(Seasoned travelers reveal 12 common items that are must-haves for almost any trip—and they’re not what you’d expect).

Ask a veteran traveler what he or she considers essential to pack, and you’ll likely hear the usual: comfy shoes, earplugs, a pashmina, Ziploc plastic bags and even an empty water bottle (to fill once you are past security).  Me? I never leave home without a set of clothespins, a sheet of cardboard, blunt-nose scissors and a small roll of duct tape (which I created by rolling duct tape onto a cut-down cardboard toilet-paper tube).

Crazy? Perhaps. Smart? You bet.  I’ve found a plethora of ways to repurpose common household items to make trips by car, air or ship easier and more comfortable.  Turns out, other road warriors do the same, either through necessity or on-the-spot inventiveness. I asked for their secrets, and they dished.  Here are 12 travel hacks worth trying (and packing).

Clothespins:  Clamp drapes closed to truly black out your hotel room or ship cabin.

Cardboard:  Cover colored lights from TV’s thermostats, light switches and other devices in hotel rooms with a small piece of cardboard secured by duct tape.  Remember to remove the cardboard before you check out.

Cotton twine:  About eight feet should do it.  You can tie suitcases together when a zipper fails.  It doubles as a clothesline and, for security, can secure a chair to your hotel doorknob at night.

Blunt-nose scissors:  You’ll need these to cut the cardboard, tape or string.  Airline regulations prohibit long, pointed scissors in a carry-on, so get the ones designed for preschoolers.

Plastic straws:  Keep necklaces separate and untangled.  Unclasp the necklace, slip one end through the straw, the re-secure the other end.  

Paper clips:  Replace a zipper pull, or hook pants or a shirt that has lost a button.  A paper clip is the perfect size to hit the reset button on electronic devices, too.  Or, bend one around a circular object to create a custom key chain (should your room key be an actual key).

Binder clips:  Use this as a money clip to carry cash separate from your main wallet.  The two wire handles can also be used as a key chain. Or, prop up a smartphone when watching videos on the airplane; secure drying laundry to balcony furniture so that it doesn’t blow away; and in a pinch, use them as cuff links.


Clean, empty prescription pill bottle:  Hold a week’s worth of cotton swabs and floss picks, keep jewelry organized, and prevent earrings from getting bent or damaged.  At the beach, stash some cash and a key in one while leaving your wallet in a secure location. You can also use pill bottles to keep change sorted, especially when traveling to multiple countries, or as a re-closable container for a small snack such as a handful of almonds or hard candies.

Balloons:  Drape your clothes over an inflated balloon for a portable drying rack.

Empty cereal box:  A cereal box can become a trash can on road trips.  It’s easy to pass around without hassle, unlike a plastic bag.

Dental floss:  This is an excellent substitute for thread to reattach a button, and it can even be used as a knife for softer food such as cheese.  Get unflavored floss unless you like your brie minty fresh.

Multi-plug power strip:  A power strip is not so crazy, but it’s such a good hack that I had to include it.  It’s easier to plug multiple devices into one power strip. And, you are less likely to forget a charger upon departure when all are plugged into a single location.  Plus, when traveling internationally (where there are different configurations on wall outlets), you need only a single plug adaptor. Use the adaptor to plug in your power strip, and then everything else plugs into the strip just like at home.


(Written by Laura Daily for AAA World, January/February 2018)