Travel supply stores have made a fortune selling things you can get for free. A number of items you might typically throw away, from old towels to empty yogurt containers, make excellent replacements for expensive specialty travel products.
Travel Essentials You Can Find in the Trash
Trash—yes, trash—can help you organize your suitcase, stay clean on the road, protect your valuables and more. Plus, finding something to do with your garbage other than tossing it in the bin is an excellent way to go green. Recycle, outsmart the travel supply companies and save some cash by getting creative with your trash.
To protect packed bottles from breakage, you could shell out a lot of money for protective sleeves from WineSkin—they’re basically bubble wrap in the shape of wine bottles to cushion your Merlot and Cabernet. Here’s how to make your own: Put a bottle of wine on that sheet of bubble wrap that has been hanging around in your closet. Fold over the bubble wrap so it covers the wine. Cut the wrap to fit the wine, and staple the side and bottom (leave an opening at the top). You’ve just saved a Jackson.
Most comforters, sheets and pillowcases are sold in sturdy, rectangular, clear plastic casings. These casings, which are quite durable and usually have a zipper, closely resemble “packing cubes,” zippered containers that help travelers organize luggage. In fact, they’re pretty much the exact same product. You can save some money by saving your sheet casings: a set of four packing cubes retails for around $23 on Amazon. I actually prefer using plastic sheet casings to retail packing cubes, which are usually opaque, because the clear casings allow me to easily find my belongings.
Ever notice how the rows of travel-sized toiletries at your local drug store resemble free samples? The only difference is that travel-sized bottles aren’t free. They can cost upwards of $4 apiece, and those costs really add up if you purchase a handful of travel-sized items. Instead, stock up on free samples. I’m willing to bet you have a number of sample-sized toiletries sitting in your bathroom cabinets that are fated for the trash can. If you don’t have free samples sitting around, it’s easy to score some. A number of product websites offer free product samples available through the mail, and sites like ChaChing on a Shoestring and Complimentary Crap will show you how to get them.
Commandeer your teenage son’s drool-soaked SpongeBob SquarePants pillowcase—it’s time he advances to more sophisticated bedding anyway. But don’t throw it out! Travel supply stores sell similar sacks and pouches for $10 or more. Use that ratty pillow case as a dirty laundry bag (secure the top with a rubber band or tie it with something stringy if you want some closure), a shoe bag or a disposable just-in-case-this-spills bag to protect your liquid-filled bottles and tubes.
At home I reuse my old towels untold times; they’re good for dusting, cleaning up messes, lining animal beds and much more. On the road, my old towels take on new and exciting roles as airplane seat cushions (just fold it a few times) and suitcase padding (wrap it around your breakables).
If your local nail salon gives you a pair of paper shoes with your pedicure, don’t toss ’em the moment you exit the salon. Air travelers must remove their shoes and walk in stocking feet or barefoot (yuck!) through the airport security checkpoint … unless they have disposable paper shoes, which are permitted by the TSA. You can purchase disposable shoes from Amazon, or you can snag a free pair of TSA-approved disposable shoes while treating your feet to some pampering before your next getaway.
If you go through a new wallet every couple of years, hang on to the worn-out wallet and use it as a decoy when you’re traveling. Keep most of your money and credit cards in a second “real” wallet or in a secure money belt, and then put some small bills in the dummy wallet. If you run into thieves in a foreign land, throw the criminals your dummy wallet and make a quick getaway. (For more ideas, see Money Safety Tips for Travelers.)
Egg Carton Tray
A half-dozen egg carton tray makes an amazing travel jewelry box. It doesn’t appear enticing to thieves, it has segregated compartments to keep your necklaces from getting tangled and, best of all, it’s free. For an even fancier jewelry box, allow your child or pet to decorate the carton. The plastic container in which wet wipes are sold also makes a handy jewelry box, sans separate compartments.
Duct tape is the ultimate fix-all travel item, but nylons are a close second. You can use old nylons to bind up a broken suitcase, to tie around your luggage for easy identification at baggage claim, as a laundry line in your bathroom or to use for washing delicate items (instead of a mesh bag). Keep your old soap scraps, stuff them in an out-of-use stocking and you have a free exfoliating soap scrubber to use in the shower!
Browsing on travel supply websites, I came across the innovative Tie Caddy, which keeps packed ties wrinkle-free. It’s a tube filled with a “patented winding mechanism” that curls ties into neat rolls. While empty yogurt containers don’t have an inner winding mechanism, they work fine as a scarf- or tie-protector if you don’t mind taking the time (it took me about 60 seconds) to roll the thing up yourself. Just be sure to clean and dry the yogurt container thoroughly first, of course.
For more creative ideas, see 6 Household Items You Can Repurpose for Travel.
More from SmarterTravel:
- The 10 Best Inflatable Travel Pillows
- 9 Travel Tips from Olympic Athletes
- 10 Reasons You’re Packing Too Much
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.
We hand-pick everything we recommend and select items through testing and reviews. Some products are sent to us free of charge with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions and do not accept compensation to review products. All items are in stock and prices are accurate at the time of publication. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.