Travel Secrets: Top 12 Unexpected Things to Bring On Your Next Trip

Posted by Fodor's Editors on June 01, 2010 at 10:57:40 AM EDT | Post a Comment

From the "ziploc washing machine" to unconventional storage containers, the seasoned travelers in our Forums recommend some surprisingly useful everyday items to pack on your next trip.

Inflatable ice bucket

Don't laugh- I have an inflatable ice bucket. You just blow it up and it's really well insulated. We used it recently in Italy. We bought our own wine at the store, had the hotel fill the bucket with ice, and sat outside in the garden. We have also used it on trains to keep sodas, beer, and wine cold. You don't need to put ice in it to keep it insulated. It folds to a very small size. It's not a necessity but it gets a lot of use. –Lynnaustin

Hiking stick

Mine's a hiking stick- bought as suggested for a Turkey hiking trip and used now whenever I travel anywhere (or hike anywhere). It's really helpful on those endless marble steps without rails found outside mosques and temples, and on those terrible broken pavements. I last used in Greece, India, Nepal and Turkey Run State Park in Indiana. My stick's by Trekkers, collapses to @ 16", is easily adjusted, and fits into a backpack. –NGail

Contact lense cases

I use contact lens cases to store cosmetics. Moisturizers, foundation, etc work great in these. I use a sharpie to label them. I can get over a week's worth of my items in just one side of a case. This saves a ton of room! –mms

Duct tape wrapped around a pen

I knew that the duct tape rolled around a pen would come in handy but I've found many uses for it. –Lsky


The first time it happened accidentally, but now I always look for a great scarf at our first stop and tie it around my handbag strap. It's a great souvenir and a cool accessory that I get lots of compliments on, plus I use it for many of the same things you might use a bandana... But since it's larger, it has also serves as a tablecloth on picnics, protection for my white crops while sitting on cathedral steps, mopping a sweaty brow on those hot summer days, or covering my shoulders on visits to cathedrals. And when I get home, it becomes part of my decor as a table cover. I love all the ones I've collected. –Lady


Balloons: blow a couple up and put inside shirts or pants you've just hand washed, which cuts drying time considerably. Plus, they take up no room , are cheap, and can be presents for kids. –sandy_b

Ziploc washing machine

One of my favorite travel hints that I learned on Fodor's is the ziploc washing machine. Take a large ziploc, put in the clothes, and squirt of soap (or shampoo). Shake it, dump water, shake it, dump water, add water and shake again. Easy. –Lsky

Collapsible flower vase

Mine is not a necessity, but it always keeps me happy when I travel, especially if any hotel or experience does not live up to my expectations. The Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum in New York sells a package of two plastic flower vases. They fold flat as a ziploc bag, weigh nothing, and can accommodate a small bouquet. I always take one along in my luggage and treat myself and my companion to inexpensive blooms from the nearest flower stall or market. –poetess

Beach towel

My all time favorite, can't go on any trip without item is a beach towel. Not one of the super sized ones or super fluffy, just an over sized towel. I carry it on the plane. I use it as a neck roll, a pillow, a blanket, cover for my head, back support, a towel, an ooh "I'm not laying on this bedspread" protector, extra pillow booster, etc., etc. –travelpig51

Camping headlamp

Mine isn't exactly a new product. It's the camping headlamp that can be used as a flashlight or as a night reading light. It works great as a night reading light when you don't want to bother your companion who wants to sleep... I've converted almost my entire family to carrying these headlamps in their luggage. Takes up minimum amount of space but is so useful! –easytraveler

Digital audio recorder

A very small digital recorder is a great thing to have. I can take it out at any time and record my impressions, memories, and the like. When and if I write a trip report, the memories are right there. I think this makes the trip report more interesting (and longer!!) and when I'm back home, it's fun to listen to my entries and remember what I was thinking and doing. –Pegontheroad

Clean bandana

I bought a bandana on a whim. Since then I've used it (this list is not in chronological order):

