“In character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Sometimes the simplest tools are the most effective and most relied upon weapons in the traveler’s toolbox.  Inspired by Till’s thread on the Practical Hacks Forum entitled Small Hacks – Big Effect, I’ve been assembling and researching the very best in simple travel hacks that deliver big rewards.

You won’t find any solar powered cooling fan-equipped pith helmets, fancy voltage converters, or crank flashlights on this list; just simple items that can make your travels much more enjoyable.  That said, here’s the list:

1.  Re-purposed volleyball or wrestling kneepad – ~$5

Forget those fancy silk money belts that sell for up to $20!  Get an inexpensive knee pad (here’s a link for one that sells for $5.99) or better yet, find one in your gym bag Use a razor blade to cut a horizontal slit about a half or three quarters of an inch below the top of the padded section, from side to side, leaving a bit of material uncut on each side.  Slip out the foam pad.  Instant stash for your extra cash, travel documents,  and/or passport.

2.  $1 image stabilizer for your camera

Visit the hardware store, spend (at most!) a dollar, and you’ve got a nifty camera stablizer!

Honorable mention:  The $7.99 Bottle Cap Tripod

3.  Ziploc bags

No brainer.   Protect camera from the elements.  Pack a washcloth in one for transatlantic (or other LONG) flights – shortly before landing, ask the FA for some hot water – pour it in the bag, and use the hot cloth to refresh.  Use one for storing your small umbrella – put it back in the bag after use, and it won’t get everything in your purse or daypack wet!  Oh yeah – they’re real handy for your 3-1-1 liquids bag!

4. Binder clips

Definitely low tech, decidedly inexpensive, downright effective.  Get a few small and medium binder clips and toss them in your bag.  Use them to keep the drapes closed at night.  Use one for a cheap money clip for several bills and one credit card.  Small ones make great bookmarks.  Keep your important travel documents together with one.  Gather the synthetic pulls on a zipper equipped with two pulls, clip them together, and then squeeze the plated prongs to remove them:  instant theft deterrent!  (See below; click for your close-up!)

5. Crazy Glue

Repairs of all types, including closing small wounds – pull the skin together, dab some CG on both sides of the wound, and hold in position until the glue dries.

6.  Small essentials kit

Take a ziploc bag and put some Post-It notes, paperclips (numerous uses!), rubber bands (ditto!), a couple of inexpensive pens in it.  You’ll be equipped for a lot of things that come up as you travel about.

A quick word about notepads:  Moleskines are elegant and wonderful.  But really, those inexpensive spiral notebooks are just as useful, although not quite as elegant.  Toss a couple into your ‘essentials kit.’

7.  ‘Tide to Go’ stick or Shout packets

Self explanatory.  Stuff happens.  Be prepared. Throw one in your daypack or purse.

8.  Bandana

The trusty old bandana has plenty of uses:  washcloth, impromptu sun shade/hat, neck cooler, headband, dish/spill/washcloth, and you can even fill it with ice for use as a compress!!

9.  Dental Floss

As reader AirportRunner says, “It’s the Swiss Army Knife” of travelers’ tools.  Just a few uses:  repair (with a sewing needle) clothing, luggage, and shoes; use it as an impromptu clothesline; a cheese knife; shoelace replacement…  the list goes on and on – make sure you bring an extra floss container on your next long (or short!) trip.

10.  Airline slippers

Some airlines provide little slippers on transatlantic flights.  Use them as, well, slippers in your hotel.  Store your shoes in them when traveling – they’ll protect your other items from damage from the shoes.  (Cheap plastic bread bags or shopping bags are great for this use as well.)

11.  Duct tape

Any list like this MUST include duct tape.  Wrap some around a pen or old credit card and toss it in your bag.  It’s great for clothing and luggage repairs, for preventing blisters (feel one coming on? – put some duct tape on the “hot spot!”), theft-proof your luggage while on buses or trains (tape over the zippers), and in a pinch, for use on small cuts or wounds.  Know any other uses? – Please comment!

12.  Cable ties

I always have half a dozen cable ties in each of my bags.  You can fashion an impromptu handle with them, secure zipper pulls as a security measure, or make repairs to numerous items with them.  Bringing along a small cutting tool like the Utilikey or a larger nail clipper is necessary if you go this route, though.

Honorable mention:  Cell phone with camera.

Not on the inexpensive end of the list for sure, but I imagine many of you already have a camera equipped phone.  Photograph your credit cards and passport;  your parking spot at the airport; your room number on the door of your hotel room; your luggage, should it be lost; a particularly great bottle of wine; your rental car when you pick it up to avoid scams;  and subway or metro maps to help find your way around.  (NOTE:  if you use your camera-equipped cell to photograph credit cards or sensitive documents, make sure you require a password to unlock the phone.)

Have any other inexpensive but effective travel hacks?  Please share them by commenting!!

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14 Comments on 12 low cost yet effective travel hacks & tools

  1. Brian says:

    This list rocks! I use so many of those when I’m on the road. Like the idea for binder clips, hadn’t seen that one before.


  2. tripchoya says:

    I’ve often read about including duct tape when backpacking. However I somehow never got around to packing it (despite having rolls of it at home coz I’m a duct tape geek), and I’ve never found myself in a situation needing one either. Maybe it’s about thinking that I need something sharp to cut duct tape that deters me as well. I don’t usually just have a scissors or knife lying around.


    Kevin Reply:

    Thanks for commenting. Duct tape can be ripped straight across the roll will relative ease.


  3. Debra says:

    You can also use cable ties as a make-shift belt: slip it through two of your belt loops and pull tight for the perfect size.


  4. Andy says:

    You can rip duct tape with your hands, I’m a weakling and I can do it. I always carry a small roll and it’s been very useful at times (along with dental floss).

    – A small Altoid tin works great as a pill case or for odds and ends.
    – A rubber ball makes a great drain plug or door stop


  5. Berg says:

    That home-made “tripod” is pretty neat. I wasn’t sure what the guy was up to when the video started out. I’d have to test it myself to verify its actual usefulness, though.

    Duct tape is also useful for silencing bags that have velcro on them. I love my Timbuk2 bags, but sometimes the velcro is deafening, and if I’m going to a place like a museum (or an airplane, train, or quiet place like a shrine or temple), where I don’t want to hear “RRRRRRRRRIPP!” every time I open my bag, I’ll just place a piece of duct tape over one of the velcro strips. The bags have quieter clips for keeping them closed.


  6. Julie Bestry says:

    One more camera phone tip–use it to snap a pic of your taxi driver’s license, the taxi company name and taxi number. If you leave something behind in the cab, especially if you’re traveling in a country where you don’t speak the language, this will be a big help in tracking down your possessions.

    Very impressive list!


    Kevin Reply:

    Julie: thanks for an amazing tip!! Huge!


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  8. Great list, you could add a pair of sun glasses for those hot days and a swis knife, those are extremely handy


    Kevin Reply:


    Thanks for commenting. The TSA tends to frown on knives, I’m afraid.


  9. […] examples of simple is better: This post has a great list of low cost travel hacks and we’ve utilized most of the them. Uncornered […]

  10. whisper says:

    I just made a few of the camera stabilizers – one for me and a few for little gifts – they are great! So simple and yet work so well. Thanks!


  11. […] 12 low cost yet effective travel hacks & toolsMar 16, 2010 In character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity . – Henry Wadsworth […]

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