nice slacks and a jacket (a tie is preferred, and easy to squeeze into a carry-on). Bring multiple ties to change your look if there’s more than one formal night.

For the ladies, think little black dress. If there are a couple of formal nights on your cruise, save space by wearing the same dress twice with different scarves, shawls, jewelry or other accessories. Choose shoes that can also go with sundresses or other less formal outfits at dinner the rest of the week.

Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor at our sister site,, offers the following tip: “Bring tops that can be dressed up or down. I change into a fresh top for dinner that I pair with a skirt, and the next day I re-wear the top (still mostly clean) out touring in port. That way, I’m not bringing two entirely separate outfits for each day. And I re-wear the skirts, shorts, slacks, etc. with different tops throughout the cruise. Travel-size Febreze or similar is great when you want to re-wear a not-all-that-dirty piece again.” For more help, see Top 10 Cruise Packing Tips.
Challenge No. 3: The Business Trip

Business trips pose two primary challenges for light packers: looking professional without toting half your wardrobe, and bringing only the most essential gadgets to get the job done.

Unless it’s a particularly lengthy trip, you can usually get by with a single neutral-colored suit that can be mixed and matched with different shirts, ties and/or accessories. For example, a woman can wear the same pair of black suit pants for a daytime meeting (pair with a button-down shirt and jacket) and for dinner out (substitute a flowing wrap for the jacket and add earrings or other jewelry to dress up the look). By sticking to neutral colors, you should also be able to keep yourself to a single pair of dress shoes. If you’re bringing a blazer or jacket, wear it on the plane to free up space in your carry-on.

The advent of the iPad and other tablets has helped lighten the load of the business traveler considerably by providing an alternative to bulkier laptops. Don’t have a tablet? If it’s a short trip, you may be able to get by simply with a smartphone and a trip or two to your hotel’s business center or computer kiosk.

A note for business travelers attending a conference: Forget about lugging all those folders and freebies you received on the trade show floor. Go through them the night before your departure and pack only what you really need or want. If you still don’t have room in your carry-on, have your hotel mail the remaining goodies back to your office.

Cardinal Rules of Carry-Ons

There are no hard and fast standards that can apply to every imaginable trip, but here are a few rules of thumb that have served me well:

1. Limit yourself to two pairs of shoes and two pairs of pants, and wear the heavier items on the plane. (Bonus points if you can pull your trip off with just one.)

2. Don’t pack more than a week’s worth of clothes. For longer trips, plan to do laundry along the way.

3. Pack only garments that can be color-coordinated with everything else in your travel wardrobe. If it doesn’t work in multiple outfits, leave it at home.

4. Every little bit of space helps. Clean all those old grocery store receipts out of your wallet, swap your pile of paperbacks for an e-reader and forget about those “just in case” items you could easily buy in your destination. See What Not to Pack for more help whittling your list down to the bare essentials.

5. Many travelers swear by compression bags (also known as Space Bags) to help save precious space — but keep in mind that they won’t help you stay within airline weight limits. (Some carriers do weigh carry-ons.)

6. Maximize your personal item. In addition to a carry-on bag, airlines allow you to bring a personal item such as a purse or laptop bag. I generally bring a small backpack, which can hold a lot more than a purse but will still fit easily under the seat in front of me. (If I need a purse during my trip, I fold it up inside a larger bag.)

7. Roll your clothes instead of folding them — it minimizes wrinkles and maximizes space. For a few other recommended methods