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 Amazon.com 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.

towels
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, CruiseCritic.com, 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.)

laundry
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

All About Packing Tips

Some travelers jam two weeks’ worth of gear into their bags for a long weekend. Others pack a bit too lightly and forget important things like medicine or passports. Savvy travelers strike the perfect balance and bring just what they need — with a little help from our list of road-tested packing tips, of course!

Packing Methods

When packing your clothes, you don’t want to neatly fold them individually as you would in a dresser. If you do, they will crease when compressed. Here are a few alternatives:

Rolling Clothes: Backpackers swear by this method. Rolling works well with pants, skirts and sports shirts. Lay the item face down, fold back the sleeves and then roll from the bottom up.

Folding Clothes Together: Take two or more garments, for example trousers, and lay half of one pair on top of the other. Fold the one on the bottom over the pair on the top. Then take the other and fold it on the top. This gives each pair some cushion where you’ve folded it so it’s less likely to crease or wrinkle in the folds.

What Not to Pack

The Bundle Approach: This ingenious method of packing, which we learned from Judith Guilford, co-founder of the Easy Going travel store and author of the “The Packing Book,” has now become our favorite. It’s a bit difficult to explain without a demonstration, but we’ll do our best. You need luggage that opens up and lies flat to do this. You will also need a flat, soft, pouch-like rectangular “core” with dimensions that are at least 1/2 to 3/4 the size of your luggage compartment. This can be a pouch filled with underwear or something similar.

Start with your sports jacket or the longest, most wrinkle-prone item you have. With the collar or waistband flat, place it against the bottom edge of the bag and drape the rest of the garment over the opposite side of the bag. Take another garment and place it in the opposite direction, flattening and smoothing out both garments in the bag and draping the remainder over the side. If you have trousers or other narrow items, do the same with them in the narrow direction of the bag. Keep alternating your items, ending up with the most wrinkle-resistant clothes you have.

When you finish, place your “core” in the middle. Now you’re going to start folding the garments over the core and each other in the reverse order you put them in. If you fold something over and there’s excess draping over the sides of the bag, tuck it underneath the bundle you are creating.

What you will end up with is a bundle of all of your clothes that looks like a pillow. You can pick it up in one piece. It’s compactly packed and doesn’t waste an available space in your luggage. Plus, because of the way things are folded, your clothes will wrinkle less.

To find something in the bundle, lay it flat and unwrap until you reach the layer you want. Take the item out and refold the remainder. If done properly each layer should result in a self contained bundle at each layer.

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Tissue Paper: For delicate items, try tissue paper. Lay the item face down and place tissue paper on top. Fold it up with the tissue paper inside. Use additional layers of paper as you fold the garment so it is completely wrapped in and around paper. This is easy enough the first time you pack, but becomes a pain if you have to keep repacking. We only use this approach for evening clothes that we don’t want to crush.

man at airport with suitcase
Packing Tips for Air Travelers

You may not pack liquid or gel substances in your carry-on unless they are in individual containers of 3.4 ounces or less and enclosed in one clear, quart-size, plastic, zip-top bag per passenger. Any larger containers of liquids and gels must be packed in your checked luggage. For more information, see Airport Security Q&A.

Be aware of restrictions on the size and number of bags you may bring onto your flight. Many airlines now charge a fee for every checked bag or have lowered the maximum permitted weight limits for checked luggage. (For help packing lighter, see The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time.)

Do not lock your checked bags except with TSA-approved locks; otherwise, if your bag is selected for random screening, agents will have to break the lock to get inside.

Do not overpack your bag. Screeners will have a difficult time closing your luggage if selected for inspection, which will only lead to wrinkles and the potential for lost articles.

Place any packed belongings you don’t feel comfortable with strangers handling in clear plastic bags.

Do not stack books and other documents on top of each other; instead, spread them out throughout your bag.

Some travelers jam two weeks’ worth of gear into their bags for a long weekend. Others pack a bit too lightly and forget important things like medicine or passports. Savvy travelers strike the perfect balance and bring just what they need — with a little help from our list of road-tested packing tips, of course!

Packing Methods

When packing your clothes, you don’t want to neatly fold them individually as you would in a dresser. If you do, they will crease when compressed. Here are a few alternatives:

Rolling Clothes: Backpackers swear by this method. Rolling works well with pants, skirts and sports shirts. Lay the item face down, fold back the sleeves and then roll from the bottom up.

