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10 Essential Multipurpose Tools for Travel


The best multipurpose tools for travel don’t have to be fancy or expensive. You’ll want to add these affordable everyday items that do double duty (or more) to your packing list, stat.

Reusable Plastic Bags

Not just for the kitchen, resealable plastic bags are one of the best multipurpose tools out there for travel. Stock up on both quart– and gallon-sized bags, and always stash a few in your carry-on to use for transporting wet clothing or towels, holding bottles of wine or other breakable liquid items, carrying your snacks so they’re easy to find, corralling all your tech gear (headphones, chargers, etc.) so it’s not loose inside your bag, or containing dirty laundry.

You can also use the large bags to plan your outfits each day and, if you’re super organized, even label them with the day you plan to wear them. In hotel rooms, slip a plastic bag over the TV remote to protect yourself from germs. And if you’re traveling with kids, having a plastic bag or two handy in case of motion sickness is always a good idea.

A Turkish Towel

cacala turkish towel

A lightweight Turkish towel like this one (which comes in 35 colors) may be the ultimate multiuse tool. It may look like a simple cotton wrap, but thanks to its high absorbency and superb packability, a Turkish towel has many more uses than you’d expect.

Use it as a blanket, roll it up as a pillow on the plane, take it to the park or the beach as a picnic blanket, dry off with it after swimming (and have a friend hold it up for you as a makeshift dressing room for changing out of your wet suit), wear it as an oversized scarf or shawl, or lay it out flat and tie it up in a bundle as a makeshift sack.

Foldable Bags

You can never have too many bags stashed in your suitcase—as long as they’re light and take up basically no room, that is. Foldable duffle bags can be a lifesaver when your suitcase is overweight or you’ve picked up too many souvenirs and need a way to get them home.

These $10 bags from Baggu are easy to toss in for every trip, as you can use them to carry just about anything (including wet clothing or dirty laundry), and then fold them up into a five-inch pouch when you’re not using them. As a bonus, they’re machine washable.

Bungee Cords

Basic bungee cords don’t take up much space yet make great multipurpose tools for travel. They’re great for tying things down or together (say, strapping your carry-on to your roller bag for easier navigation through the airport, or holding a malfunctioning hotel bathroom door open or closed), fixing a broken bag, or even using as clothesline.

Bungee cords also come in handy when traveling with kids. Use one as an improvised baby gate (drape a cloth over the top), loop through bunk bed rails as an added safety measure, or thread through drawer and cabinet handles to make them baby proof.

Binder Clips

Hotel curtains that won’t close completely rank high among common annoyances of travel. Tossing a few binder clips in your bag can help you remedy this situation in an instant, improving your sleep quality.

In addition to holding papers and travel documents together, binder clips also work as a stand-in for a surprising number things, such as a money clip, bookmark, razor protector (clip it over the blades before packing), cord organizer, or makeshift zipper pull, in case the one on your suitcase breaks.

A Waterproof Pouch

It’s smart to pack a waterproof pouch on every trip even if you’re not planning to be on or in the water, as you never know when you might need one. You can get one specifically to keep tech equipment like your smartphone or digital camera dry, like this one, or choose a larger neoprene zippered pouch that works well for holding additional items like a wallet and other daily essentials.

They’re useful during rainy weather, outdoor activities like zip-lining or kayaking, or visiting places where your things could get damp (like hiking to a waterfall, for example). Plus you can use the pouch to corral all your toiletries in your suitcase too, and simply wash it out in the event that one spills.

Antibacterial Wipes

Perhaps the most versatile and essential item you can stash in your carry-on, antibacterial wipes will save you from many nasty germs. Wipe down the armrests, headrest, tray table, and seatbelt before settling into your airplane seat. Hotels aren’t as clean as you’d like to think either, so use wipes to clean light switches, countertops, door handles, and sinks before using them.

You can also use wipes in a pinch to remove makeup, get deodorant off your clothes, or stand in for toilet paper. It’s a good idea to pack extra so you can also wipe down your smartphone, tablet, and computer each day—personal tech gadgets can harbor 10 times more bacteria than a toilet seat, according to studies.

Packing Cubes

Shacke pak packing cube set

A well-organized suitcase can hold a lot more than a messy one. If you’re not a Type A personality, a set of packing cubes can help. These travel organizers not only come in handy for separating out your things (socks and underwear, workout gear, tops, bottoms, etc.), but they can also prove to be major space savers.

Mesh ones like these allow you to easily see what’s in each compartment so you won’t have to tear your whole suitcase apart looking for one elusive item. Packing cubes can also prove practical if you’re sharing a suitcase with your significant other.

Essential Oil

A small kit of essential oils—whether sold as a set like this one or something you put together yourself based on your favorites—has a multitude of uses for keeping you healthy while traveling.

Calming lavender, for example, can be used as a sleep aid, to soothe bee stings or insect bites, as a moisturizer for dry skin and lips, as a remedy for cold sores, as an antiseptic for cuts and scrapes, and also as a perfume. Peppermint oil, on the other hand, is great for relieving muscle and joint pain, soothing an upset stomach, unclogging sinuses, and helping with allergy relief.

A Buff

Not only for contestants on Survivor, a buff serves as a useful multipurpose tool and takes up virtually no room in your suitcase. Wear one like this as a hat, neck warmer, facemask, hood, headband, hairband, or any other style you can think of.

Made from performance fiber, a good buff will be moisture wicking, quick drying, and breathable, and protect you from the elements in both hot and cold weather. It can also shield your nose and mouth from dust, wind, sun, and insects.

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Kelsey Ogletree is a Chicago-based journalist covering travel, food and fitness around the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram, @gounearthed, or get in touch on Twitter, @kelseyogletree.

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