  • over my mouth to screen out sand/dust in a wind storm
  • over my hair in an open jeep
  • around my neck in the supermarket's freezer section (to stay warm)
  • around my neck in the boat (wetted down, to stay cool)
  • tied around a handful of seeds I poached from a botanical garden
  • tied around my forehead to keep sweat out of my eyes when working on the boat
  • tied around my dog's neck as an impromptu collar when I forget the real one
  • as a snot rag when I was allergic to something unknown on a field trip and caught unawares without kleenex
  • as a way to hold ice on an impending bruise
  • as a napkin to wrap around a roll I took from a breakfast buffet
  • as a rag to wipe my hands when I slipped and accidentally touched dog poop
  • as a rag to wipe off my camera/lens when it got rained on
  • and finally to lay out in the hotel room to put my rings/watch on bed so I would have a visual clue to remember them when I got up early the next day for a flight


Posted in Travel Tips

Member Comments (26)  Post a Comment

  • JoyceM on Aug 12, 10 at 03:49 PM

    A handy thing is a see-through hanging shoe bag--the kind that holds 6-10 pairs and usually hangs in a closet. You can put your toiletries, camera, many misc items and still see them. You can get them at a dollar store. Esp nice on cruises or other places where you'll be staying awhile in the same room.
    BTW I assumed Tim_Barnett (above) was surely being ironic, not pompous. It made me laugh.

  • Mollie on Jun 8, 10 at 03:39 PM

    I suppose everyone knows to carry a nylon scrubbie with a little rope attached to use as a washcloth as there are no washcloths in the hotels in Europe. Hang it over the shower handle to dry and carry it in a zip lock bag when you check out. Costs about $2 at Target.

  • Gregory_Ellis on Jun 6, 10 at 09:01 AM

    @Tim_Barnett - How very "special" for you! You missed the entire point of the article with your pompous viewpoint. Instead of the ridiculous silliness of informing us you carry a "silver" ice bucket and a crystal vase, be CONSTRUCTIVE!

    Thanks for the laugh, though (at YOU!)

  • lynclarke on Jun 5, 10 at 10:08 AM

    A couple of things which live in our suitcases--in the front flap--HUGE wiretie in case the suitcase falls apart at some inopportune time, a oversized department store plastic bag in case it is pouring outside at our destination, and a folding hat in case it is blinding sunshine at our destination. Inside one of our bags- a motion activated battery operated light for the bathroom in our rental apartment so I do not awaken my spouse in the middle of the night, a car deodorizer for the bathroom, spare shoelaces, clothespins, and Large rubberbands for stubborn jars and holding things together. In our carry on- we carry one set of undies, socks, and Tshirt vacuum packed with a foodsaver in case our suitcase does not appear at the destination. And, we pack half of our clothes in each suitcase.

  • mlbcruiser on Jun 4, 10 at 12:57 PM

    Use a cheap, inflatable beach ball when you want to get some rest on a plane. Works great in cramped quarters! Once in your lap, you can "hug" it and rest your upper body weight on it. (I used to try to nap by resting my head on the tray table, but it was always too low.) I usually throw a sweater or part of the plane blanket over it to keep from putting my head on plastic.. . . .Also, you can always use a book light as a nightlight by simply turning it on if you need to see in the dark.

  • leaguemary on Jun 3, 10 at 12:17 PM

    We take a metal bandaid tin, but you could use one from Altoids, wound round wih duck tape. Inside is a tapestry sewing needle with nylon yarn, large safety pins (diaper size), a length of nylon twine, regular safety pins. With these in hand, we have fixed ripped luggage, broken luggage zippers, and items in hotels. We also carry an old towel (from the Salvation Army, used to wring out the hand washing every night. It dries quickly or can be stashed in a zip lock bag if still damp when moving on.A BA hostess taught us to use shower caps as shoe protectors in the suitcase, or for anything that needs to be kept separate from the other items in the suitcase. And the sink stopper - very useful not only for sink use but for opening stubborn bottle caps.