Folding Clothes Together: Take two or more garments, for example trousers, and lay half of one pair on top of the other. Fold the one on the bottom over the pair on the top. Then take the other and fold it on the top. This gives each pair some cushion where you’ve folded it so it’s less likely to crease or wrinkle in the folds.

What Not to Pack

The Bundle Approach: This ingenious method of packing, which we learned from Judith Guilford, co-founder of the Easy Going travel store and author of the “The Packing Book,” has now become our favorite. It’s a bit difficult to explain without a demonstration, but we’ll do our best. You need luggage that opens up and lies flat to do this. You will also need a flat, soft, pouch-like rectangular “core” with dimensions that are at least 1/2 to 3/4 the size of your luggage compartment. This can be a pouch filled with underwear or something similar.

Start with your sports jacket or the longest, most wrinkle-prone item you have. With the collar or waistband flat, place it against the bottom edge of the bag and drape the rest of the garment over the opposite side of the bag. Take another garment and place it in the opposite direction, flattening and smoothing out both garments in the bag and draping the remainder over the side. If you have trousers or other narrow items, do the same with them in the narrow direction of the bag. Keep alternating your items, ending up with the most wrinkle-resistant clothes you have.

When you finish, place your “core” in the middle. Now you’re going to start folding the garments over the core and each other in the reverse order you put them in. If you fold something over and there’s excess draping over the sides of the bag, tuck it underneath the bundle you are creating.

What you will end up with is a bundle of all of your clothes that looks like a pillow. You can pick it up in one piece. It’s compactly packed and doesn’t waste an available space in your luggage. Plus, because of the way things are folded, your clothes will wrinkle less.

To find something in the bundle, lay it flat and unwrap until you reach the layer you want. Take the item out and refold the remainder. If done properly each layer should result in a self contained bundle at each layer.

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Tissue Paper: For delicate items, try tissue paper. Lay the item face down and place tissue paper on top. Fold it up with the tissue paper inside. Use additional layers of paper as you fold the garment so it is completely wrapped in and around paper. This is easy enough the first time you pack, but becomes a pain if you have to keep repacking. We only use this approach for evening clothes that we don’t want to crush.

man at airport with suitcase
Packing Tips for Air Travelers

You may not pack liquid or gel substances in your carry-on unless they are in individual containers of 3.4 ounces or less and enclosed in one clear, quart-size, plastic, zip-top bag per passenger. Any larger containers of liquids and gels must be packed in your checked luggage. For more information, see Airport Security Q&A.

Be aware of restrictions on the size and number of bags you may bring onto your flight. Many airlines now charge a fee for every checked bag or have lowered the maximum permitted weight limits for checked luggage. (For help packing lighter, see The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time.)

Do not lock your checked bags except with TSA-approved locks; otherwise, if your bag is selected for random screening, agents will have to break the lock to get inside.

Do not overpack your bag. Screeners will have a difficult time closing your luggage if selected for inspection, which will only lead to wrinkles and the potential for lost articles.

Place any packed belongings you don’t feel comfortable with strangers handling in clear plastic bags.

Do not stack books and other documents on top of each other; instead, spread them out throughout your bag.

Should You Know What Not to Pack

The goal is simple: to visit your destination without a suitcase so stuffed that you emit strange animal sounds trying to heave it into the overhead compartment — and with plenty of clean socks and underwear. But if only it were that easy! If you’ve struggled over which clothes to bring or how many gadgets is too many, you’re certainly not alone. Packing for a trip is often a struggle to distinguish what we want to bring from what we need to bring.

When we’re forced to choose between our favorite things, we’re sometimes tempted to just bring it all and to hell with it — but overpacking can cost more than extra suitcase space and a free hand. Checking more than one bag, exceeding your airline’s weight limit or even checking a bag at all can cost you. Most airlines charge a $25 fee each way for checking one piece of luggage on domestic and some international flights, with fees climbing into the hundreds of dollars for anything beyond two checked bags.

Everyone’s packing style is different and we all have our own travel needs, so before you get upset at the idea of leaving behind your beloved toothbrush sanitizer, remember that these are only suggestions. Leave out a few of the following items on your next trip and we promise you won’t miss a thing!

For more packing help, see our Interactive Packing List.

Don’t Pack Your Entire Beauty Routine

If you use eight different products to tame your wild curls or have an elaborate face-washing regimen down to a science, let loose a bit when you travel instead of carrying an army of beauty products with you across the globe. Trust us — you won’t look like a cave woman in your vacation pictures if you use a shampoo/conditioner combo for a few nights. If you’re adventurous enough to leave home and explore an exotic destination, we bet you can also handle leaving behind a few hair products.

