Smart phones, iPads, universal chargers, and the like are de rigeur for lists of indispensable travel tools, as well as, unfortunately, the occasional preposterous gadget that wastes space and money.   There are a number of far simpler things in my travel arsenal, however, that I wouldn’t dream of leaving at home, yet which cost mere pennies…

1.  Spare contact lens case

Don’t wear contacts?  Just pick up a case at a drugstore – they cost less than a dollar or so – and use it for bringing along ointments and creams.  You won’t have to bother bringing the entire tube of ointment so you save a little bit of weight, and the TSA couldn’t care less about contact cases.  I know – I always have at least two or three in my 3-1-1 bag, and they’ve never been questioned.

Bonus:  TSA agents and your fellow travelers can’t identify what specific products you’re bringing along, a plus if you’re carrying something of a sensitive nature.

2.  Use a sample bottle for cologne or perfume

This looks like idiocy, and is!  But you can successfully put cologne into a small sample bottle, saving weight yet having plenty of fragrance for a week long trip.   Just line up the spray nozzle with the opening of the sample bottle, and as you depress the sprayer button, let the sample bottle travel along with the nozzle.

Unless you’re completely uncoordinated, I think you’ll find it easy.

At the absolute worst, you’ll get a bit of cologne on your fingers, and it can of course be easily washed off.  And while we’re on the subject, please don’t overdo the cologne or perfume – many people are sensitive to fragrances.  Oh, one last thing – I put this sample bottle inside a mini ziplock bag (get them at electronics stores, auto swap meets, or perhaps at a hardware store) just in case the stopper in the sample bottle decides to come loose.  This has never happened, by the way, but better safe than sorry.

3.  Binder clips

Right up there with duct tape and safety pins, I think binder clips are super useful for just about any traveler.

Use them to keep hotel room drapes closed, secure zipper pulls (see image left), and why, hold papers together!!  Note that if you’re using them to secure pulls, you’ll need to remove the clip handles – and keep them somewhere safe.

For pennies, they’re a great value.

4.  Re-use travel toothpaste tubes

OK, I freely admit it:  I’m an old fart.  How else can I explain that I haven’t bought a new travel-sized tube of toothpaste in a couple of years?  One day – with clearly too much time on my hands – I wondered if it’d be possible to transfer toothpaste from a full-sized tube into a travel-sized tube.

Well, if you can do it with cologne, you certainly ought to be able to do it with toothpaste!  It’ll come as little surprise, I imagine, that doing so is easy.

This too may strike you as lunacy, but consider that by reusing the travel tube, you’re introducing a tiny bit less material into the waste stream, not a bad thing.  Perhaps this could be the basis for a post…

5.  Silica gel desiccant packs

You know those little silica gel desiccant packs that come with electronics and some articles of clothing?  Don’t throw them out. Put them in a quart ziplock bag, and when you have 3o or 40 or so in the bag, toss them in your travel bag – particularly if you’re going to be boating, visiting a beach house, or otherwise traveling near or on the water.

Why, you may ask?  If you drop your cell phone, digital camera, or other electronic device in the water, dry it off with a towel, and then immediately put it in your bag of desiccant packs.  By morning, your device should be dry, and with a bit of luck will work perfectly.

If you must, you can buy these packs – just perform a search on eBay – and they’re fairly inexpensive.

How about you? Have any travel tools or hacks that you rely upon frequently, and which cost only pennies?  Please share by commenting!

Related post:  12 low cost yet effective travel hacks and tools

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19 Comments on Five favorite travel hacks that cost just pennies

  1. K-eM says:

    I have a portable door lock that always goes with me. It’s a nice way to ensure that even someone with a key cannot get into my room unless I let them in once I’ve put it in place. (the first item listed)

    There have been a few times when someone who was given the wrong room key have tried to enter my room in the middle of the night and were prevented by this simple devise.

    I also have a hat that goes everywhere with me. I can fold it up tight and small and it still looks good when I take it out to wear it 12 hours later. I have a white microfiber one (that’s all they offered at the time) and I am amazed that it still comes clean every time I wash it. Even the notoriously staining red dirt comes out.

    Finally, I have a Platypus water bottle that goes flat when empty and is easy to fill from a water fountain. I have one of the old original ones and it has proved to be not only convenient, but durable.