  • QueenieGirl on Jun 3, 10 at 06:31 AM

    Buy a towel from the Outdoor stores, they are very light in weight which makes them great for packing in the bottom of your bag. When handwashing your smalls, wring the clothes out in this towel and hang on your travel clothesline. Both dry quickly for packing the next morning. It is also a godsend to have a spare towel when you arrive in an European Pension to find that the towel you are offered is nearly hand towel size!

  • greekrabbit on Jun 3, 10 at 04:17 AM

    a flight attendant shared this with me..always bring a couple of clothes pins...great for keeping drapes closed,as well as hanging up your laundry...

  • orleydog on Jun 3, 10 at 03:43 AM

    I like to save booklets, guide books, tickets, etc from places I visit. To reduce the amount that is carried back home, I place large mailing envelopes, self addressed, in the bottom of my suitcase. They take up very little room and each time I sent another back home, the suitcase is lighter. I don't take any with the brass fastners. Instead of taking my address book with me, I run address labels on my computer of those I want to send postcards to. The sheet is placed in an envelope in the side pocket. When I am dead tired from a busy day, I just write a note on the postcard, slap on a label and it's ready for mailing the next day. I also know who I've yet to send a card to when the label is still on the sheet.

  • leelaurino on Jun 2, 10 at 08:49 PM

    I only take one big trip a year and pack any old clothes that are still wearable but I dont like anymore. those that would be off to a charity this year. at the end of the trip or enroute i discard what i dont need anymore or i may have replaced on the way (such as shoes and purse)
    yes i like to shop for xmas gifts on these trips and i usually pick up one great pair of shoes or sandles and a new purse. if the bag i have with me is still in good shape i leave it in the hotel room when i check out. hope someone finds a use for it.
    after 3 months in sorrento i took almost everything to the charity box on the street. since i didnt know anyone in town, they didnt know these were my old clothes! and if you go to England buy all new underware when you are there, they have indistructable stuff!

  • navgal on Jun 2, 10 at 04:35 PM

    You can replace a towel with a rayon sarong. You have: picnic blanket, sheet or pillow case, towel, wrap for cool evenings, sundress, skirt, tablecloth, beach changing room in a pinch.

  • Allivian on Jun 2, 10 at 02:26 PM

    Another way to travel light with cosmetics: I use the stackable screw type of pill containers to put my cosmetics in order of use: cleanser,serum, moisturizer,sunscreen, foundation, etc. I do a test run several weeks before my trip to be sure I won't run out of an item. Also, because they are screwed tegether, I'm not hunting in my cosmetics bags for the next item. (Don't use it for liquids.)
    Another space saver: I put my daily vitamins in tiny (2"x2") ziplock bags. I just grab a bag to take with me to breakfast.

  • sanleahcam on Jun 2, 10 at 01:14 PM

    Ziplock bags, as many of you have stated are a must, along with a small clothesline & a few plastic clothespins. Avoid laundromats as much as possible as they can require excessive time. 2-3 regular trashbags are helpful, particularly for separating dirty clothes. A couple of baby washcloths have a variety of uses. I use tiny jewelry plastic storage bags for bringing facial creams, ointments, make-up, etc., placing them in a small, see-through cosmetic bag for additional security. Sample perfumes & shampoos are also lightweight. 2-3 plastic skirt hangers have multi-uses. I grind a favorite coffee and plastic wrap enough for brewing for at least a few days. Practical items: keychain flashlight, marker pen w/thin & thick tip ends, sm pad of paper or a few notecards, fingernail clippers, sm paring knife, sm scissors, thin magnifying glass...

  • vglenn on Jun 2, 10 at 01:11 PM

    Lots of good ideas - thanks. The new combo laundry soap and drier sheets are wonderful for doing clothes in laundromats. We used to pack powdered soap and drier sheets but these combo sheets beat that hands down.