Top Tips:
If you are staying at a major chain hotel that will offer complimentary toiletries — use them! Don’t bring your own 24-ounce shampoo and conditioner bottles to the hotel and then stuff the hotel ones in your suitcase to take home. If you don’t use them on the road, you’ll probably never use them at home.

There are lots of products that have multiple uses. Opt for a shampoo/conditioner combo. Bring a tinted moisturizer with SPF. Let your moisturizing body wash double as a shaving cream. Share your shampoo, soap or toothpaste with your traveling partner. Buy a makeup compact that contains more than one color, such as an eyeshadow quad.

Lose the bulky containers. Instead, try zip-top bags. We stuff and pour everything we can into them, including hair products, lotions, cotton balls and even sunscreen. (Note: Do not put large liquid-filled zip-top bags in your carry-on luggage; according to TSA regulations, liquid-filled containers may be no larger than 3.4 ounces by volume.) To prevent spills, put all of your liquid-filled baggies in a larger plastic grocery bag — and be sure not to pack it next to any fishing rods or freshly sharpened pencils.

Don’t Pack More Clothes Than You Need

Clothes tend to make up the bulk of most travelers’ suitcases, and reducing the number of outfits you pack can lighten your load significantly. No one wants to run out of clean underwear in the middle of the Brazilian rain forest, but it’s possible to find a comfortable balance between wearing the same stinky jeans and T-shirt the whole trip and changing your outfit three times each day like a celebrity.

Top Tips:
If you’re going on, say, a seven-day trip, spend a week before you leave keeping track of everything you wear. Make a list, or, if you learn better with visual aids, keep these items together in a laundry basket. Then figure out which items you can do without.

Bring clothes in neutral colors that you can mix and match, and only pack shoes that can be worn with multiple outfits.

Check the weather at your destination before you leave, and pack accordingly. If the weather deviates significantly from the forecast, you can always buy a sweater or rain poncho and keep it as a souvenir.

Many travel supply companies sell small packets of laundry detergent (you can also find these at a laundromat). It only takes a few minutes to wash your clothes in your hotel sink and hang them on a hanger to dry. When you wake up the next morning … hello, freshly washed clothes!

Don’t Pack Your Jewelry and Valuables

Rule of thumb — if you can’t imagine living without your grandmother’s wedding ring or your expensive Movado watch, it’s best not to cart it overseas, where tourists are common targets for thieves and luggage often gets lost in transit. You may think you look like an icon of style, but to criminals and con-artists you appear as an icon of opportunity. It’s also wise not to look like a million bucks if you’re trying to bargain with the locals, and sparkly jewelry may set you apart from other folks on the street when you’re trying to fit in.

jewelry
Top Tips:
If you must bring your jewelry, keep it in the hotel safe except for special occasions such as dinner in a nice restaurant, and be sure it’s covered by appropriate insurance. Most homeowners’ policies will not cover jewelry if it’s lost or stolen while traveling, so you may need to purchase a separate policy.

Pack any valuables you buy while on your trip (and any of your own that you decide to bring) in your carry-on. As we all know, checked bags sometimes disappear into the mysterious black hole of lost luggage.

Don’t Pack Unnecessary Gadgets

This section applies to you if you’ve ever packed items such as nightlights, shoe horns, portable DVD players, book lights, coffee makers, fire-safety smoke hoods, hotel-door alarm systems, toothbrush sanitizers or electronic language translators, never to actually use them on your trip. The definition of “necessary” varies from one traveler to the next, so it’s important to ask yourself if you will really need your ocean-sound machine to get to sleep each night before you stuff it in your bursting suitcase.

Top Tips:
If you’re addicted to travel gadgets, rotate your collection. Pick one or two that you just have to have and save the others for a future trip.

Keep in mind that some gadgets may call for more room in your luggage than you’d expect; to keep them running, you may need to pack things like spare batteries, chargers or electrical adapters and converters (for overseas travel).

Don’t Pack Things You Can Buy There

Yes, things you can buy at home are often more expensive overseas. This is especially true in developed parts of the world such as Japan and Western Europe, so a traveler who’s flying to such destinations may want to pack extra everything in the interest of saving money. But again — think of the luggage weight fees. Simple items that you may need but can probably live without, like aspirin, nail polish remover, extra razors or reading material for the plane, can usually be purchased at drug and convenience stores in many destinations.