    Michael W. Reply:

    The Platypus in 1.0 Liter or .5 Liter are also favorites of mine. I too appreciate the ability to fold or roll it up when empty.

    But the BIG plus for me is it’s “flatness” (relative to a round, solid bottle) which enable it to fit in the magazine slot on the back of the seat in from of me on a flight….

    BTW I much prefer the Platypus over the Nalgene film equivalents.


    Airport Runner Reply:

    I use a pair rubber door stop wedges under my door as an extra “lock”. They are also used as a prop for my laptop so the keyboard is is angled. I added a small eyelet at the thick end of each an attached a long piece of dental floss(!)tied to one eyelet through the other eyelet and tied the free end to a small washer shaped magnet. I can then put the wedges in the most effective locations (typically the furthest point from the hinges on the floor and halfway up the door frame). I attach the magnet to the door (or frame) near the latch so I can remove the wedges by simply pulling on the floss (I have been afraid that I might forget the wedges if I’m trying to leave the room under duress (ie if the fire alarm goes off and the room lights don’t work.)

    I also put a post-it note over the peep hole so someone cannot determine if I’m in the room.


    Kevin Reply:

    Interesting ideas… the inexpensive rubber door stop is a great idea if you’re concerned about security. Your set-up sounds pretty thorough!

    I’d not thought of the post it note idea, but wonder about its effectiveness. If someone can determine that there’s a light on in the room (via the peephole), does that mean you’re there? Some travelers leave a light on, even the TV on, when they leave the room, to discourage anyone from entering… I don’t know, I’m just wondering what the net effect of blocking the peephole is. ?


    Airport Runner Reply:

    I began covering the peephole when it became clear that someone could use a lens and camera to get a detailed view of the room. I believe there was a female broadcaster who was filmed through the peephole in the recent past. I’m not concerned that I would be photographed but it occurred to me that that method could be used to determine if a room was occupied, even if I wasn’t in it at the time.

  2. Michael W. says:

    This comment reminds me of a line from Fight Club (the movie):

    “Bonus: TSA agents and your fellow travelers can’t identify what specific products you’re bringing along, a plus if you’re carrying something of a _sensitive nature_.” (emphasis added).

    In Fight Club, they refer to a certain item found in our protagonist’s luggage as “the item” rather than by its rather more embarrassing actual name.

    On the silica gel pack – this is actually a great tip. So many cellphones, iPod Touch’s etc. are put out of commission by water intrusion (often SMALL amounts of intrusion) that all manufacturers include color changing tabs so they can tell later when water has intruded. On the flip side, my 6 y.o. daughter “washed” her dirty iPod Touch and put it out of commission. Not having any silica packs available, I put it in a pan of rice and GENTLY heated the pan of rice on the stove (gently, unless you like exploding batteries!). It dried it out in a couple of days and the device was back to fairly good working shape. Using silica packs is a much better (and safer!) approach. BTW, are you confident your recycled silica packs are still sound? Or do you have tip for drying them out to restore them?


  3. Adriano says:

    A spare contact lens case is useful also when you leave in a hurry and you forget to pack yours, as happens to me quite often. Of course, it needs to be empty and clean!
    Among the gadgets I carry with me there are plenty of free samples of creams and such – very useful, not space consuming, long lasting (I don’t use them too often) and… free! Another useful thing is the tiny surprise plastic container that you find inside some brands of chocolate eggs. They are nearly waterproof and you can put your vitamin pills and tooth powder in them. And, besides, they come for free (kids are interested in the toy which is inside them). Now the shape of some of them has changed and they are not so long lasting as they used to…
    As of reusable toothpaste tube, there are some items built and sold for this purpose… Although I personally wouldn’t be so happy to fill up a used tube, because it can’t be properly washed.
    A great thing I use is a metal candy box (3*1 cms), which now superbly serves to contain the chunks of (antibacterial) soap I cut from a standard size bar.
    And, of course, shaving oil (which really lasts for tens of shaves)!


    Kevin Reply:


    re re-using a used tube of toothpaste, you can certainly put the cap on and clean it (the tube & cap) very thoroughly with hot water – and soap – if you prefer. You could even clean off the threads, if you prefer. Presumably the insides of the tube don’t get contaminated or dirty. I view this as a non-issue – just my opinion.