  • kate5405 on Jun 2, 10 at 12:18 PM

    I always bring a small nightlight with me when I travel. They are great for finding the bathroom in an unfamiliar hotel room. Just remember to take it with you when you leave.

  • EuropeByRail on Jun 2, 10 at 11:40 AM

    Good local public transport timetables for the places I am visiting. For example, I never venture out of the house without the latest edition of the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable.

  • clafeld on Jun 2, 10 at 11:10 AM

    One piece of small bubble wrap that fits the bottom of the carry on. Great for fragile purchases!

  • Nevsky on Jun 2, 10 at 10:41 AM

    So many hotels have hangers permanently attached to the closet rail. We always travel with several inflatable hangers. They fold flat, and are great for allowing us to hang clothes to dry in the bathroom, or the window or wherever. We fill a small water bottle with detergent - it lasts us the entire trip. And several spare ziplock bags are helpful for organizing as you go.

  • dmk62563 on Jun 2, 10 at 10:40 AM

    SCARF Great to have in countries that still frown on wearing shorts in churches. A simple wrap of a scarf, and the 'shorts are gone'. Works uni-sex!

  • caroline_edinburgh on Jun 2, 10 at 10:35 AM

    1) Clingfilm - lots of uses including wrapping burns, protecting a rolled poster in hand luggage, wrapping glass bottles/jars of liqueur/honey etc (before wrapping them in used clothes & packing in hold baggage - even if they break, which they never have so far, the glass fragments are contained).

    2) A universal sink plug, a small bottle of detergent & a travel clothes line - the plug makes the washbasin watertight enough to leave clothes soaking in during the evening, before rinsing & hanging up to dry overnight.

  • Tim_Barnett on Jun 2, 10 at 10:28 AM

    That is so naff to take an inflatable ice bucket. It really does not look cool. In truth, it is as bad as wearing sandals or a baseball cap. I always take a proper real ice bucket whenever I travel. Silver of course. And I never travel without a crystal vase. This is something I learnt when travelling in Europe years ago, and it has long served me well.

  • amanda_leigh on Jun 2, 10 at 09:48 AM

    Caffeine pills. I NEED a cup of coffee in the morning, which isn't easy to find everywhere in the world. If a cup of joe is indeed nowhere to be found (tea isn't enough), a pill is good headache and irritability prevention.

  • JuneCourtney on Jun 2, 10 at 09:45 AM

    I never travel without a lump of Blutack - have used this for numerous things including to stop windows/doors rattling, keep wardrobe doors shut, bath or sink plug when no plug was there or was leaking.Even entertained a youngster for 2 hours on a train trip by making miniature teaset, pizzas, cakes etc. with it.

  • susi on Jun 2, 10 at 09:32 AM

    I wouldn't go anywhere without duct tape. The most interesting use (twice) used to wrap the showerhead to "contain" the water flow. LOVE the contact case for cosmetics idea!

  • uhoh_busted on Jun 2, 10 at 09:00 AM

    Not to advertise for Amazon, but I took my Kindle on our trip last month. I'd downloaded a couple of guides for each city, along with notes I'd made from Fodor's and other travel sites, and signed up for international delivery of my NY Times subscription to keep us up-to-date. I also discovered I could keep in touch through Facebook (log-in to my email was way too hard) via its 3G connection. Plus I had books to read on the transatlantic flights. Certainly less weighty than taking along a laptop or even a netbook.

  • MrShort1 on Jun 2, 10 at 08:49 AM

    What about a garbage bag? No matter where I go I bring a big garbage bag, the bigger the better. It can be used for anything from a raincoat to a drop sheet. Of course the bag can be used for a bag. It can be stored as it is used in the backpack as an extra liner to keep stuff dry. My other thing I never go without is a roll of waxed dental floss and a large darning needle. It has help me repair everything from a tent ravaged by a typhoon, my backpack to sewing my clothes.

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