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


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

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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


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