    You’re much more at risk from the TV remote in your hotel room – or the bedspread – which are likely rarely cleaned/disinfected. (I imagine the remote NEVER is, and tons of people handle it.)


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  5. reeder says:

    Don’t forget the almighty ziplock bag. I prefer the 1 quart gusseted freezer bags, regular 1 gallon freezer bag, and 2.5 gallon.
    Binder Rings (the O kind) are also quite handy. Secure your luggage, replace a broken pull, or clip together the ends of a wash line.


    Kevin Reply:

    Totally agree about ziplocks, and the binder ring is a great idea!


  6. Sunny says:

    I thought it was on this website sometime ago (or maybe about the same time I found this site) that I learned about bacitran ointment.

    Before each flight I put a bit of bacitran inside each nostril (in the privacy of the bathroom with handwashing before and after of course). The reason for this is that it seems to offer some extra protection against bacteria and viruses as you breath in all the circulated air from the plane full of people some of whom are coughing and sneezing.

    Scientific proof? None that I’m aware of, but I haven’t developed any cold symptoms after a flight since doing this. My hubby thinks it’s weird but he was the one needing tissues after one such flight.

    I’ve also used this trick before going to a school concert, or crowded craft shows and other such events.

    The tube I have is less then 100ml so it goes into my ziplock bag for going through flight security. I’ve also stopped packing cream for my dry skin trouble spots and just use the same ointment – works great. Of course it’s handy to have with the first aid supplies too ;)

    The brand I use currently is Polysporin Complete Ointment; it goes on clear and absorbes well.

    On the plane, I also close off the air vent and point it away from me. No point in having the recirculated air aimed at my face.


    Sunny Reply:

    Ooops, it should be bacitracin, not bacitran.

    There’s a video here:


    Kevin Reply:

    Sunny –

    It’s a tip I got from Dan Pink… I carry a bit of Bacitracin in (what else?) an extra contact case, and my track record for avoiding head colds after traveling has improved dramatically since I started doing this. Thanks for the comment.


  7. Adriano says:

    What about a safety pin? Useful to keep clothes together, and you can also use it to put laces back into fleeces, jackets and such, when you pulled too much on one side and they slipped off.

    As of the bacitracin remedy… Does it really work? I don’t put in doubt your claims about having less flus after using it. But it could be linked to something else. Here is why:

    1- Bacitracin is an antibiotic.
    2- Antibiotics work on bacteria.
    3- Antibiotics don’t work on viruses.
    4- Colds and flus are caused by viruses
    5- So, how could this antibiotic work against such ailments?

    Moreover the overuse of antibiotics causes bacteria resistance (as said by CDC, which also states that antibiotics are useless against cold and flu.

    Bacitracin was also awarded the allergen of the Year prize.

    So, what could be used instead? Well, I could have an alternative: Tea Tree Oil. I use it as skin and mouth antiseptic (never used it in the nose, though) – and it seems it is antiviral too!!
    Disclaimer: it can cause allergic allergies – and has caused an allergy to me when I used it pure. To avoid this, just dilute it (10% is the most common solution) or use creams containing it.


    Kevin Reply:

    Yes, safety pins are a handy resource.

    As for Bacitracin, I won’t address the myriad of issues you raise other than to mention two things: I’m aware it’s an antibiotic, and in combination with keeping my hands clean, it seems to have helped, and that’s enough for me. YMMV.


    Adriano Reply:

    YMMV… Always learning new words and expressions here. Thank you Kevin!


  8. Anne says:

    I have several 1-ounce tupperware containers that I travel with. One contains a cotton-ball saturated with my favorite cologne. Another one containes cosmetic pads, cut in quarters, saturated with baby oil for makeup removal. The last one contains the same quartered cosmetic pads saturated with my facial toner. This keeps me from having to carry three different bottles of liquids.

    I keep a few plastic shopping bags tucked into my suitcase. I place my shoes into one before packing. Think of all the places you walk in your shoes! Ick! Once you are home they go in the trash! The other bags are available for any damp items or souveniers that might leak or stain my clothes.

    I also travel with a couple of all-in-one laundry sheets. They really do a nice job and it is nice to not have to carry or purchase laundry detergent and dryer sheets. We discovered them when a 3 day trip turned into a 2 week trip for my husband.

    I agree with the safety pins too. A must for travel.


    Kevin Reply:


    Thanks for some great suggestions!


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