Top Tips:
Remember that if you decide to buy a lot of your items abroad, you will have to create room in your suitcase to cart them back home. Buy sample-sized items if you can to save space and money.

Instead of bringing a virtual library of reading material with you, buy magazines and newspapers at the airport. Picking out what you want to read will give you something to do as you wait, and you can recycle the items (or give them to a fellow traveler) so you don’t have to lug them back with you. Better yet, invest in an e-reader.

Don’t Pack More Than One Guidebook

While smartphones and tablets seem to be sending guidebooks the way of the dodo, some of us are still addicted to these little gems of information. Really, though — do you need a whole stack of them? One good, comprehensive guidebook should do the trick.

Special Tips for Holiday Travel

Wherever you’re heading, if you’re traveling during the holiday season, you need to realize that everyone else in the world is, too. But don’t let invasive security scanners, terrible drivers and long lines at airports get you down. We’re giving you tips to survive the holiday travel season without a Frosty the Snowman-size meltdown.

Do your research.

Plan alternative trips if traffic makes your way home too overwhelming. Is there a scenic drive that might be longer but have less traffic? Break up a long drive by finding a few places to stop that will get the kids more excited than a truck rest stop. When flying, make sure you check the airline’s restrictions ahead of time on carry-on luggage and fees for checked bags.

Stay connected.

Stock up on the latest travel apps before you leave home. Flight Status gives you real-time updates on delays, baggage numbers and more, and GateGuru gives you approximate times you’ll spend in security. Heading out on the road? Find the cheapest gas and cleanest bathrooms on the road with GasBuddy and SitOrSquat.

Pack snacks and drinks, so you and your family will be fueled up for a road trip. If you’re flying, definitely get some grub before you board the plane.
Pack light.

Avoid checking bags altogether if you can. You won’t have to wait for your luggage on the conveyor belt, and you won’t have to worry about your mom’s Christmas present getting lost in Logan Airport. If you do check luggage, make sure you have all your medications and important documents and a change of clothes in your carry-on in case your luggage gets lost. Here’s a family packing list for more tips.

Pack earplugs.

Short of doing yoga in the airport, the best way to mentally escape your stressful surroundings is to turn the volume down. And the easiest way to do that is with earplugs. Crying baby next seat over on the plane? Earplugs. Sister’s music in the car driving you mad? Earplugs. And if you really want to check out for a bit? Bring an eye mask (as long as you aren’t driving).

Don’t get hangry.

When your tummy growls, your mind can’t think straight, and you could unknowingly get in the wrong line, take the wrong turn, or worse, upset an innocent flight attendant. Pack snacks and drinks, so you and your family will be fueled up for a road trip. If you’re flying, definitely get some grub before you board the plane (check our GateGuru’s Best Airport Restaurants), so you won’t have to rely on airline food if you’re sitting on the tarmac for hours.

Ship gifts or give gift cards.

TSA suggests to ship wrapped gifts or wait until you reach your destination to wrap them, as they might have to unwrap a present to inspect it. Ship gifts ahead of time or bring the gift that can’t go wrong: gift cards to their favorite store or an Amazon card.

Travel on off-peak days.

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the biggest travel day of the year and can also cause you the biggest meltdown of the year. A better option is to leave early on Thanksgiving Day and avoid the record traffic the night before. Same goes with flying: if you fly on the actual holiday itself you’ll be avoiding the long lines and hoards of travelers.

Flight statistics show that planes traveling earlier in the day have a better on-time performance. Best time to hit the road? When every one else is asleep — early morning or late at night
Travel early or late in the day.

Flight statistics show that planes traveling earlier in the day have a better on-time performance. And if your flight is cancelled, you will have the option of taking a flight later in the day. Also, there will be fewer lines at security. Best time to hit the road? When every one else is asleep — early morning or late at night. You can always take a nap when you arrive at your destination or on the ride there (if you aren’t the driver, of course).

Plan for the unexpected.

Have only a half hour before connecting to another flight? Traveling to Rochester, NY, during snow season? Think ahead and plan accordingly. Leave extra time before flights to deal with security, extra time between connections and, for road trips, pack tire chains for snowy conditions, flashlights, and of course, a few band-aids never hurt either.

Inhale. Exhale.

The overly friendly person next to you on the plane, the cancelled flights, the luggage that fell off in the middle of the highway? All of it will make for great stories over dinner when you finally make it to your destination. After all, holiday travel stress is just as much of a tradition as pumpkin pie and regifting.